This year, many plant managers and safety managers may be asking about Arc Flash Studies. The biggest reason for this occurrence is due to recent, and stricter guidelines by OSHA. Per OSHA statistic, electrical related injuries are the third largest cause of lost time/death recordable incidents. When an event occurs, the OSHA Investigator will note if the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70E) has been followed. This NFPA standard contains requirements for Arc Flash Labels on equipment, where this hazard exists, and that personnel being exposed be properly trained. When these standards are not met, fines can be levied against the company. Also, NFPA 70 requires Arc Flash Labels be on all panels that require maintenance, servicing, or adjustments inside the enclosure while the system is energized.
So, who can perform these analyses? Electrical Contractors, Electrical Supply Houses, Vendors? Several state Professional Engineering Boards have stated their opinions on the matter. West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana have all issued opinions that the calculations involved are engineering calculations that directly impact Life Safety issues. Thus, the calculations must be done by or under the direct supervision of a licensed engineer qualified to do these calculations. These states are now issuing injunctions against companies and individuals that are not licensed, yet still offering this service. So, Yes a Licensed Electrical Engineer is required by local state laws!
But what else should the customer be thinking about? Several things come to mind:
- The ability to provide training,
- Effective mitigation methods,
- Experience in common problem areas,
- Foresight to develop cost effective corrections,
- and an understanding of the industrial power systems operations.
But is that all they should be considering? Not quite, as General Patton once said, “The best defense is a good offense”. The best step in safety is not just protecting from the event, but preventing its occurrence altogether. There are many methods to lessening the severity of an Arc Flash event and preventing exposure to it. A case in point: A controls technician needs to program a VFD; but the VFD has to be programmed while the VFD has power to it. And, the programming Human Interface Module (HIM) is mounted inside the enclosure on the front of the VFD. That person then also has the potential to be exposed to the entire Arc Flash event. But if the HMI is located remotely from the interior of the enclosure, the programmer can enter settings without being exposed to the hazard.
So, what to do next? Talk to a qualified and Licensed Electrical Engineer today! They can guide you thru the steps of keeping their employees safe, while using cost effective and customer specific methods, and avoiding costly fines.
Author: Adam Ward, P.E., SM-IEEE