Arc flash training: 13 learning objectives your course needs to cover
Are you wondering what topics your arc flash training needs to cover in order for you to be in arc flash compliance?
Then you’re in the right place.
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Who needs arc flash training
We often hear, who is required to take arc flash training? The better question is who needs electrical and arc flash safety training.
The simplified answer is employees working on or around electrical equipment should take some form of arc flash & electrical safety training.
Arc flash training objectives
We believe that following the 13 learning objectives below are a foundation for your team to get a better understanding of arc flash and electrical safety.
- Understanding the basics of shock hazard
- Understanding the basics of arc flash hazard
- Know how the regulations and standards differ for your company
- Employee vs employer responsibilities
- How to complete an electrical job briefing
- How to determine when you are exposed to shock and arc flash hazards
- Risk assessment strategies
- Deciding on personal protective equipment
- Selection of proper tools and equipment
- Safe testing and troubleshooting techniques
- Working on energized equipment
- Establishing an electrically safe work condition
- Emergency response to electrical incidents
1. Understanding the basics of shock hazard
Even if you think you are training experienced electricians you need to start with the fundamentals.
Because without a doubt there will be someone in the room who doesn’t fully understand them.
Start with describing what a shock really is… current flowing through your body.
Teach them about voltage potentials and that electricity is always trying to get from one potential to another.
I like to use the analogy of two water tanks connected with at the bottom with a pipe that has a closed valve in it.
If one tank was full and the other was empty, what would happen when the valve was opened?
The water would flow through the pipe until the two tanks are at equilibrium.
If you come in contact with two different voltage potentials (say a 120 volt outlet and the ground) current flows through your body in an attempt to equalize the voltage… trouble is it usually never will.
And your body is not designed to handle very much current.
In fact, you need to let people know how small of current can cause a fatality… it only takes 50 mA to cause ventricular fibrillation (which can lead to cardiac arrest).
2. Understanding the basics of arc flash hazard
Arc flash is a beast of it own.
This has got to be one of the most complex safety hazards in any industry.
Because it’s just not as simple as dealing with a ball of fire (which really isn’t that simple in the first place) but you have to get the message across that they are dealing with a multitude of hazards.
We will go over that in a bit.
But first, your arc flash course needs to start at the beginning… how does the arc flash happen?
Not surprisingly you need to create an arc… which leads to a short circuit through the air.
There are many ways the arcs can be started but a few of the most common incidents occur because:
- someone has touched exposed live conductors;
- an animal has crawled into the equipment and shorted the system;
- tracking because of dust, water, or corrosion; and
- a faulty or wrong tool (not adequately rated) used during a job.
Once you’ve created the short circuit through the air everything unravels.
All the energy in your system will instantaneously (very, very, very quickly) try to go to that short circuit…
When you have all of this energy going to one place things will get very hot… like 20,000 degrees Celsius hot.
Most electrical components made from copper and aluminum do not fair very well under these circumstances and will essentially explode.
Now the arc flash hazard has started.
The worker (if one was standing there) is faced with the following compilation of hazards:
- Extreme radiant heat (20,000 degrees Celsius)… think sun burn except you are standing on the sun;
- A fireball (sometimes called a plasma ball)… now your clothes are on fire;
- Molten pieces of copper shrapnel flying at you;
- A blinding light (both ultraviolet and infrared);
- About 160 decibels of sound (VERY LOUD!);
- A pressure wave (arguably this helps you by getting you away faster); and lastly
- Vaporous gasses… copper vaporizes at those temperatures.
So, at the very least… you should have their attention now.
3. Know how the regulations and standards differ for your company
Every company’s arc flash training will vary slightly from province to province and state to state just based on the different laws that govern the area.
Getting a good handle on the specific regulations that apply to your work will really add a lot of value to your course.
The good news…
If you are following either CSAZ462 (Workplace electrical safety standard in Canada) or NFPA70E (Standard for electrical safety in the workplace in the United States) then you are likely meeting all of the regulations that apply to you as well.
But it doesn’t hurt to check.
In fact, up until 2018, some provinces had a lower voltage that was considered “safe” than the standards had listed (50 volts is the new 30 volts).
Once you’ve got the student up to speed with the nuances of the regulations and standards it’s time to talk about responsibilities.
4. Employee vs employer responsibilities
Every person who takes your arc flash training is going to fall into one of these two categories… employee or employer.
What you’ve got to do is make sure they understand what it is that they are going to be responsible for with regards to arc flash and electrical safety.
Everyone, regardless of what their role is, needs to be responsible for applying the safety-related work practices that you are going to discuss as part of this training.
But what else do they need to focus on?
For employers (owners, managers, supervisors), the most important thing is the overall success of an electrical safety program.
