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Why Arc Flash Studies Are Important

By Julian R. Burns CPQ

What Is An Arc Flash/Blast?

An Arc Flash/Blast is the event that occurs when a large amount of electrical energy is released during an electrical fault. A fault is caused during a Phase-to-Phase or a Phase-to -Ground short, which can result from a tool being inserted or dropped across energized parts. The resulting Arc Flash is an explosion which creates extreme heat, UV light, molten metal, flying shrapnel along with a tremendous pressure wave. The size of the Arc Flash/Blast (explosion) is based on the electrical system operating voltage, available short circuit current and the operating time for an upstream overcurrent device to open (clearing time). The Arc Flash event can be as small as a firecracker or as large as a grenade.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration 29 CFR 1903.1 states;that every employer must furnish to his employees a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees. Working on or near electrical equipment that is energized is not considered a safe act, a hazard exists. Thus an employer is responsible to train its employees how to safely work on and around this equipment and furnish the appropriate safety equipment. The appropriate document to assist an employer with these tasks is NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which is a consensus standard developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) at the request of OSHA. NFPA 70E sets the ground work for what training is required for a person (employee) needs to be a qualified person and what types of personal protective equipment (PPE) are required to work on or near energized electrical equipment. In order to properly select the type and level of PPE an Arc Flash Study must be performed for the electrical distribution system of the facility.

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Appropriate Steps for a Successful Arc Flash Study.

I. Field Verification & Audit II. Update one-line drawings III. Short Circuit analysis IV. Protective device coordination study V. Software modeling VI. Arc Flash Study/Analysis VII. Labeling VIII. Training I. Field Verification & Audit: This step is very critical and impacts all other steps in the process. Prior to this step the facility engineering department/maintenance department should furnish, to the firm performing the Arc Flash Study, a drawing indicating layout of all electrical distribution equipment throughout the facility and a current one-line drawing. If these drawings are not available it will greatly impact the required time to complete the study and also will increase the cost. During this step the providers personnel will verify the one-line drawing for accuracy and collect data on; Transformers, Switchgear, Motor Control Centers, Distribution Panels, Circuit Breakers, Relays, Disconnects, Conductor Type and lengths where obtainable II. Update One-line Drawing(s): Create a new one-line drawing to include modifications to the electrical distribution system that were discovered during the onsite Field Verification & Audit step. This updated drawing should include transformer ratings, system voltages, conductor sizes and various lengths. This is basically a working drawing and helps preserve the data that was collected.

III. Short Circuit Analysis: This step evaluates the maximum fault levels at each point or node throughout the electrical distribution system and identifies any problem areas. A problem exists if at any point in the electrical system the available short circuit current is greater than the rating of the panel or overcurrent device. Example: A circuit breaker has a short circuit rating of 10,000AIC and the available short circuit current is 14,000AIC. This can cause the circuit breaker to explode during a downstream fault. This is a critical step in keeping both the electrical system and an employee safe.

IV. Protective Device Coordination Study: A coordination study is an added value to an arc flash study. The coordination study is to help ensure that the an overcurrent device (fuse/circuit breaker) nearest a fault/short opens clearing the fault condition before an upstream overcurrent device opens. By having selective coordination of overcurrent devices minimizes the area or portion of the facility that looses power when a fault/short occurs.

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V. Software Modeling: The modeling process utilizes the data acquired during the field verification/ audit process to perform calculations and systematically begins the process of the Arc Flash study and red flags any required missing data. During the modeling process an accurate one-line drawing is created and within this process changes can made easily and quickly to create different scenarios that may show how the changes in breaker settings or fuse type will make the electrical system operate safer and more reliable. VI. Arc Flash Study/Analysis: Utilizing all of the information in steps I. through V. calculations are made to determine the available incident energy at each point/node throughout the electrical system. Then the calculated incident energy level is used to determine the Flash Boundary, Limited Approach Boundary, Restricted Approach Boundary, Prohibited Approach Boundary and the Hazard/ Risk Category. Some if not all of these values should be included on the final one-line drawing for reference. VII. Labeling: After the Arc Flash study/analysis has been completed and all calculations have been validated and the final oneline drawing is complete then a durable arc flash warning label is printed for each node in the electrical distribution system. The information included on each label should include, but not limited to; Available incident energy, Arc Flash Hazard Boundary, Limited Approach Boundary, Restricted Approach Boundary, Prohibited Approach Boundary, Shock Hazard Voltage, Hazard/Risk Category,

Category, Equipment Designation and Upstream Overcurrent Protective Device.

VII. Training: After the completion of the Arc Flash study and the labels have been affixed to all of the electrical distribution equipment a training class is held for all of the facilitys electrical and maintenance personnel, who will be involved in electrical maintenance and trouble-shooting. This training class should indoctrinate attendees as to the safety procedures of working on or near exposed energized electrical equipment, how to select, test and maintain proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and tools for various hazard/risk categories, the purpose of an energized work authorization permit, how to read and understand an Arc Flash warning label along with the safety requirements on OSHA and NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace as they apply to electrical safety. About The Author: Julian Burns is a committee member of NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace and serves as Chairman of NFPA 70 National Electrical Code (NEC) Panel 8. He is a consultant with over 40 years in the electrical industry and conducts Arc Flash Studies throughout the country as well as related seminars