Case study: Promoting electrical safety in the Texas Department of Transportation

The Texas Department of Transportation demonstrates how arc flash assessments and safety procedures protect employees.

By Denney Howard June 27, 2023
An electrician in full arc flash personal protective equipment. Courtesy: Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam

Arc flash insights:

  • Regular arc flash assessments are crucial for ensuring electrical safety. By examining and modeling each facility’s electrical system, potential risks can be identified and necessary safety measures can be implemented.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a vital role in mitigating arc flash hazards.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) provides a strong example of a regularly planned, large-scale effort to ensure safety. Every five years, TxDOT conducts arc flash assessments at its more than 400 maintenance facilities statewide.

Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. spent more than a year examining, reviewing and evaluating each location and modeling each electrical system to calculate the potential energy release during an arc flash event. After completing the analyses for each facility, special weather-resistant labels were placed on each electrical panel, as required by NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. These labels must be changed to reflect any updates to the electrical systems of personal protective equipment requirements.

While evaluating the 400-plus TxDOT facilities, there were zero accidents, largely due to safety protocols and the work of licensed electricians responsible for the team’s safety. However, even with routine evaluations, unique situations arise.

In one case, team members went into an electrical room and could hear sparking sounds coming from inside a panel. Before proceeding, the power was turned off. The electrician on the team suited up with the prescribed personal protective clothing — wearing a very heavy jacket and pants with a shielded hat and hood covering his neck and head.

An electrician in full arc flash personal protective equipment.

An electrician in full arc flash personal protective equipment. Courtesy: Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.

When the electricity was turned back on, the electrical current could be heard and seen inside the panel. The problem turned out to be a wire termination that was loose and arcing. After turning the power back off, the connection was tightened, resolving the issue and preventing a future accident.

In almost all cases, electrical power should be de-energized before electrical work. In the rare circumstance that work must be performed on energized lines, arc flash studies can determine which conditions the work can be carried out safely. This example clearly demonstrates why arc flash safety and regular assessments of electrical systems can save lives and prevent injury.

Author Bio: Denney Howard, PE, LEED Green Associate, is a Senior Associate and Chief Electrical Engineer at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.