20th Oct, 2019 Read time 3 minutes

What is arc flash and why is PPE equipment essential on the job?

In the world of health and safety ensuring you have a good understanding of workplace dangers is essential to keep your workers safe. The electrical components of a workplace can be a big source of potential incidents. Here is a brief introduction to the arc flash phenomenon and why having the right protective equipment is important in managing the dangers.

What is Arc Flash?


Arc flash is the term given to the heat and light produced as a result of an arc fault, which is an electrical explosion. Arc flash is different from an arc blast, which is the name given to the supersonic shockwave which results from the uncontrolled arc vaporizing the metal conductors. The temperatures of arch flash can reach up to 19,000 Celsius which can cause extreme burns, blindness, hearing loss, nerve damage and potentially cardiac arrest.

In addition to the heat and light exposure, arc flashes also produce a cloud of plasma ionized particles. The inhalation of these can cause severe internal burns to the lungs and airways. Having the right safety measures in place to protect against these dangers is crucial to keeping workers safe.

The EU Workplace Health and Safety Directive dictate that employers are obliged to assess the level of risk in the workplace and take the necessary precautions. In terms of Arc flash, this should look at the risks of the phenomenon in addition to the initial shock.

In terms of ‘at-risk organisations’ the main businesses that need to manage the risk of Arc flash are manufacturing and utility companies in addition to workers in hospitals, pharmaceutical and chemical industries and large commercial organisations’.


How can you protect those in your workplace from the dangers of arc flash?

Arc flash is a serious threat to the health of employees in many workplaces, electricians and those who work in close proximity to wiring are very at risk. One of the ways that you can help protect people is through the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). When live testing high power energy circuits, the use of PPE like rubber gloves and protective facial equipment is essential.

Some other simple steps towards mitigating the risks of arc flash include:

  • Calculating the risk level of the arc flash concerned
  • Use the correct personal protective equipment
  • Use the correct tools and equipment for the work concerned
  • Make sure workers are well trained on the dangers of arc flash
  • Put in place a program of safety with defined responsibilities


Best practice around this is to try and use PPE as one of the last forms of protection against arc flash. Whoever is in charge of the health and safety management of a given workplace should priorities the use of safety-conscious processes and procedures to remove arc flash as a danger as much as possible. This could be done through minimizing exposure to the phenomenon through the layout of the workplace and restricting the time that exposure is necessary for.

Arc flash is a very real danger that many professionals in a variety of vocations face on a daily basis. As an employer, ensuring they have the latest personal protective equipment needed is essential in ensuring you are complying with current health and safety regulations and keeping your workers as safe as they can be.

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