Although electric arc flashes have been around ever since we began to use electrical power, rising injuries and deaths caused by arc flashes have prompted the increased study of their causes and effect and how to better protect people from them.
This has, in turn, led to better electrical safety regulations and training for workers who are exposed to electrical hazards such as arc flashes. What follows is a brief overview of arc flashes and the danger they pose.
What is an Electric Arc?
When electric current jumps through the air between two points it is called an electric arc. When you reach for a metal doorknob and feel a shock, you are experiencing a small electric arc. Lightning works the same way, but with a lot more power.
Some arcs are generated intentionally, for instance with arc welding where an electric arc is used to fuse two pieces of metal together. Other arcs happen accidentally, such as when a tool touches the wrong surface, or when the insulation between two electric components frays or becomes faulty.
What is an Arc Flash?
Most anything that generates an electric current can generate an electric arc, even a twelve-volt battery. But, with high power electrical equipment, such as that which is found in factories and workshops, any unexpected arc can cause an explosive burst of heat and light. This is called an arc flash.
What is an Arc Blast?
Heat at the arc terminals can easily rise to more than 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or four times the temperature at the surface of the sun. During an arc flash, the air around the arc heats up instantaneously and vaporizes the conductors causing a wave of pressure known as an arc blast, which is essentially an explosion. This can happen in an instant and the force of the blast can cause a burst of shrapnel moving at more than 700 miles per hour.
Exposure to Arc Flashes
An arc flash can make equipment or machinery essentially blow up, and in doing so, eject metal components, insulation, and the supporting structure outward with life-threatening force. In many cases, it happens so fast that the injured worker does even know what happened.
Some workers are more exposed to dangerous arc flashes than others. This includes anyone employed in the following capacities:
- Maintenance workers
- Machinery operators
- HVAC personnel
Being near of an arc blast when it occurs can result in a range of very serious injuries, and sometimes even death. Common arc flash injuries include:
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of sight
- Collapsed lungs
- Broken bones
- Loss of Limbs
- Loss of life
While an electric arc alone is dangerous enough, the blast pressure and loud sound that an arc blast produces can also seriously injure or kill a person. In fact, a worker can still be critically injured even if they are more than ten feet away from the blast. Furthermore, any flammable materials or substances in the area can be ignited and cause a fire that can destroy an entire facility.
Arc Flash Safety
Because of the deadly power involved, arc flashes are often life-threatening and call for a certain amount of care and training to be provided in order to keep them from happening. For this reason, any equipment that poses a risk of an arc flash should be labeled with an appropriate warning. In addition, everyone who works with that equipment should be made aware of the danger and should know what they need to do to stay safe.
New electrical safety standards, particularly the NFPA 70E, which were established by the National Fire Protection Association set the minimum requirements for electrical safety practices today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which oversees safe practices in the workplace, has also adopted these guidelines and require them to be implemented in any situation or work environment in which a worker may be exposed to electric energy.
Contact An Experienced New Jersey Workers Compensation Attorney
If you have been injured by an arc flash or in any other accident while at work in New Jersey, you are entitled to a range of workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault. For more information on workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey or for assistance with pursuing a claim, contact a New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney immediately.