Arc Flash incident – $278,456 fine for US company after severe burns for three workers

Arc Flash incident – $278,456 fine for US company after severe burns for three workers

A company has been fined after three workers suffered severe burns in an Arc Flash incident in Arizona, US. The incident at metal smelting company ASARCO occurred after the installation of a breaker into a 4,160-volt switchgear. 

As a result of the incident the company was prosecuted by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and faced $278,456 in penalties in June 2019. In its prosecution, OSHA cited the company for its failure to provide a pre-job briefing before work began on the energised switchgear, render the electrical breaker inoperable before work began, and ensure the injured employees had Arc Flash protective clothing. 

This catalogue of failures makes the incident entirely preventable through a combination of better training, use of the hierarchy of control , and provision of proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

Understanding Arc Flash incidents

The severity and danger of an Arc Flash is often underestimated or overlooked completely. When an electric luminous bridge in a gap between two electrodes (an arc) forms, the result can be devastating. An Arc Flash occurs during a fault, or short circuit condition, which passes through an arc gap.

Arc Flash incidents are complex and can be caused by dust, condensation, mishandling of tools, corrosion, faulty installation, accidental contact or equipment or material failure. 

While precise data on the frequency of Arc Flashes is not particularly reliable due to poor reporting, we know they happen far more frequently than electrical workers should be exposed to – and certainly frequently enough to warrant incorporating Arc Flash safety into your risk assessments.

The risks are higher than you might imagine. An Arc Flash can be initiated through accidental contact, equipment that is underrated for the available short circuit current, or contamination or deterioration and corrosion of equipment.

An Arc Flash expels large amounts of deadly energy reaching temperatures as high as 20,000 degrees Celsius – hotter than the surface of the sun!

The role of training in electrical accident prevention

Electrical safety training is a vital element in an effective health and safety strategy. Workers need to have the knowledge and skills to be able to dynamically assess risks, understand warning labels and be apply their knowledge to work safely.

The role of PPE in workplace safety

Alongside an effective and robust safety training programme, providing workers with the appropriate PPE, establishing standards for its effective use and maintenance and ensuring they are followed are key to the highest safety standards. 

When it comes to electrical safety, incorporating Arc Flash – not just Flame Resistant – protection into supplied PPE is essential. Arc Flash protection is found in specialist garments – everything from insulating warm Arc Flash base layers to waterproof jackets and trousers. 

Enhanced and effective Arc Flash protection comes through wearing layers of protective garments manufactured from inherent fibres and which feature specific Arc Flash resilient components. In addition, the level of protection or Arc Rated Category and other information about the garment’s level of protection should be clearly visible.

To understand exactly what level of protection your team will need requires you to have assessed the potential incident to arrive at a required rating. New guidance on calculating the ratings and new, more rigorous testing standards have both recently been introduced, so it’s critical you speak to an expert to advise about the best protection for your people. 

Call one of our rail, power generation, industrial electrical, utilities or petrochemical sector specialists to discuss the right protection for Arc Flash incidents on +44 (0) 1482 679600.

Make sure that you’re specifying the right PPE for your team.

Read our free guide on the top considerations when choosing Arc Flash clothing & PPE below and make the best choice for you and your team via the link below ⬇.

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