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Introduction to Arc Flash Basics

Arc-flash incidents are one of the most common and most serious hazards we face in the electrical power industry. An arc flash is the sudden release of energy caused by an electrical fault, arcing in air from one conductor to another or to ground. Arc-flash incidents are normally caused by the failure of equipment with high available incident energy, a measure of the destructive energy available in a system that feeds a fault. Even 1.2 cal/cm2 incident energy is enough to cause second degree burns to the skin. Not only can an arc flash result in equipment loss and downtime, it is also one of the leading causes of workplace injury and death. According to the Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, over 30,000 arc-flash incidents occur per year leading to over 2,000 hospitalizations and 400 fatalities. These failures occur due to delayed protective device operation, high instantaneous overcurrent pickup settings, misoperation or failure of circuit protective devices, or lack of maintenance.

The first step to determine the likelihood of an arc-flash incident in your facility is to conduct an arc-flash study and assess the risk. An arc-flash study is complex, including data collection, complicated calculations, diagramming of system impedance, short circuit studies, and a determination of incident energy. The study does provide multiple benefits for educating your employees about the risks they may face while on the job site. It is also essential for evaluating and addressing any unique risks to your specific facility and helps determine flash protection boundaries, approach distances, incident arc energy, and required personal protective equipment (PPE) needs. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E requires an arc-flash study review every five years or when changes occur in the electrical distribution system that could affect the results of the analysis. Next, based on the arc-flash study, customized equipment hazard warning labels must be installed, alerting employees and outside personnel of any potential hazards. These labels should also include a list of the correct PPE requirements necessary to work on or near the equipment.

Once incident energies and hazards are identified and labelled, the next step is to reduce the incident energy associated with hazardous equipment and installations. These mitigation technologies have the potential to literally save lives and equipment, reducing downtime and thereby saving costs to your facility in the long run. Hazard mitigation allows employee to wear lower rated PPE clothing so that technicians can work more effectively, leading to increased quality of work. Furthermore, hazard mitigation directly reduces downtime and damage for equipment in the event of an arcing fault.   

At CE Power, we provide cost-effective strategies to mitigate your arc-flash incidents. Our experts can help you reduce fault current levels and duration, increase working distance, and install arc-resistant equipment.  We provide remote racking and operation solutions, current limiting reactors and fuses, zone interlocking, system protective device coordination, trip unit upgrades, differential protection, arc-detection relays, and active fault reduction systems. 

CE Power is an industry leader in arc-flash risk assessments and mitigation techniques. With an experienced staff and a stellar reputation among our clients, we can help you implement solutions to match your needs and budget. We offer turnkey solutions and are able to quickly and effectively source the right-sized solution for our customers, employing a disciplined, safety first approach to every project. We are committed to helping our customers maintain the uninterrupted integrity of their power systems and the highest level of safety for facility personnel.

Arc-flash incidents are one of the most common and most serious hazards we face in the electrical power industry. An arc flash is the sudden release of energy caused by an electrical fault, arcing in air from one conductor to another or to ground. Arc-flash incidents are normally caused by the failure of equipment with high available incident energy, a measure of the destructive energy available in a system that feeds a fault. Even 1.2 cal/cm2 incident energy is enough to cause second degree burns to the skin. Not only can an arc flash result in equipment loss and downtime, it is also one of the leading causes of workplace injury and death. According to the Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, over 30,000 arc-flash incidents occur per year leading to over 2,000 hospitalizations and 400 fatalities. These failures occur due to delayed protective device operation, high instantaneous overcurrent pickup settings, misoperation or failure of circuit protective devices, or lack of maintenance.

The first step to determine the likelihood of an arc-flash incident in your facility is to conduct an arc-flash study and assess the risk. An arc-flash study is complex, including data collection, complicated calculations, diagramming of system impedance, short circuit studies, and a determination of incident energy. The study does provide multiple benefits for educating your employees about the risks they may face while on the job site. It is also essential for evaluating and addressing any unique risks to your specific facility and helps determine flash protection boundaries, approach distances, incident arc energy, and required personal protective equipment (PPE) needs. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E requires an arc-flash study review every five years or when changes occur in the electrical distribution system that could affect the results of the analysis. Next, based on the arc-flash study, customized equipment hazard warning labels must be installed, alerting employees and outside personnel of any potential hazards. These labels should also include a list of the correct PPE requirements necessary to work on or near the equipment.

Once incident energies and hazards are identified and labelled, the next step is to reduce the incident energy associated with hazardous equipment and installations. These mitigation technologies have the potential to literally save lives and equipment, reducing downtime and thereby saving costs to your facility in the long run. Hazard mitigation allows employee to wear lower rated PPE clothing so that technicians can work more effectively, leading to increased quality of work. Furthermore, hazard mitigation directly reduces downtime and damage for equipment in the event of an arcing fault.   

At CE Power, we provide cost-effective strategies to mitigate your arc-flash incidents. Our experts can help you reduce fault current levels and duration, increase working distance, and install arc-resistant equipment.  We provide remote racking and operation solutions, current limiting reactors and fuses, zone interlocking, system protective device coordination, trip unit upgrades, differential protection, arc-detection relays, and active fault reduction systems. 

CE Power is an industry leader in arc-flash risk assessments and mitigation techniques. With an experienced staff and a stellar reputation among our clients, we can help you implement solutions to match your needs and budget. We offer turnkey solutions and are able to quickly and effectively source the right-sized solution for our customers, employing a disciplined, safety first approach to every project. We are committed to helping our customers maintain the uninterrupted integrity of their power systems and the highest level of safety for facility personnel. 

Written by: Matthew Robinson, PE, Josh Brandenburg, PE and Ron Fair