Arc Protection!? A Joke?

I started working at a factory a few weeks ago. My new boss warned me that they had a strict "Arc Protection" procedure in place and it
would I soon be enforced. Apparently the existing electricians laughed it off. Being the new guy, I suspect I'm about to be the "example", the guy punished for failing to comply.
The rule is that whenever an electrician opens a cabinet that has the potential of having a voltage greater than 50 volts present (that's right 50 - fifty) he must where a hard hat with a flash guard, rubber gloves, a cotton shirt (as well as cotton undergarments - so much for my sexy Speedo's) and erect a barrier around the panel to protect onlookers. The onlookers would no doubt be curious to see what was going on with the guy dressed up like a freak.
Has anyone had to deal with this situation before? They can't be serious!. I told the boss it would take 15 minutes to do that for every job I went on, and I probably open a cabinet 20 times a day. He said it didn't matter. Fifteen minutes times 20 events certainly ought to matter! Is anybody anywhere doing this?
Somebody help me.
Frank the frazzled (but not fried) electrician.
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Philadelphia Frank wrote:

Arc fault accidents are rare but I personally know of three cases. The burns are very brutal. I have some photos at my site that you might be interested in. Try http://www.electrician2.com/html/Electrical_Burns.htm and try the official OSHA report at http://www.electrician2.com/html/osha_cb_accidents.htm NFPA 70E clearly defines the work rules for working on hot circuits, but not all jurisdictions have adopted this standard.
It is true that following these work rules can be time consuming and require employer support. Your employer is safeguarding his liability by requiring that you follow them and if you don't and get hurt the liability is on you for not following established safe work practices. Electricians who do not follow these established work rules may be able to work faster and claim experience makes them immune, but it is usually these people that get hurt. They will then have no grounds for a law suit or compensation because they will have forfeited their rights by not following established safe work practices.
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Philadelphia Frank wrote:

While I was working as an electrician foreman at the Valdez Terminal for a contractor doing work for the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 2001 we had to remove and replace a 100 ampere bolt in breaker in a hot 800 ampere 480 volt panelboard on one of the loading berths. I attempted to enforce safe work practices by requiring that the electricians doing the work use proper protective gear including rubber gloves, face shield, rubber sleeves, fire proof clothing, etc. You would think I was the first person to ever do this. It required meetings with the Alyeska safety officer, the contractor safety officer and superintendent. There were no certified rubber gloves on the site. Also Alyeska's safety officer told me they had not performed fault calculations and did not know the available fault current in the panel. In the end I think a couple of brave Alyeska's direct hire electricians slipped in and did the work without letting anyone know who did the work. They made me look like a jerk for trying. So much for safe work practices at Alyeska without employer support.
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Sad, but certainly not the only case. You might point out to them how much a wrongful death suit costs, and the extent of OSHA's authority in the matter. Sometimes a letter from OSHA to the corporate offices get's more attention than the safety supervisor in the field.
daestrom
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Well, there is some new rules about arc-flash protection. But it sounds like whoever wrote your procedures has gotten it fouled up.
Yes, the number is 50 volts. But if you open a cabinet with something like 120VAC, you don't necessarily need faceshield. There are two distances you have to be aware of. One for a certain level of barrier and training, another for a certain level of protective equipment. For example, in our procedures 120VAC panel you have to rope-off the area at least three feet from any exposed conductors. This can be as little as a temporary stantion with caution tape right around the cabinet. The 'distance' for 120VAC for protective equipment is 'in contact' (means you can't touch live 120VAC without protective equipment).
For 600VAC MCC and such, the distances are higher. But there are some exceptions for some activities such as just taking voltage measurements (perhaps to troubleshoot a problem).
Another part of the requirements is the current capacity. The magnitude of the 'arc' that may be drawn if a fault should occur. In a switchgear or MCC, the arc can be large and the PPE requirements are higher than for 1000VDC but tiny fault current (such as in a radiation detector circuit where the current is in nanoamps).
We've got some 'pretty' pictures of a couple of guys that were burned by the fire-ball coming from a 600VAC MCC. The flash burns on the guy's face are enough to make you think twice. Yeah, it was *only* 600VAC.
Lineman working with 'high voltage' have been careful about this stuff for years, and knew the hazards of arc-flashes. But the 'low voltage' (600V and below) folks have been hurt often enough that the new rules came out.
BTW, it isn't just any old 'faceshield' either. It must be one with a specific 'energy absorption' rating listed right on the 'plastic' (usually something in cal/cm^2). About the only thing worse than a bad arc-flash burn is one that is compounded by melted plastic from a cheap 'wally world special' faceshield that melts to your face.
But these requirements apply to *energized* work only. Once the cabinet/switchgear is *tested* dead, you can take off the PPE.
daestrom
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Thanks for the reply.
Like a lot of electricians, I'll go into an energized cabinet many,many times a day. Things like resetting an overload, checking fuses, looking at the I/O indicator LEDs, check voltages at specific points, mainly things that only take a few seconds to accomplish. It aggravates me to have to "suit up" for no real practical reason.
I suspect, and this is what really gets me angry, that the new rules are simply legal maneuvering to limit a company's liability if you do get hurt. If that's the case let it be out in the open. If you don't dress up, your widow is going to loose money. I would rather hear that than pretending that the new rules are going to make me safer.
How about crash helmets for the fork truck drivers? Better yet, plastic bendable forks. I'm much more at risk of getting forked than I am at getting fried.
And another thing...I'll bet if we really do follow the rules my company has laid out, at a cost of 15 minutes extra for every service call, this whole policy might be rethought. Now I'm starting to rave. Thank you for your help.
Frank

