The causes of Arc Flash – what you need to know

The causes of Arc Flash – what you need to know

An important factor in keeping yourself safe is knowing the causes of Arc Flash incidents. Understanding what might prompt an Arc Flash will help you mitigate those risks, ultimately leaving you safer.

It’s not just those who work directly on electrical systems who need to know about Arc Flash risks. Depending on the incident energy and whether it happens in a confined space (which focuses the energy forwards instead of allowing it to dissipate sideways), a blast from an Arc Flash can affect people many metres away. So it’s important that all of your operational teams are aware of the causes of Arc Flash and how it might affect them.

Arc Flash cause – equipment failure

It stands to reason that if equipment fails or is improperly designed or installed, an Arc Flash incident could be caused. Faulty system design can also contribute to an increased likelihood of Arc Flash incidents, also known as electrical flashovers.

Damage to insulation, gaps, or wear and tear can also create the pathways needed for an unwanted electric discharge through the air. Exposed live parts or loose connections could also be the culprits.

Regular inspections of your electrical systems and equipment will help to predict and prevent Arc Flash incidents.

Arc Flash cause – spontaneous

There are other factors which can increase the likelihood of an Arc Flash incident. These causes include:

  • Corrosion of electrical equipment
  • A build up of dust, which can conduct an electrical charge
  • Moisture or vapor, which can also conduct an electrical charge
  • Animal contact – mice, for example, can create the route needed for an Arc Flash to occur

Arc Flash cause – human error

Human error is the most common cause of Arc Flash incidents. It could be a gang breaking ground and hitting a cable not marked on the services plan, a test probe touched to the wrong surface, or a tool dropped accidentally which hits a live switchgear.

Other ways that human error can cause an Arc Flash are through the improper installation of equipment, preventative maintenance that isn’t carried out properly (or at all) and failing to de-energise equipment where it’s possible.

A lack of appropriate training can increase the chances of human error causing an incident. But distractions, weariness, the pressure to get the job done quickly and restore power, or just an overly-relaxed attitude can make electrical engineers bypass safety procedures, which can all too easily result in a dropped tool or making contact between energised conductors.

Creating awareness of the severity of Arc Flash incidents and the potential injuries – take a look at this blog for more on that – can help to develop a culture within your workforce which actively seeks to avoid electrical and especially Arc Flash incidents.

Keeping yourself safe from an Arc Flash

If you understand the causes of Arc Flash incidents you can take steps to keep yourself safe. But when the majority of Arc Flash incidents occur due to human error or just sheer accident, what more can you do?

Ensuring there’s a thorough Arc Flash hazard assessment for the system you’re working on and understanding the hierarchy of control are both helpful in predicting Arc Flash incidents. Once you have done everything proactive to understand the system and its risks, personal protective equipment (PPE) specifically designed to protect against Arc Flash (not just simple fire resistant) is your last line of defence. 

But having the right PPE isn’t all of the story – if you were caught in an Arc Flash blast, wearing it properly could be the difference between walking out alive or not. Read our free guide to the top seven considerations when choosing Arc Flash PPE for critical information on layering, fire resistant vs Arc Flash and the benefits of inherent protection within fabrics.

Now you more about the causes of Arc Flash incidents, get expert advice on the types of PPE your team need to stay safe by giving us a call on +44 (0) 1482 679600.

This is one post in a series ‘All about Arc Flash’. Continue reading the next in the series or return to the start if you like.

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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