My career began twenty-six years ago performing infrared thermal inspections on electrical systems. My job involved interacting with live electrical equipment all day, every day. During that eleven-year period, I interacted with thousands of pieces of live electrical equipment, and like many electrical workers of that period, I often took risks that I would never take now. So, what has changed? More maturity? Less of a feeling of invincibility? Increased awareness?
It may be a combination of factors, but for me, it comes down to one main reason: increased knowledge. The simple fact is that I didn’t know the risks I was taking early in my career. I wasn’t being a cowboy or rebel back then. I just didn’t know the danger of some of the things I was doing.
Fast forward to today. I am much more knowledgeable about the hazards within each piece of electrical equipment. My hope is that you are as well. If you are not, let me explain what is different in 2021 than in the 1990s. Today, we have a much more quantifiable way of measuring the risk level of an arc flash event. For over a century, we’ve known and been able to quantify the risk level of being shocked. Shock hazards are largely based on the voltage of the equipment, and the nameplate on the equipment tells us the voltage. This information has allowed electrical workers to assess the risks of being shocked for a long time. However, it wasn’t until the last decade or so that we’ve been able to quantify the hazard level of an arc flash event. The incident energy (measured in calories/cm2) tells us this.
If your facility has had an arc flash risk assessment performed, the incident energy along with the arc flash boundary are presented on the label for the equipment, much like the voltage is on the nameplate. If this information had been at my fingertips twenty years ago, I would have been able to recognize the differing levels of risk within each piece of equipment and behave accordingly.
Training on how to reconcile the incident energy values contained on arc flash labels with PPE charts is vital to the safety of today’s electrical worker. If you haven’t had an arc flash risk assessment performed, lack arc flash labeling on your equipment, or haven’t been trained to interpret the hazards of arc flash, then you need to have an arc flash risk assessment performed on your entire electrical system.
Let’s take advantage of the increased knowledge available to us today and protect ourselves. This saves lives and reduces catastrophic injury to countless workers every year. Today, I wouldn’t think of engaging with live electrical equipment without knowing the hazard level and risk of an arc flash event, and neither should you or your workers.
Thank you for your time.
Mitchell & Lindsey offers Arc Flash Risk Assessments and Electrical Safety Training. If we can be of service to you in these areas or if you have any questions about this article, please reach out to me at the email or phone number below.