Employers are responsible for things like:
- allocating funds for training and program development;
- ensuring arc flash studies are up-to-date and labels are on;
- making sure procedures are in place and being followed; and
- facilitating training activities to make sure the team is competent.
Once it’s all set up, employees (operators, electricians, technicians) need to a bit more of the heavy lifting but at least it’s straightforward.
Attend the training and apply what you learn.
Sounds simple enough, but in reality, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline.
Your training needs to not only lay out these responsibilities but inspire everyone to take the necessary steps to improve on what they have today.
5. How to complete an electrical job briefing
Job planning is so important.
And the technical committee for CSAZ462 & NFPA70E all agree.
That’s why they’ve laid out the requirements to complete a job briefing prior to starting any work and that’s why it has to be the backbone of your course.
Your arc flash training needs to go through the process of how to complete a successful job briefing.
Here’s the process flow you might want to use:
As you can see you are really just setting the stage for the job you are about to complete.
The focus needs to be on certain tasks that can get you into trouble.
As you move through your course you want this to become clearer and clearer to those taking the training. It only takes one mistake to lead to a very serious incident.
6. How to determine when you are exposed to shock and arc flash hazards
Now we start to get into the fun stuff.
It’s also where most people make the biggest mistakes.
A lot of incidents and fatalities occur because the worker assumed they were not working near anything that had the potential to harm them.
You need to teach them otherwise.
Start with shock hazard.
You should have already discussed in the introduction to shock that 30 volts is the threshold for when you need to start taking the voltage seriously.
Now you need to teach them when… and it’s fairly straightforward.
If you are working on or near exposed live parts that are capable of being touched (even if it’s by accident) then you are exposed to a shock hazard.
Just ask yourself “Could I touch this if I slipped?”… if the answer is yes, then you need to treat this particular task as hazardous.
Now you need to move on to arc flash hazard.
First of all, you’ll need to go over whether or not an arc flash can sustain… so, the system will need to be rated at least 240 VAC (if it’s less you could still have an arc flash if the transformer feeding the system is greater than 125 kVA or there is more than one transformer)… but for now let’s just remember the 240 VAC.
Then, you need to ask yourself two questions.
The first one should be easy because we just went over it in the shock section… “Could I touch this if I slipped?”…
The second is a little harder to determine.
You need to ask yourself “am I interacting with this equipment in a way that could cause an arc flash?”… a great example of this would be racking in a large circuit breaker on a live bus… very dangerous.
You might want to add a few examples in your arc flash course so the students can get a feel for what types of jobs would expose them to shock hazards and what types would expose them to arc flash…
But for the most part, asking these questions should be enough.
7. Risk assessment strategies
In safety… especially electrical safety… risk assessment is the name of the game.
You’ve already covered the basics by teaching the students about how to determine when they are exposed to shock and arc flash hazards.
But what about when things are a little different?
You need your training to cover other situations and teach the students to look, listen, and smell.
What they are trying to determine is if they have a normal or abnormal equipment condition… this can lead to a lot of incidents if it goes untapped.
When you are working under an abnormal condition then the risk has gone up… way up.
So how do you determine the conditions?
By verifying the following:
- that the equipment was installed correctly;
- that the equipment has been maintained;
- that the equipment is being used for its intended use;
- that all the doors are closed and secured;
- that all covers are in place and secured; and
- there are no things like arcing, overheating, smells, or deterioration.
So you need to train the workers how to determine when they are exposed to the hazards but also when there may be other things going on around them that can put them at risk.
8. Deciding on personal protective equipment
Just like with everything else we’ve discussed in this course your section on selecting PPE needs to cover both shock hazard and arc flash hazard separately.
For 99% of you out there your shock protection is going to be you rubber insulated gloves.
Make sure you go over:
- How to select them (based on the voltage you are working on);
- Pre-use inspection techniques… you don’t want any holes; and
- Proper storage, maintenance, and testing requirements.
Deciding on arc flash PPE is a little more complicated but you’ve really only got two methods to cover and one major concept.
The major concept: Cover your entire body.
Any skin that is exposed will be burned… the arc flash doesn’t care.
Typically you will see that people who were exposed to an arc flash event will have burns on their hands, neck and face.
Three places I wouldn’t want to be burned.
The two methods for selecting the proper PPE to cover yourself with also need to be covered in your course.
Method 1: The incident energy method.
This is where you simply refer to the arc flash label to determine the amount of incident energy and then make sure your PPE has a higher arc thermal performance value (ATPV).
So an arc flash rated 8 cal/cm2 would require at least 8 ATPV clothing.
Method 2: The category method.
This method is much more conservative, less accurate and based on a lot of assumptions… so just make sure you make that clear in your presentation.
Basically, you determine the type of equipment you are working on, the task that you are doing and cross-reference those in the “category method” tables located in CSAZ462 or NFPA70E.
9. Selection of proper tools and equipment
Tools and equipment are designed and intended to keep the user safe.
