Arc flash and electrical safety: Compliance and best practices

An arc flash incident is one of the most significant hazards that electrical maintenance workers may face. Five tips for preventing arc flash are highlighted.

By Nick Schiltz August 29, 2023
Courtesy: CFE Media

Arc flash insights

  • Arc flash is a hazardous electrical event where an electric current jumps between two conductive objects, resulting in a release of energy in light and heat forms, potentially causing severe injuries or death.
  • Arc flash occurs due to a breakdown in insulation between conductive objects, which can be attributed to human error, equipment failure, or environmental factors.
  • Adhering to NFPA 70E and OSHA regulations is crucial for the safety of electrical maintenance personnel.

Electrical safety is of paramount importance in the workplace, and it is crucial for electrical maintenance personnel to have a clear understanding of the hazards they may encounter. One of the most significant hazards that electrical maintenance workers may face is an arc flash. This blog will discuss what arc flash is, how it occurs, why electrical safety is so important, why compliance with NFPA 70E and OSHA is critical and some best practices to prevent arc flash.

What is arc flash in the workplace?

Arc flash is a dangerous electrical phenomenon that occurs when an electric current jumps between two conductive objects. This phenomenon results in a release of energy in the form of light and heat, which can cause severe injury, burns or even death. Arc flash can occur in any industry with electrical equipment, including manufacturing, construction and maintenance.

How does arc flash occur?

Arc flash occurs when there is a breakdown in the insulation between two conductive objects. This breakdown can be caused by a number of factors, including human error, equipment failure, or environmental factors such as moisture or dust. Once the insulation is breached, an electrical current can jump between the two conductive objects, resulting in an arc flash. When it comes to preventing arc flash, electrical safety is essential in the workplace because electrical hazards can result in severe injury or death. Electrical hazards can also cause significant property damage and result in costly downtime.

Why is it important to comply with NFPA 70E and OSHA?

Compliance with NFPA 70E and OSHA is critical for ensuring the safety of electrical maintenance personnel. NFPA 70E provides guidelines for electrical safety in the workplace, including requirements for training, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard assessments. OSHA provides a framework for developing and implementing safety procedures to protect workers from electrical hazards.

Five best practices to prevent arc flash

Implementing best practices to prevent arc flash can help to reduce the risk of electrical hazards in the workplace. Here are some examples:

  1. Conduct a hazard assessment: Conducting a hazard assessment can help identify potential electrical hazards in the workplace and determine the appropriate PPE for electrical maintenance personnel.

  2. Use lockout/tagout procedures: Lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures can prevent accidental energization of electrical equipment during maintenance or repair.

  3. Provide appropriate PPE: Providing appropriate PPE such as arc-rated clothing, gloves and face shields can help protect electrical maintenance personnel from arc flash.

  4. Use warning labels: Warning labels can alert personnel to potential electrical hazards and provide information on proper PPE and safety procedures.

  5. Use permanent electrical safety devices (PESDs): PESDs are permanently installed voltage indicator and test point devices that improve safety and productivity when performing electrical maintenance procedures such as LOTO.

Arc flash and LOTO compliance statistics

According to the BLS, in 2019, there were 160 fatalities due to exposure to electricity, and 2,530 non-fatal injuries involving days away from work. Failure to follow LOTO procedures was one of the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations in 2022, with 1,977 violations.

Arc flash is a significant hazard that electrical maintenance personnel may encounter in the workplace. It is essential to comply with NFPA 70E 120.5 Process for Establishing an Electrically Safe Working Condition and implement best practices to prevent arc flash. By doing so, we can help to reduce the risk of electrical hazards and ensure the safety of all workers.

Grace Technologies is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at Grace Technologies.


Author Bio: Nick Schiltz is a copywriter for Grace Technologies located in Davenport, Iowa. The company specializes in electrical safety products and predictive maintenance solutions. During his five years at Grace, Schiltz has published more than 250 blog posts ranging in topics from electrical safety best practices to the future impact of the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in the industrial space.