Most electricians will tell you that safety is always their #1 priority. When considering electrical hazards on the job, arc flash is perhaps the most lethal threat with temperatures exceeding 35,000 degrees. A 700 mph projectile-producing pressure of an arc flash blast can throw a worker across a room. The release of molten metals can burn through protective equipment and char skin.
Types of Injuries that Can Result from Arc Flashes
There are two different types of burns that can be sustained from electricity: thermal burns and electrical burns.
An electrical burn results whenever direct contact is made with an electric current, and thermal burns are the result of arc blasts and flashes.
The arc flash itself happens whenever there are powerful currents with high amperage traveling through the air. Whenever there is a high voltage difference between a gap in conductors, there’s the potential for an arc flash to occur, which can unleash devastating amounts of energy and extreme temperatures.
Arc Flash and Arc Blast Hazards
The large amounts of light and heat given off by an arc flash have the potential to destroy skin, cause severe burns and eat away at tissue. Arc flashes have also been known to set fire to clothing and melt it, which can cause even more burns. It’s not unusual for the victims of arc flashes to require amputations or skin grafts because of their injuries. The more severe the burn is, the more likely it is that the victim will eventually succumb to their injuries.
An arc with high amperage can create an explosion of pressure waves that have a force that’s equal to a hundred pounds. Those mounting pressure waves are strong enough to fling a person across a room, which can result in more injuries from falling or being slammed into nearby objects.
The incredible heat created from arc flashes can melt metal electrical parts and create molten droplets that are flung great distances. Those molten droplets can harden in an instant on a person’s skin or ignite once the come in contact with clothing.
The Effects of Arc Flash Injuries
Victims of arc flash burns can sustain scars or suffer from constant pain. It’s also not unusual for electrical workers to have a hard time going back to work after suffering from arc flashes because of the depression, anxiety and other psychological factors that can affect their performance.
There are also high financial and social costs to consider with arc flash burns. There have been reports of workers not being able to return to their old jobs at all once they’ve recuperated from their arc flash injuries, which cost employers in productivity and industry competiveness. Arc flash injuries might also require employers to have to hire new employees and retrain old ones. Workers’ compensation premiums can also increase after arc flash injuries.
From September 2000 through December 2005, there was a report of 350 Washington state employees who were admitted to the hospital for intense burns sustained at their place of employment. Of those 350 injuries, nine percent of them were caused by arc blast and arc flash explosions. The full amount of the workers’ compensation costs of that nine percent of hospitalizations was more than an estimated $1.3 million, and that includes the necessary reimbursement of nearly 1,800 days of lost work.