Arc flash incidents involve the sudden release of energy in an electrical arc, creating a violent explosion which radiates intense heat and light. They are life-threatening accidents which emphasize the need for thorough health and safety protocols and sufficient training for employees working in potentially hazardous environments. In this article, we discuss real-life examples of past arc flash incidents to provide insight into the severity of the incidents that can occur, drawing key learnings on how to prevent future issues.
Kleen Energy Plant
In 2010, the Kleen Energy Plant in Connecticut faced a fatal explosion when workers were attempting to clear debris from natural gas pipes during the construction phase. An incredibly high pressure of gas was involved which exploded upon contact with an ignition source, resulting in the deaths of six employees and injuring many more. Although the incident was primarily related to the natural gas, further investigation revealed that gas purging procedures were not followed correctly.
This incident has had a huge impact on the industry, acting as a reminder of the dangers associated with working with gas. Whether on a smaller or industrial scale, a business is responsible for implementing safety procedures which must be followed, monitoring the site and having the necessary processes in place.
Pacific Gas and Electric
Taking place in a residential area of San Francisco in 2014, a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) worker was left with burns to his face and hands after carrying out work on a substation. The incident saw a failure in a high-voltage component cause an arc flash, causing an explosion which had the potential to harm both members of the public and the surrounding buildings. Although luckily nobody was seriously harmed, PG&E faced a fine for violating General Industry Safety Orders (GISO).
Proving just how important equipment maintenance and ongoing inspections are, this incident shows how quickly a problem can escalate if they are not handled in a timely manner. Detecting an equipment fault in the early stages could have prevented this issue completely.
New York City Subway
In 2018, an arc flash beneath the subway station occurred in New York from a fault on a high-voltage electrical panel. This created a loud boom which echoed through the tunnels and created a power outage, causing alarm to members of the public who were using the subway. Fortunately nobody was injured, but significant disruption to the subway service was caused and concerns were raised about the dated infrastructure of the subway system.
In densely populated city environments, especially underground networks, the importance of regular inspections and ongoing maintenance is paramount for the safety of the public. By working to continuously improve the system and implement emergency procedures, the risk of serious incidents is minimized.
Imperial Sugar Company
Taking the lives of 14 employees and causing injury to many more, the 2008 accident at the Imperial Sugar Company displayed the consequences of poor housekeeping practices and a lack of safety measures. A build-up of sugar dust in the factory's packaging area ignited in a similar manner to an arc flash, creating a huge explosion and fire.
This incident highlighted the importance of identifying and alleviating potential hazards, carrying out thorough assessments to ensure safety protocols are being met in all areas of the business.
- Who is at risk of an arc flash?
- What is an arc flash?
- At what voltage can an arc flash occur?
- What is the difference between an arc flash and an arc blast?
- How do I prevent an arc flash from happening?
- What is an arc flash boundary?
- How can I mark off arc flash boundaries?
- Are arc flash labels required?
- What causes electrical arcing?