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We had a lot of feedback from our safety webinar The No-BS Approach to Arc Flash and it seemed that there was still some confusion on the subject. Arc flash, also called flashover, is a tricky subject, so we decided to put together an explainer video about it.
“So… you want to become an expert at preventing arc flash. Well, before we look at how to prevent it, let’s explore what arc flash is.
An arc flash is an electrical explosion that happens on energized equipment. It could be an air conditioner, conveyor belt or light bulb. When electrons move back and forth across a conductor – like a wire – a small area outside of that conductor is energized. Voltage can push those electrons off the conductive surface and onto atoms and molecules in the air. These atoms become ions because they have an electric charge.
The air that is around us in a pretty good insulator to stop these ions from causing an explosion, but it’s not perfect. If another conductor gets inside that energized area – a wrench, moisture in the air, dust build up or someone’s hand – the electrons will travel through that new path. As the electrons push off between the conductors, an arc occurs.You see this every day on a microscale when flicking on a light switch. The little spark inside the bulb is an arc. But on these larger scales, the arc between the two conductors creates heat.
A lot of heat. Arc flashes can reach 35,000 degree Fahrenheit which is four times hotter than the sun. Depending on the voltage of the machine, workers up to twenty-three feet – or two car lengths — away are still in danger of second degree burns.
The only fool-proof way to eliminate the risk of flashover is to de-energize the equipment through lockout/tagout procedures.
If you do need to work on energized equipment, you’re going to need protection. Your entire body is vulnerable to an arc flash, but because we’re a work glove company, we’re going to look only at arc flash-rated gloves… but these ratings apply for other Personal Protective Equipment too.
When choosing arc-rated gloves, you need to look at the glove’s Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV).
ATPV is the incident energy needed to cause a second-degree burn. So, the higher the ATPV measurement, the more protective that glove will be.
It’s the temperature produced (in cal/cm²) at a certain distance (usually eighteen inches) from an arc flash. It’s called incident energy because it’s energy that isn’t supposed to be released.
But how much is one cal/cm²?
If you were to hold your finger directly over the flame of a lighter for one second. That’s one cal/cm².
It takes 1.2 cal/cm² to create a second-degree burn. A second-degree burn means you’ll have red, blistered and swollen skin.
So let’s say you have a glove with an ATPV value of 8.2 cal/cm². That means if the flashover’s incident energy is 8.2 cal/cm², you have a 50% chance of getting a second-degree burn.
Those odds might not sound great but imagine if you were given a 50 percent chance of winning the lottery – suddenly those odds sound pretty good.
And think about it….
Escaping an electrical explosion that is four times hotter than the sun with only second-degree burns is a bit like winning the lottery.”
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