Arc Flash: Causes and Effects on Industrial and Commercial Sites

by | May 27, 2016 | Blog, Engineering Design & HSE

Arc flashes are electric discharges that move through the air. An arc flash is a danger to you, your staff and your site. In addition, they do not only happen in high voltage systems. More than half of all accidents from low-voltage switchgear assemblies are from arc faults. As a result, you and your staff are at higher risk of injury from an arc fault than from electric shock.

The causes of arc faults vary. Usually they are the result of human error or equipment failure. Most arc faults happen while equipment is being used. Since you can not always watch or control the actions of your employees, risk is always present. Therefore, knowledge is a good first line of defence. Even though it will not stop an arc fault, giving your staff some basic facts may prevent damage and injury.

Some of the most common causes of arc flash include:

  1. Poor electrical contact
  2. Insulation failure
  3. Accidental contact with equipment
  4. Old electrical systems
  5. Poor maintenance of electrical systems

Arc flashes can be deadly or cause injury.

Some of the potential effects of arc flash include:

  1. Burns – heat from a single arc flash can reach up to 35,000°C. Compared to 9,000°C — the temperature of the surface of the sun.
  1. Injury from blast – creates a deadly force of 2000 pounds per square foot or more.
  1. Lung damage – arc flashes can release poisonous gases. These gases are harmful if breathed in.
  1. Hearing loss – blast from an arc flash can cause high sound levels, resulting in potential hearing damage.
  1. Damage to sight – light from an arc flash may cause blindness.

In addition to hurting people, arc flashes damage equipment and assets. Arc flashes cause downtime and losses in production.

Most of all, it is important to remember that giving out the right PPE should not be the only defence. Prevention can change from site to site, just as much as causes and effects. To be sure your site has the correct methods, you need to speak with an arc flash expert.

Arc Flash Hazard Capability Statement

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