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If these things need doing many times a day, the LEDs and suitable voltage meters should be fitted remotely from energized cabinets with exposed live parts, or such that they can be viewed without opening access to live parts, so they can be checked safely. Access to live parts should not come as a side effect of performing some other unrelated task, most particularly a common task. At least, this is the view which would be taken in the UK.

Sounds like it's due to bad system design.
--
Andrew Gabriel

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|> Thanks for the reply. |> |> Like a lot of electricians, I'll go into an energized cabinet |> many,many times a day. Things like resetting an overload, checking |> fuses, looking at the I/O indicator LEDs, check voltages at specific |> points, mainly things that only take a few seconds to accomplish. It | | If these things need doing many times a day, the LEDs and suitable | voltage meters should be fitted remotely from energized cabinets | with exposed live parts, or such that they can be viewed without | opening access to live parts, so they can be checked safely. | Access to live parts should not come as a side effect of performing | some other unrelated task, most particularly a common task. | At least, this is the view which would be taken in the UK.
You think a cheapskate company like the one the OP works for would shell out for that?
It seems clear to me that they went overboard on this, fully suspecting that electricians would not actually follow the procedure. This was done strictly for legal liability issues so they don;t have to pay out. It might be the sign of having acquired a cheaper insurance policy. I suspect they will not actually be enforcing this. I would like to see rules or court decisions that consider lack of enforcement as being equivalent to lack of policy. In other words, if they do not actively enforce the procedure they have in place for all people for all work, then they have to pay out in the case of an accident just as if they had no policy in place at all.
To the OP: I suggest a small camera with a date recorder. It's not so much to get others in trouble, but rather, to have on record the way the procedures actually are followed and enforced. Then it's up to you to decide whether the evidence warrants being presented before an accident, or in court after an accident.
--
|---------------------------------------/----------------------------------|
| Phil Howard KA9WGN (ka9wgn.ham.org) / Do not send to the address below |
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First, this talks about shock protection boundaries. The prohibited approach boundary (a shock protection boundary) for 120VAC for qualified personnel is "avoid contact." The limited approach boundary about fixed conductors is a minimum of 3'6", I believe. Unqualified personnel are not allowed inside of the limited approach boundary. Hence the barrier, even around 120V.
Another matter altogether is the flash protection boundary, which has to do with the distance away from the energized components that fire-resistant PPE is required. Depending on the available arc-flash energy, this can be a matter of inches (typical 120V control panel) or may be 10s of feet (480V service-entrance equipment). Unqualified personnel are likewise prohibited from entering the flash protection boundary.

The exceptions pertain to whether or not energized work is even *allowed*. The basic premise of NFPA 70E is that energized electrical work is not allowed at all, no matter what PPE you might wear. In cases where it is allowed (such as for the items mentioned), then ALL approach distances and PPE requirements must still be observed.

