Building owners can face OSHA penalties for outside contractors who fail to follow proper procedures when working on energized electrical equipment within their facilities. Owners can both enhance the safety of the work environment and lessen the risk of fines by complying with the requirements and standards related to arc flash.
Arc flash, a massive release of energy in the form of light, sound, force, and heat, occurs when there is a fault in energized equipment. The explosion of energy can cause severe injury to those working on and around the equipment. To protect workers from arc flash injuries, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have each set forth guidelines and standards. For example, NFPA 70E requires the calculation and identification of the arc flash energy level and the flash protection boundary-the area surrounding a potential arc point in which workers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The PPE level is determined through calculations of the potential arc flash exposure and is indicated on equipment through required labeling systems. The higher the PPE level, the more protective gear a worker must wear.
Arc flash presents a significant liability issue for building owners. "Building owners are responsible for any work done in their facilities and making sure it is in accordance with standards. This not only includes employees, but also contractors and other outside technicians like electricians that come in to do work. If an owner is not following the appropriate guidelines and taking precautions to limit injury, they risk significant fines and potential lawsuits if someone is injured from an arc flash.
PSTS, Inc. offers the following advice to building owners to reduce their risk of fines and enhance workplace safety:
- Conduct a coordination and short circuit study. Coordination and short circuit studies are one way to gather the information required to calculate the flash protection boundary, properly label equipment with arc flash potential, and determine the PPE level. "By understanding and evaluating the facility's systems, equipment and energy levels, building owners can assess and minimize potential dangers and outages." Owners should also document these procedures and findings.
- Ensure all workers are following guidelines and standards. Since the building owner is responsible for work done in their facility, verify that anyone doing work on energized systems is wearing protective gear and using appropriate equipment based on the PPE level. Ensure that the PPE level is known by clearly labeling all systems and equipment with arc flash potential. Also, incorporate these requirements and procedures into the facility's existing safety program.
- Educate staff on common misconceptions regarding arc flash. Despite the increased awareness among building owners and workers of the dangers of arc flash, there are still many misconceptions. "Misunderstanding arc flash can have deadly consequences. Unfortunately, many fallacies about arc flash exist. For example, many people think that if there is a low fault current, the flash hazard will be lower-this is not always true. In fact, the longer a fault persists, the higher the energy level and the greater the flash hazard." To dispel misconceptions, building owners should educate staff about the real risks of arc flash. The benefits of following arc flash standards should also be communicated to the staff. For example, without the proper identification of arc flash levels, employees may wear gear based on the highest PPE level to protect them, which is often bulky, uncomfortable and cumbersome. However, accurately identifying arc flash levels lets employees wear clothing and gear based on the true PPE level, which may allow workers to remain more comfortable without compromising workplace safety. It is also very important that workers use basic common sense, and do not become careless and complacent.
Professional Safety Training Services, Inc. provides safety-related training pertaining to the safe work practices of personnel while working on or near electrical equipment and components, and when performing arc welding activities. This training is often incorporated during weekly 40-Hour HAZWOPER Courses, 8-Hour Annual OSHA Refresher Courses, 10 & 30-Hour Construction Courses, Industrial Welding Courses, and more specifically during Electrical Safety Awareness Courses. During these courses, emphasis is placed on wearing the proper PPE and using safeguards against workers receiving welding and electrical arc flashes. PSTS, Inc. also instructs management personnel on how to prepare and deal with OSHA audits and inspections. If your firm requires such training, do not hesitate to contact us at PSTS, Inc. at: email@example.com .