Two Things You Need to Know About Electrical Safety

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Two Things You Need to Know About Electrical Safety

Grainger Editorial Staff

If an arc flash safety plan isn’t on your radar, here are two very good reasons it should be.

Electric shock hazards aren’t anything new, but in recent years the specific dangers associated with arc flash have come to the forefront of many electrical safe work programs (ESWPs).

An arc flash is an undesired electric discharge in which a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and instead travels through the air between conductors—or from a conductor to the ground—and can produce a fiery, bomb-like “explosion.”

Arc flash hazards pose an everyday risk in workplaces worldwide, possessing the potential to destroy equipment and seriously injure, or even kill, workers. Here are two things you need to know about keeping your employees safe when they’re working in energized environments:

1. In the unlikely event of an arc flash, your focus should be on giving your employees a chance to survive.

Arc flash incidents are largely preventable by working de-energized whenever possible and engineering the arc flash hazard out of the electrical system as part of your ESWP. It helps to know that most of these accidents are caused by one of three things: human error, negligent maintenance and/or improper electrical design, all of which can create a dangerous environment for employees.

Regardless of the task at hand, workers have a habit of “settling” into routines that can lead to unsafe work procedures and mistakes pertaining to maintenance or the mishandling of tools. Dust, debris, and other impurities that build up on the surface of the conductor (causing it to operate improperly), and faulty installations also increase the odds of triggering an arc flash.

Employers should always consider doing the task de-energized first to completely eliminate the arc flash hazard. Engineering controls such as upstream fast acting over-current protection devices can greatly minimize or eliminate the risk of arc flash. When the task must be done live and engineering controls are not feasible administrative controls such as safety training and lastly personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered to minimize the risk of arc flash accidents. Employees must know how to properly handle and analyze electrical equipment in order to identify, understand and avoid potentially hazardous conditions.

2. Even if you’re contracting out electrical work, your company is still responsible for arc flash safety.

If your company owns the equipment that caused the arc flash, you can be held liable for any damage it causes. While the decision to work energized or de-energized may lie with the contractor’s own ESWP, hiring a contractor is no defense for inadequate safety.

So, while the contractor is responsible for its own employees, the equipment maintenance, labeling, and condition are all your firm’s responsibility and should be factored into your electrical safety plan.

Here’s a real-life example: Telecom company Qualcomm was found liable for $7.1 million in damages as a result of a burn incident where a third-party contractor suffered third-degree burns while servicing electrical equipment on the company’s premise. The incident resulted in catastrophic injury. The contractor was told the entire system would be de-energized while he was doing the inspection. A second contractor, an engineer from a different contracting company, was also on-site to do this job. This contractor removed the cover of a 4,160V circuit breaker in order for the first contractor to inspect it. Unfortunately, the equipment was still energized, and an arc flash occurred. The contractor suffered burns over 35% of his body.

De-energizing electrical equipment is the first line of defense against shock and arc flash hazards. Then the equipment needs to be verified that it’s dead, and subsequently locked/tagged with approved company lock/tag devices. Finally, anyone who is working on the equipment should wear the right PPE, especially if electrical hazards in or around the worksite cannot be placed in an electrically safe condition.

Don’t mess around with arc flash risk. Always work on de-energized equipment as your first option, and then consider engineering controls as part of your ESWP. Next incorporate use of administrative controls such as training your employees and labelling all electrical equipment for potential risks as part of your ESWP, and lastly consider use of PPE in your ESWP.


1) Why is Arc Flash Training Required?

2) Implementing an Arc Flash Compliance Program

3) Who is Responsible for Work on Energized Equipment – the Contractor or the Owner in NFPA 70E-2015?

4) Qualcomm’s Payout: What We Can Learn About Employer Responsibility

5) Understanding Liability in Third Part Contractor Situations

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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