Exactly. The rules aren't there to make life difficult. They're there to try and keep people out of the hospital. 10-15 extra minutes suiting up to go into an MCC is a whole lot less time-consuming than three months in a burn unit. And yes, lots of people are doing this.
I'm not sure what the major issue is. With the possible exception of the "flash guard" (whatever that is) the original PPE description sounds about right, and is really minimal as far as fire-resistant PPE is concerned. At many locations (480V service entrance gear, medium-voltage equipment, MCCs, large distribution panels) you really should be wearing more than this.
Your employer is on the right track, but may need to provide additional safety training so that you and your fellow employees truly are aware of and appreciate the potential hazards you face.
-T-
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On Wed, 18 Oct 2006 11:44:36 GMT snipped-for-privacy@none.com wrote:
| Another matter altogether is the flash protection boundary, which has to do | with the distance away from the energized components that fire-resistant | PPE is required. Depending on the available arc-flash energy, this can be | a matter of inches (typical 120V control panel) or may be 10s of feet (480V | service-entrance equipment). Unqualified personnel are likewise prohibited | from entering the flash protection boundary.
Available fault current is a big factor here, too. Usually, large currents are present with large voltages just because when a big load needs more power, it's generally a combination of more current and more voltage.
| Exactly. The rules aren't there to make life difficult. They're there to | try and keep people out of the hospital. 10-15 extra minutes suiting up to | go into an MCC is a whole lot less time-consuming than three months in a | burn unit. And yes, lots of people are doing this.
... the hospital or the morgue.
| I'm not sure what the major issue is. With the possible exception of the | "flash guard" (whatever that is) the original PPE description sounds about | right, and is really minimal as far as fire-resistant PPE is concerned. At | many locations (480V service entrance gear, medium-voltage equipment, MCCs, | large distribution panels) you really should be wearing more than this.
How much more dangerous is a 480 volt service than a 240 volt service when both come from the same kVA transformer? Suppose your home is a significant distance from the roadway and 240 volts would be too much of a voltage drop, and running MV would be too expensive (or like me, maybe you just don't want any MV on your land at all). Suppose the service originates in a 50 kVA pole transformer at the road and you have a 50 kVA dry transformer to step the 480 down to 120/240. Just how much more dangerous is that over the service originating at 120/240 in a 50 kVA pole transformer at the road and the drop running only 1/4 the distance to a closer house? Assume the same impedance percentage for the transformer. Which has the higher fault current?
Certainly 480 volts is not less safe. But there are many factors and they change with a change in voltage and current.
| Your employer is on the right track, but may need to provide additional | safety training so that you and your fellow employees truly are aware of | and appreciate the potential hazards you face.
Some videos and photos of the electricians that "barely made it" might be of help.
--
|---------------------------------------/----------------------------------|
| Phil Howard KA9WGN (ka9wgn.ham.org) / Do not send to the address below |
  Click to see the full signature.
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An electrician I know made me a believer. He was the "safety watch" person when live work was going on. The two guys doing the actual work were wearing flash protection. They were pulling wires into a MCC pan, and with "luck" manage to stick a wire through the guarding and short the bus. The two wearing all the gear and right by the MCC were not hurt. They guy I know was 10' away and suffered from both radiant burns and injuries from flying molten metal. Not bad enough to make him stay in the hospital, but painful.
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Philadelphia Frank wrote:

A continuing education class said OSHA now requires a plan for worker protection from electrical hazards, including shock and arc flash. My understanding is that NFPA 70E, mentioned in other threads, is a defacto standard. Not having -and- following a plan could incurr the wrath of OSHA, especially if there are injuries. The wrath can include big time money. Your rules sound like a one-solution fix which may be an over or under reaction. As others have said, the protection that is appropriate depends on what you are working on
The plant (and perhaps you) should have a copy of NFPA 70E and read it. NFPA 70E guidelines for protection from live equipment go from "untreated natural fiber" clothes (that don't melt) to an arc flash suit with hard hat and tinted visor - don't know how anyone can work in one of those. The hazard from arc flash is not just direct heat radiation. Other hazards include concussive force from rapidly expanding hot air that could kill you, condensing copper vapor on your skin, shrapnel, lung damage from very hot air, eye and ear damage. Watching some arc flash videos I gained a real appreciation for current limiting fuses.
One of the smartest electricians I knew was seriously injured (hospitalized and plastic surgery for scarring) from arc flash just amp-clamping a wire in a 480V motor control center module. (The guess is that there was a loose screw that caused a fault.)
bud--
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