But… if you review past arc flash incidents long enough you’ll start to notice a trend.
A lot of the incidents happen because a tool or piece of equipment was used.
Your arc flash training needs to cover examples of how things can go wrong and specifically dive deep on these topics:
- digital multimeters proper use and safe work practices;
- temporary protective grounding;
- care and maintenance of insulated tools; and
- rubber shielding and mats.
Typically you want to cover the basics.
- what the tool/equipment does and why to use it;
- how to inspect it prior to use;
- any testing or certification requirements;
- additional things to watch out for.
10. Safe testing and troubleshooting techniques
Testing and troubleshooting will always be the highest risk task any electrical worker will face.
It may not seem that way because it needs to happen so often but it’s the truth.
The key concept for safe testing and troubleshooting is limiting your exposure… this is where you arc flash training should focus.
You don’t always have to do it with the power on.
Find some examples of jobs that are historically done with the power on and see if the class can figure out a way to do it de-energized.
When you finally determine the testing and troubleshooting tasks that require the power on then you want to focus on these key safety tips:
- always wear your gloves;
- always wear your gloves; and
- always wear your gloves.
You might also want to review the importance of selecting the proper tool for the job… something we already went over in the section above.
11. Working on energized equipment
Probably the most discussed and debated topic in the arc flash world.
Because the goal to never have to work energized seems impossible.
But that doesn’t mean we are not going to try… and in all honesty that’s actually not the intent of the standards.
Your course needs to teach people how to determine when they can work on energized equipment and when they cannot.
Here is a great flow chart that can help you explain the thought process:
Once you’ve determined that you are going to work energized you’ll fall into two categories… energized work that requires a permit and energized work that doesn’t.
A quick way to determine if you need a permit is by asking yourself this question, “does this task require the power on to get it done?”… if the answer is yes then you don’t need a permit.
Testing and troubleshooting is something that will never require a permit because we already know it usually has to be done energized.
Removing a contactor from a starter bucket is something that would absolutely require a permit if you were going to do it energized because it really does not “need” the power on to get it done.
Your training needs to leave people with a good handle on when energized work is appropriate.
12. Establishing an electrically safe work condition
This is the bread and butter of arc flash safety.
Establishing an electrically safe work condition is by far the most important concept that you want people to understand before they leave your arc flash training course.
Because almost every single arc flash and workplace electrical incident that happens is because someone missed one of these steps:
- Determine the sources of electrical supply… you’ll need to review single lines, drawings, equipment tags or maybe just figure things out on your own… but before you start you need to know where the power is coming from;
- Open the disconnecting device… just make sure you shed the load first;
- Visually verify all the blades are open… don’t go out of your way to do this step, but if viewing windows are installed or the equipment is in open air take a look that the device has opened properly;
- Released any stored electrical or mechanical energy… maybe go over some of the actual equipment your students are using;
- Put on your locks and tags… remember way back when I spoke about regulatory requirements, double-check them when it comes to lock-out-tag-out;
- Test… testing has a few points of its own:
- always test your tester first on a known source… preferably 120 volts;
- below 1000 volts test each conductor phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground;
- above 1000 volts it’s acceptable to use a non-contact (proximity) voltage detector to do your checks.
- Apply temporary protective grounds… this is only required when there is a possibility of induced voltages or stored energy.
By the time you get to this section you should have already gone through all the thought process to decide on what you need for PPE, tools and equipment but it’s important to remind people that you need to treat the system as if it’s energized until you’ve completed the last step.
13. Emergency response to electrical incidents
No matter how much planning and effort you put into prevention you still need to plan for the worst.
Your arc flash training course should be the place where that preparation begins.
The thing about electrical incidents is that they are very time sensitive so your emergency response planning is almost more important than the response itself.
Without a plan, the victims won’t stand a chance.
Imagine a worker clung onto a love circuit… current flowing through their body, unable to move.
Do you know how to kill the power?
Now they drop to the ground, unconscious… their heart has stopped… do you know what to do next?
You’ve probably only got about 3 to 5 minutes.
And what about an arc flash explosion that leaves someone badly burned… maybe on fire… do you now where the extinguisher is? Has it been maintained? Will it even work?
What about a burn kit?
These are all the questions that if you were asking yourself for the first time the moment that you need them you will already be too late.
Emergency response to arc flash and shock starts with good planning, and this is what you want to drive home in your course.
So, when are you scheduling your next arc flash training session?
Is your team equipped to teach this course or do you require an outside training expert?
If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me at email@example.com.
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As an electrical engineer in this field, I think it's great that you are openly publishing content like this in a public forum. It can be difficult for even veterans in the field to follow each and every step of an safety program, so reading this as a refresher course is a very useful tool. Thank you for putting this together.reply
Your welcome Andrew!reply