Protecting Yourself and Your Facility from Arc Flash Danger

Some flashes are fun to watch – like the green flash that appears just as the sun sets into the horizon. Or lightening brightening the night sky during a summer storm. But, arc flashes are nothing like that. Their dangerous nature makes them important to understand and prevent.

What Makes Arc Flashes Dangerous

Arc flashes are violent events that can cause serious injury or death. OSHA defines arc flashes as “phenomena where a flashover of electrical current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to the ground.”

Arc flashes are usually caused by a rapid release of energy from an arcing fault between a bus bar and another phase bus bar that can be neutral or ground. The important thing is to catch an arc fault before it becomes an arc flash.

People have been burned, fires have been caused, molten metal has gone flying, and extreme temperatures of over 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit are all side effects of arc flashes. Needless, to say, they are something to be avoided at all costs.

How are arc flashes created?

Surprisingly, ordinary things can trigger arc faults, which may then turn into arc flashes. All of the following things may cause arc flashes:

  • Dust
  • Dropped tools
  • Accidental contact
  • Condensation
  • Corrosion

Sometimes, faulty installation can be the culprit in an arc flash incident. But, often it can come as the result of something as simple as dust. For this reason, it’s imperative for contractors and companies to understand the risks associated with arc flash incidents and protect workers from them.

How Miller Electric Protects Employees From Arc Flashes

The absolute best way to prevent an arc flash incident from occurring is to only perform work on deenergized equipment. Since that is not always possible, Miller Electric has worked closely with NFPA 70E guidelines to develop an arc flash safety checklist and arc flash training that shows companies and contractors how to work with energized equipment safely. “We’re serious about safety at Miller Electric and we always have been,” says Safety Director Scott Love. “We want to help our peers and customers be serious about safety too. Developing that mindset that nothing matters more than keeping people safe when it comes to electrical work is an important first step for contractors and companies to take.”

Miller Electric keeps its own employees safe by strictly adhering to an internal electrical safety program it developed. The program explains the role of the three entities involved in project work – employers, employees and owners; OSHA and NFPA 70E responsibilities and requirements; and outlines how work must be performed in an ‘electrically safe’ work condition.

“There really are only two times OSHA and NFPA 70E allow work to be performed on exposed, live parts – when de-energizing introduces additional or increased hazards; or when de-energized work is infeasible due to equipment design or operational limitations,” says Love. “We train our team to understand what makes a work condition electrically safe and have protocols in place to ensure that when work on or near live parts absolutely cannot be avoided, that it is only done by trained, qualified workers.”

How You Can Protect Your Facility and Staff

The past eighteen months have seen an increase in electrical inventories and arc flash analysis opportunities for Miller Electric’s preventative maintenance department. As many buildings sat vacant, it provided an ideal opportunity to examine electrical equipment and identify areas of improvement.

“As executives are seeing the benefits of preventative maintenance from both a cost-savings and risk mitigation perspective, we’re receiving more and more requests to perform electrical inventory and arc flash analyses,” says Jeremy Overman, Electrical Risk Consultant for Miller Electric. “The result is electrical one-liners outlining the entire electrical system and flow of power, as well as updated labels on equipment showing anyone what PPE is required to work on it.”

Miller Electric’s 6-Step Electrical Audit Process

Work has been performed on numerous hospitals in the Omaha area as well as large corporate facilities and follows a six-step process that results in an accurate, updated, itemized inventory of electrical assets.

Step 1 – Perform a thorough, detailed inventory of electrical assets.

Step 2 – Break down points and items that need serviced.

Step 3 – The electrical system is modeled from the point where electricity is accepted or accessed from the grid all the way to individual receptacles. Overman says this process is sophisticated and time consuming.

“Modeling may be the most important aspect of the entire process. We plug all the data we gather into our software system, which ensures utmost accuracy. Our guys’ diligence in entering breaker sizes, fuse types, distances and other tiny details called for by the software creates an incredibly accurate one-liner.”

Step 4 – Data is broken down by Miller Electric’s engineering department, which performs multiple checks on the data and a series of inspections to create accurate labels.

Step 5 – Labels are created and affixed to appropriate electrical equipment.

Step 6 – Complete a detailed report with recommendations. “Three or four weeks after labels are placed, the customer receives a report with detailed recommendations from Miller Electric and a full electrical drawing of their infrastructure, which they are often getting for the first time,” Overman says. “It shows the flow of the entire system that they are responsible for, down to what feeds each panel and what each panel feeds. We archive that data to help facility owners and property managers manage electrical systems safely and efficiently.”

With maintenance issues identified, building owners can confidently create a plan for safely addressing them. Overman believes it’s an important service Miller Electric provides to the community to foster safety growth.

“We’ve come so far as a commercial electrical contractor, and as a community in the area of preventing arc flash danger over the past ten years. I’m proud to be part of that work and look forward to the safety innovations Miller Electric will bring over the next ten.”