OSHA has a Short Fuse on Arc Flash


This year at National Manufacturing Week—in Chicago last week—one thing that stood out immediately was a commitment to addressing the subject of arc flash. In truth, it might have been the big red banner or the theme-park style video-motion ride that likely drew the attention of attendees to the show’s Arc-Flash Pavilion. Exhibitors at the pavilion were plentiful and eager to discuss their various roles in the process.

According to Steve Kovach, with fuse manufacturer Cooper Bussmann, the big push for greater arc-flash awareness has to do with the tone being set by OSHA, which recently adopted NFPA 70E as the standard on the matter. Much of this, he said, stems from a series of bad accidents at Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge facility in 1999, which, he claimed, forced a greater focus on worker safety by the organization. As a result, OSHA, in compliance with NFPA 70E, now requires a combination of safety measures that could include electrical system one-line diagrams, short-circuit analysis, clear determination and warning labeling of the potential arc-flash hazards, and the wearing of personal protective gear (PPG) for any employee working near live electrical equipment.

Arc flash, for the record, is a fiery explosion generated from live electrical equipment, such as a motor control center, that typically results from an improperly grounded electrical system.

OSHA currently does not require mandatory electrical upgrades, but it does require the wearing of bulky and uncomfortable PPG “beekeeper” suits that are unpopular with many plant maintenance personnel. The Catch 22, unfortunately, is enforcement, as the situation is very much like speeding; it’s only enforced when someone is caught.

According to Doug Mleczko with Littelfuse, fuse manufacturers are promoting their products as a means to reduce the calorie-level protection requirements of the PPG suits.

“Fuses limit the current flowing through a device or system,” he said.

Circuit breakers can perform a similar function, but this is usually an add-on feature, and even then, in Mleczko’s opinion, fuses, in general, tend to be more current limiting.

Education is the key to changing the inconsistent enforcement of NFPA 70E safety requirements, said Stephen Reynolds of fuse vendor Ferraz-Shawmut. To help, the company will soon launch a new section on its website dedicated solely to arc flash. According to Reynolds, the site will include videos on the hazard as well as its history. A calculator tool will also be made available, as will product information and industry links.

Littelfuse also has its “Safety Plus” program with details on the subject. Visit Littelfuse for more. And visit bussmann.com for similar information.

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