Arc flash hazard is a serious electrical hazard usually caused by accidental contact between an energised conductor with another conductor or an earthed surface.
Should this contact occur, the resulting short circuit melts the conductors, ionises the air around it and, according to HSI Magazine, “create[s] a conducting plasma fireball with temperatures in the core of the arc that can reach upwards of 20,000 degrees centigrade”.
The risks of arc flash are many and varied, and each one could be preventable with the right training, equipment and safety wear.
1. Burns to the skin
Due to the erratic nature of the fireball caused by an arc flash (sometimes called a flashover) sparks tend to spray out from the fault, causing severe burns to any surface they land on. Not only do these cause injury to the worker not wearing appropriate health and safety clothing who might be working with or near malfunctioning equipment, it also heightens the risk of a fire within the building.
There are many things that could cause an arc flash, and even pieces of non-insulated equipment or clothing as small as tools and fastenings falling out of breast pockets, or off items of clothing have been known to contribute.
The mental and physical effects of electrocution on a person can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. Electrocution can do immense damage both internally and externally, as well as to equipment and the building itself.
4. Property damage
Many people who experience accidents in the workplace such as an arc flash don’t simply cause damage to themselves. Workplace accidents like this mean that surrounding tools and equipment can suffer extensive and often irreparable damage, and the costs to a business can be catastrophic.
5. Internal burns
An arc flash can also cause hot, noxious gases to form and vaporised metal, which goes into the air and can be incredibly toxic if breathed in. A worker without proper protection could easily risk severe internal damage from breathing in these chemicals.
Any electrical fire has a tendency to burn extremely bright. The fireball caused by burning plasma can cause blindness from the ultraviolet light which is emitted during the flash if proper safety eye wear is not provided.
7. Hearing damage
Likewise, the loud bangs and noises emitted from such a flash would be akin to standing next to an exploding firework. Often this can cause irreparable damage.
8. Financial risks
As well as a loss of staff and equipment, a work place which fails to provide appropriate health and safety equipment, protective clothing and training could find themselves on the losing end of a severe lawsuit.
9. Emotional risks
This highly dangerous experience can lead to effects as serious as shall shock or PTSD. This could lead to counselling and therapy, to ensure that the emotional risks don’t last a lifetime.
As above, workers who have suffered through an arc flash may need to go through years of surgery, rehabilitation and guidance on how to deal with the physical effects it might have had one the body. As HSI Magazine states, “severe injury and even death can not only occur to persons working on the electrical equipment, but also to people located nearby.” It’s therefore vital to ensure your workers are protected.
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