Today's News / Occupational Safety

How many arc flash fatalities are there?

arc flashThere is a statistic, that is commonly quoted, that says there are ten arc flash incidents per day resulting in one to two deaths per day. This statistic is identified as coming from a report compiled by Capelli-Schellpfeffer, Inc.

In a paragraph titled "Two Deaths Per Day" Fire Engineering magazine states:"An arc flash is an electrical release of energy hotter than the surface of the sun and capable of exploding with the strength of eight sticks of dynamite. It kills two workers a day, every day, year in and year out; arc flash injuries occur 1,000 times more often than a shark attack. A shark attack receives front page coverage in the newspaper; an arc flash fatality doesn’t make the news at all."

Is this true?

A compilation of statistics from OSHA listing all of the workplace fatalities for a 12-onth period - July 2009 through June 2010 showed one arc flash fatality during those 12 months. There were many electrical fatalities -- in particular resulting from contact with overhead wires. But the statistic of one to two arc flash fatalities per day is not supported by the facts.

Don't minimize the danger of arc flash or the seriousness of arc flash injuries. Workers, and other personnel, need to be aware of the danger from arc flash, and the importance and function of protective equipment, procedures, labeling, equipment and PPE. You cannot take arc flash lightly. But incorrect "facts" should not be used. Start to change the truth, and eventually a belief in fiction (aka myths or "old wives tales") will result in disaster.

The truth is that arc flash is extremely hazardous. It can happen suddenly and with great violence. It can never be treated casually.

Responses:

● I have had a hard time as well, trying to find current and more accurate data on Arc Flash related injuries and fatalities. One of the biggest reasons we do not have a more accurate outlook of the injuries related to Arc Flash incidents, is that the reporting and collecting of data has changed over the years. True, OSHA should be notified of any work related fatality, but that just does not seem to be happening. Another big problem with Arc Flash related injuries is the classification of the injury itself. Hospitals and the medical profession as a whole, classify most Arc Flash related injuries as burn injuries. Even if those injuries result in death, because of the severity of the burns, the fatality will be labeled a burn fatality and not an Arc Flash.

● In all of my 43 years of working with industrial controls and systems 480v or less, I have never experienced an arc-flash incident for myself or for any co-worker around me. I think this whole issue is way overblown. Certainly electricity is dangerous, and we all know it, but these new regulations make working a real pain in the butt. Everywhere I go lately what I hear is not "How wonderful it is that we are now protected from ourselves" but instead "I really hate this crap". If an electrician or other "authorized person" manages to arc-flash themselves to death, they shouldn't have been in there in the first place.

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