Are you wondering if you even need arc flash labels in your facility?
I mean, isn’t there some other way to do it?
Or a simpler version of the label that doesn’t require engineering calculations?
What is required by law?
Is an arc flash study required by code?
In this article, we will answer these questions and more!
Here is what you’ll learn:
- Are arc flash labels required?
- What is required by law?
- What do the standards say?
- Do you need to do an arc flash study?
- What is the bare minimum?
- What is the best option?
- The bottom line
- Ready to get started?
Are arc flash labels required?
The simple answer is YES.
You absolutely need to warn people of the potential that an arc flash hazard may exist inside any of the electrical equipment where it’s possible.
The thing you really need to consider is how much information are you going to put on your label?
And more importantly… how are you going to get that information?
Let’s go a little deeper into the rules and regulations before exploring our options.
What does the law require?
In North America, every province and state will have slightly different laws regarding electrical safety and arc flash.
Most won’t even have the words arc flash in them…
So does that mean arc flash labels are not required?
What about an arc flash study?
What each of the jurisdictions will have in common is a statement that generally described “electrical hazards” or at least “workplace hazards”.
As an employer, you are obligated by the law to identify the hazards within your workplace and let people know about them.
What the law doesn’t tell you is how to do that.
To understand how you need to turn to industry standards and codes.
What do the standards say?
There are really only two generally accepted and widely used electrical safety standards in North America… NFPA70E (US) and CSAZ462 (CAN).
The nice thing is that they are practically identical, so if you have divisions of your company on both sides you can pretty much take the same approach.
In a nut-shell here is what they say:
- You need a plan to protect your workers from arc flash and shock hazard;
- You need to identify and quantify the hazards;
- You need to provide proper mitigation (typically PPE & tools);
- You need to train everyone on all the related procedures; and
- You need to audit the entire process.
Numbers 2 and 3 are what we are talking about here… identify and quantify the hazards in order to figure out what PPE you need to wear.
They give you two options.
Your two options…
The standards give you two methods to decide on what arc flash clothing you need for a particular job.
- the incident energy analysis method (read “arc flash study”); and
- the arc flash PPE category method.
If done correctly, both options would satisfy the requirements of the law… the trick is, can you ensure they are being done correctly?
Using the arc flash study correctly
The arc flash study starts with a good single line diagram and a visit to your facility from an engineer.
Data is collected on each component of your electrical system and modelled in special software.
Finally, labels are printed and applied to each of the pieces of equipment.
The electrical workers now have a label they can trust on every piece of equipment that gives them the information they need to select the appropriate PPE.
Advantages: Very straightforward
Disadvantages: Engineering intensive
Using the PPE category method correctly
The PPE category method asks you two key questions and then recommends the PPE to wear.
- What equipment am I working on?
- What kind of work am I doing?
You simply look at the tables provided in the standard and then select the appropriate PPE.
But there is a catch…
The tables indicate you need to know the maximum available fault current and the maximum fault clearing time.
Oh… umm… yeah, this is where the PPE category method falls apart.
Because now you are either doing these two things:
- Ignoring the requirements and therefore using the tables incorrectly; or
- Getting engineering done to determine maximum fault current and clearing times.
Advantages: I actually can’t think of any… unless you already know the maximum fault clearing time and fault currents… then it would cost as much as an arc flash study.
Disadvantages: Results are very conservative (ie. your people end up wearing a lot more PPE than required, which means they either don’t wear it or are very uncomfortable).
You can probably see I’m not a fan of the category method.
What’s the bare minimum?
You might be asking yourself, “are arc flash studies required by code?”…
Let’s look a little deeper.
In order to meet the electrical code you simply need to have a warning label that states that there is a potential for arc flash.
Something like this…
So, to satisfy the code… you don’t need to do an arc flash study.
However, the problem with this is that it really doesn’t help out the electrical worker.
You know that there is a potential for arc flash… but you don’t know how bad it could be.
This means you have to figure out what PPE to wear by using the tables in the back of either CSAZ462-18 or NFPA70E.
And, you should already know how I feel about the table method (see above).
What would be a better label?
A label that was a bit more useful would be a label that includes the details of the arc flash hazard.
All arc flash hazards are not created equal so you really should figure this out at every location in your facility.
The way to do this is with an arc flash study.
The results of the arc flash study will give you the incident energy (how hot things will get), the arc flash boundary (how far unprotected people should stand back) and the working distance (an expected distance that the worker is standing).
Here’s what a basic arc flash label with incident energy information would look like.
This label has much more utility than the basic label.
But we could still do better!
What does the BEST label look like?
The best type of arc flash label would also include information about the shock hazard.
Now, I understand that this is not exactly what we are talking about but 95% of the time, if you are dealing with an arc flash hazard you are also dealing with the shock hazard.
So why not include some of the important information…
The bottom line
If you're trying to figure out if arc flash labels are required and the code is all you are worried about then the basic label shown above will do just fine.
Once you introduce maintenance work into the equation (whether it’s your own employees or contractors) then you need to think about the more specific information they need and what they are going to do with it once they get it.
At that point, I would recommend the detailed electrical hazard label, which would require an engineering study to get it done properly.
But here is how I look at the situation…
By law, you need to protect your workers from arc flash (and shock).
You do that by following the standard.
The standard gives you two options.
The first option (category method) doesn’t work very well.
The option I recommend (incident energy analysis) works great!
Get an arc flash study done and keep it maintained.
Otherwise, you will have a hard time proving your due diligence to comply with the law.
Now it’s your turn!
Please leave a comment. Let me know…
- what have you done at your facility?;
- do you agree with this article?; or
- if you have any questions.