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An arc flash is a type of electrical explosion that occurs when an electric current passes through the air between two ungrounded conductors.
An arc flash can occur in a split second. The energy discharged from one can reach 35,000°F, (that’s four times hotter than the surface of the sun). Arc flashes are incredibly dangerous and without taking the right precautions they can be deadly. In 2013, 30,000 arc flash incidents were reported, 400 of which resulted in fatalities, according to ISHN. They’re scary things but by taking the right precautions and wearing the proper protection, you can prevent serious injury from occurring.
“Lightning is an example of a natural arc flash”
Sad to say the main cause is human error or equipment failure due to poor design or lack of maintenance and cleaning.
OSHA worked with the National Fire Protection Association to develop NFPA 70E. This standard aims to help companies avoid workplace injuries and fatalities from electrocution or arc flash. The standard outlines best practices, maintenance requirement, employee training and special equipment including PPE.
It is measured as calories/cm² (cal/cm²). No, we don’t mean the thing you’ll be counting over the holiday season. A calorie, in this sense, is the energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius at one atmosphere. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “I’m more confused now than I was before.”
So let’s keep it simple: 1cal/cm² is equal to holding your finger directly over a lighter’s flame for one second. 1.2cal/cm² of heat can lead to second-degree burns.
When it comes to arc-resistant materials, even if the gloves don’t actually catch fire, the person wearing it can still suffer from burns due to exposure. Arc flash testing determines how much energy the fabric can block out before the wearer experiences a second degree burn. For more information, check out our blog on the key differences between flame and arc flash resistance.
Under the NFPA 70E standard, there are four ratings based on their seriousness. The table below explains what clothing, including arc flash rated hand protection, should be worn under each rating:
According to the NFPA 70E standards, any work with shock exposure greater than 50 volts requires using rubber insulating gloves.
An important thing to note in the table above is that voltage rated and arc flash rated gloves are listed separately because arc flash gloves will not protect you from shock. Arc flash gloves are useful in non-shock hazard applications where there is a risk of flash fire or exposure to excessive heat.
Surprise! The best way to protect yourself against arc flash is to prevent it from occurring.
The first step is to make sure that you are working on de-energized equipment. If there is no current flowing through a device then there is no need to worry about an arc flash happening.
From the inspection and maintenance side, you need to make sure there is no dust or debris laying around the equipment and that every part is in good working order — contacts aren’t corroded, insulation isn’t worn through or thinning, equipment has been properly installed.
(Want more information on arc flash? Click the button below to watch our on-demand webinar The No-BS Approach to Arc Flash)
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Hand Injury Rates are Reduced by 60% when using the right gloves.