How Arc Flashes Relate to In-Depth Electrical Failure Analysis and Inspections

kesäkuu 11, 2024

Part of our role as Dreiym Engineering is to conduct forensic electrical analysis of a fire. This may be due to negligence, poorly maintained equipment, or the reality of an arc flash. Considering how many electrical fire incidents can lead to significant financial, asset, and human life loss, we take this role extremely seriously.

It certainly helps to provide additional and informative information to all our stakeholders, clients, and potential collaborators. The total implication of these violent events is that they often result in power system failures. We want to do our part to ensure your location remains safe, operable, and has preventative measures in place. Here is a quick overview of arc flashes and what they mean for your business or setting.

What is an Arc Flash?

During an arc flash, a massive event of electric current passes into the air. This results in a bright light (hence the flash) and extreme electrical discharge to the surrounding area, similar to the effects of a bomb.

This reaction occurs whenever an arc fault reaches another conductor, like the ground. All that stored and flowing energy is then released in a burst that often leads to devastating consequences. If your setting or team members are not adequately protected, the intense temperatures inside an arc flash can and will lead to all kinds of system failures, including electrical fires.

What Causes an Arc Flash?

Electricity will find the path of least resistance, no matter the circumstances. That is the nature of the energy resources and the primary issue when dealing with an arc flash. Most often, there is a failure in current electrical insulation or circuits where the live current is allowed outside its controlled environment, causing a flash. Some of these instances include:

  • Faulty Installation: The circuits, boards, and associated devices were not properly installed or inspected and degraded over time like a ticking time bomb.
  • Poor Maintenance: No preventative measures ever addressed specific circuits or wires. As use increased by the business or organization, the insulation around such areas degraded.
  • Environmental Factors: Moisture absorbed after a storm or dust and debris from a recent cleaning could get into the connections, putting an arc flash at greater risk.
  • Human Error: A lack of proper workflows or not wearing proper equipment leads to negligence, placing people and assets at risk for an arc flash.

Loose connections and unstable electrical contacts come into contact with air and moisture. The only way to prevent these situations is through a systematic approach to proper maintenance and safety measures.

Risks and Consequences of Arc Flashes

Why would we focus on an arc flash? Our forensic electrical engineers often testify as expert witnesses during legal and insurance-related proceedings. We have to move through a building or job site to forensically recount how the arc flash occurred, who is responsible, and what should have been done instead.

Our team is called on so often because the potential damage of arc flashes is exponential. At the immediate point of flashing, you have direct harm to the physical area and any human in its surrounding path. Hearing loss, burns, eye damage, and other considerations will apply and require immediate medical attention.

Outside of that area, there is a ripple effect. Businesses experiencing a larger arc flash will have to call in specialists to repair and control any other electrical resources. The energy from an arc flash will not necessarily shut off electricity. You can still have live wires and circuits in action, requiring any help you receive to be in full, properly insulated, PPE to ensure safety.

The longer it takes for these repairs to occur, the more downtime your business experiences. That can lead to significant financial losses due to an inability to meet current productivity expectations for clients, stakeholders, and contracts.

Prevention First: Ensuring Your Team Avoids Arc Flashes

While the forensic side of our electrical engineering department helps uncover the root causes of electrical fires, we also have electrical design and arc flash studies experts. They can provide the insight you need to avoid such instances from affecting your everyday operations.

In the meantime, you may want to set up some preventive measures to lower your risk of any such damage.

#1 – Invest in PPE

Given the recent global pandemic, PPE (personal protective equipment) has a new meaning in today’s world. However, it is crucial to protect workers from arc flash events.

Think of modern electrical PPE as a firefighter’s uniform. This includes materials that are flame resistant and reduce the chances of electrical flow jumping from an arc to a human being. The entire body is covered, and hard hats are included so that any debris that may fall after an arc flash won’t lead to excessive damage.

#2 – Using the Proper Labels

Like it or not, improper labeling of crucial electrical equipment can and will lead to issues. You want all your electrical equipment to be labeled with critical information related to any potential hazards.

While your internal business team will learn what is safe and what is dangerous over time, you most likely have third-party contractors, state inspectors, and site visitors who will not. Having clearly displayed warning labels that outline the potential risks of addressing this equipment reduces the chances of human error.

#3 – Outline a Safe Distance

Arc flashes result in a telltale ring of damage. Like a bomb blast, certain distances are more likely to result in specific damage the closer you reach the point of origin. A quality method to avoid such damage in the future is to maintain a safe distance from any potential risks.

You can place visual outlines around junctions, circuits, and other equipment that may cause an arc flash. This is especially important for any business that cannot control current electrical equipment from a remote location. You don’t want anyone who isn’t supposed to be in that area standing near such reactions.

#4 – Education First

Finally, train your team members. It may seem like a simple solution, but the more anyone who visits and works in proximity to potential risks is educated on the dangers of arc flashes, the lower the likelihood of an event affecting your business.

Awareness is a crucial part of a preventative safety plan. However, be sure to have a reactive plan in place as well. Many companies refer to these as Emergency Response Plans (Planning). They will outline the steps that must be taken directly after an arc flash event to mitigate continued risk and damage.

Why This Matters to Our Team

Dreiym Engineering is located in Texas. We work with industries ranging from energy and oil to consulting on new builds and projects. Our fully licensed team of forensic electrical engineers provides the crucial analysis you need to reduce the chances of arc flashes and the electrical fires that often follow closely behind.

While we stand by our work as forensic specialists, we want to do everything possible to help you prevent such damage. The more we can inform and reinforce preventive practices of organizations all over Texas and beyond, the less we worry about damage to private and public infrastructure.

If you would like to learn more about how to better protect your business against the risk of arc flashes or work with our experienced forensic electrical engineers to find the cause of such damage, reach out and contact us today. We can offer the insight you need to keep your employees, visitors, and assets safe.

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