Arc flashes, which the Workplace Safety Awareness Council said cause about 7,000 burn injuries a year and hospitalization costs ranging from $200,000 to $750,000, happen when electrical current travels through the air from one conductor to another or to the ground.
“When you comb through (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data, you find that it is often people who are not trained as electricians who are getting hurt. It's often janitors or maintenance people. These are folks who had no idea what the danger truly is,” said Brett Brenner, Arlington, Virginia-based president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Brenner said the need to educate workers is especially true about arc flash, a sudden explosion of electricity that can reach up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit and inflict often-lethal injuries to anyone within several feet.
“Arc flash is just now being understood,” Brenner said. “It's only recently that we've been able to slow down the video enough to realize what's really happening.”
Aaron C. Mans, Columbus, Ohio-based owner of consultant Arc Flash Solutions Inc., said safety professionals are just beginning to digest the risk posed by arc flash.
“It's been a relatively short period of time that we have truly known about the implications of arc flash and how we might mitigate it and protect people who might be in harm's way,” he said.