This is a continuation of my last blog which covered the burden of being protected against the first electrical hazard (shock) addressed by NFPA 70E®. The second hazard addressed is an arc-flash. Essentially an arc-flash causes a burn injury. If you look at medical records, insurance reports, etc. that provide data on electric burn injuries you will find that they are very traumatic, very expensive, have an extremely long recovery time and are difficult to survive when severe. A dropped tool, a loose connection, and a slip of the hand have all initiated an arc-flash. Many workers who decided to roll the dice were sure that it would not happen to them when they started the task or took a shortcut. Others could not comment because they bet their life and lost. NFPA 70E requirements are to protect you from this type of injury. An arc-flash can occur in less time than it takes to blink your eye. You will not avoid it. It is the final line of defense (arc-flash PPE) that NFPA 70E requires you to wear that will save your life.
The burden you must endure is wearing arc-rated PPE. It may make the task more difficult. It can get quite warm in a full arc-flash suit. Remember that if the electrical equipment was placed into an electrically safe work condition that this “burdensome” gear would be unnecessary when you are working on the equipment. Some of you may consider it to be a hassle to don all the required gear. The decision to skip wearing some of the gear entails deciding which part of your body may not be that important to you. If the incident energy is above 1.2 cal/cm2 you should plan on spending time in the hospital. Roll the dice. Live or die by the outcome.
There have been some great advancements in the materials, flexibility, weight, etc. of this gear. Selecting and actually wearing the appropriate PPE, as well as allowing sufficient time to safely perform a justified task, are steps that should not be overlooked. One thing that increases your odds of returning home after an incident is the protective equipment that NFPA 70E requires you to wear. Think about what this gear is intended to do. It is to protect you from a burn injury when a ball or wall of flame hits you. Can you reconcile the decision not to wear protective gear with your confidence that you will not become a statistic?
Working on energized electrical equipment is not a craps game. If it were it has some of the highest stakes. Your life can change or end in a split second. Don’t wager that an incident will never happen to you. Don’t let a toss of the dice determine if you will return home. Accidents happen. Unexpected things occur. Qualified people make mistakes. Don’t consider electrical safety to be a burden. By the nature of what is trying to be achieved, gear designed to protect you from an electrical injury will be more robust and require more to be worn than every day work clothes. This is especially true for higher energy or voltage levels. Remember to shut it off first. If that is impossible, the PPE requirements in NFPA 70E provide the best odds that you will return home when you perform justified energized electrical work.
Next time: The difference in establishing an electrically safe work condition and performing justified energized work.