Stay Safe From Arc Flash
Jane Alexander | March 25, 2019
Arc flash is one of the most feared electrical risks in a workplace.
Regulations such as the National Electrical Code (NEC)andNFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace have guidelines for mitigating this dangerous phenomenon and protecting personnel, including, among other things, requiring electrical-safety programs to incorporate an arc-flash risk assessment. As those two codes are continuously updated, how can facility managers be sure that they’re always in compliance? Steve Hinton, P. E., a solutions consultant with Schneider Electric, Foxboro, MA (schneider-electric.com), offered the following insight.
Defining and Understanding the Codes
Above all, personnel must fully comprehend what the codes aim to accomplish, including understanding any discrepancies within the articles. Specifically with arc flash, personnel are responsible for understanding the chosen clearing method, since adding a mechanism to reduce clearing time doesn’t ensure its effectiveness unless the added method operates when needed. To achieve full compliance with the intent of the code, control measures must work at the expected arcing current to guarantee the best safety.
Applying the Code
Authorized personnel are responsible for verifying code requirements and should be taking steps to minimize the risk level associated with an arc ﬂash. Electrical inspectors should carefully examine arc-flash-risk-assessment documentation to confirm that arc-flash-incident-energy mitigation has been implemented. One of the most practical ways to do this is to require an authorized engineer to complete a report listing what methods have been applied to the installation to ensure devices provide a reasonable limited level of incident energy.
Building the Culture
Compliance involves everyone in the organization—from managers to field workers—following stringent safety requirements, no matter what. Managers can ensure that they’re effectively conveying the importance of safety by:
Messaging from top to bottom: Management must encourage employees to practice safety daily when making on-site decisions that can result in electrical risks such as arc flash. Managers should reinforce the fact that employees may stop work if they are in an unsafe situation.
Communicating safety policies frequently: Managers should take the initiative in discussing and explaining safety policies to inexperienced or new employees and providing continuous training for existing employees.
Providing personal protective equipment (PPE): Managers must strongly enforce rules that require personnel to consistently wear PPE in appropriate situations. It should be noted that PPE is used to minimize damage, not prevent it altogether.
Incentivizing safety: Management should make sure safety milestones are celebrated, and that employees who demonstrate a deep dedication to safe work practices are rewarded.
Once a safety culture has been established, personnel will be empowered and have the tools they need to comply with updated NEC and NFPA 70E codes and reduce arc-flash risks. The result, in turn, will be fewer safety and financial risks. EP
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