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New survey exposes gaps in industry arc flash risk management

by | Oct 2, 2017 | Engineering Design & HSE

Our UK based engineering team has been helping clients across a broad range of industries to minimise and manage the risk of arc flash in their operations for decades. While many companies understand the risks of arc flash and have the appropriate mitigation strategies in place, a recent survey conducted in the UK by an arc flash protective clothing supplier in conjunction with the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), has exposed several apparent gaps.

200 UK industry professionals across the rail, power generation, industrial electrical, utilities and petrochemical industries responded to the survey. It reveals not only a lack of awareness at every level to current safety standards governing arc flash, but also, according to a write up of the survey findings, an apparent lack of action from employers to properly educate staff about the high-risk threat of an arc flash incident occurring.

The general level of awareness of arc flash appears to be strong, with, 84% of respondents claiming to understand the risks that arc flash poses. We examined the causes and effects of arc flash in a previous blog which you can read by clicking here. Worryingly, a large number of respondents appear to have had first-hand experience of an incident, with 57% admitting they, or someone they work with, has suffered an arc flash strike.

However, the research highlights an apparent gap between this awareness and the appropriate guidelines in place to protect workers against it. 78% of respondents didn’t know the correct government safety standard that covers working when arc flash is a risk. What’s more, 90% of respondents believed that there is a need for the Government to develop more specific guidelines or legislation to better recommend safety measures.

Of those familiar with the legislation, 80% believed it is far too ambiguous when it comes to recommending the appropriate safety clothing to protect staff. At GSE Systems we’ve long been advocates of managing and mitigating the risk of an arc flash incident occurring first and foremost rather that over-relying on PPE protection. That said, the importance of having the correct PPE provision in place should never be underestimated.

In any system, the likelihood of an incident depends on the condition of the equipment, and the way it is operated. This leads to the concept of a risk assessment, an area of study, which is coming more to the fore in terms of both HV and LV equipment. Calculating arc flash incident energy values is a specialist task, which GSE Systems is highly skilled in delivering. The potential severity of an arc flash event depends on the configuration of the entire electrical system at a site, along with knowledge of system fault currents and protection clearance times.

Specialist software is usually required to model full electrical systems at a site, and conduct incident energy calculations in accordance with IEEE 1584. The output of this assessment is a full understanding of the incident energy levels across the distribution system, allowing appropriate mitigation measures, labelling, hazard boundaries – and PPE requirements to be identified.

Perhaps the study’s most alarming finding is that a quarter of employers believe it is the sole responsibility of the individual employee to protect themselves against arc flash. In addition, 50% consider it the employee’s responsibility to self-educate about arc flash, not their own responsibility as the employer.

Employers must undertake adequate consideration of arc flash hazards as part of their responsibilities under health and safety legislation. Relevant standards and regulations include the NFPA70E ‘Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace’, the UK Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989).

To learn more about arc flash compliance, risk assessment and mitigation click below to download our information sheet.

Arc Flash Hazard Capability Statement


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