Safety alert issued over arc flash incidents after electrical workers burned

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 10 March, 2021 - 12:45
Policy & legislation

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recently issued a safety alert following an incident in which two electrical workers suffered burns following an arc flash.

They were working in a switch room with an LV main switchboard, and initial enquiries indicate electrical work was being done on the switchboard metering when the incident occurred.

The following month, an electrical worker was injured working near energised electrical parts in a switchboard.

Early investigations indicate he may have been trying to move cables in the switchboard that stopped the escutcheon panel closing.

The alert said effective control measures for arc flash related incidents are often made up of a combination of controls.

Always test before you touch and never assume parts of electrical equipment are de-energised, and the alert said to turn off the power to the entire switchboard, even if this means rescheduling the work to another time.

A safe system of work or safe work method statement for managing the risk of arc flash should include:

  • electrically isolating nearby electrical equipment or installation before starting work, and ensuring it can’t be reconnected while the work is being carried out
  • using insulated or non-conductive physical barriers to prevent inadvertent contact with energised parts
  • ensuring people not required for the work are excluded from the area (using screens, barriers and signage).

Risks can be further minimised by implementing administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. Examples include:

  • ensuring workers have appropriate knowledge and skills to perform the work safely
  • provision of suitable and adequate training, establishing exclusion zones, and use of permits and warning signs
  • ensuring testing procedures are in place to prove parts are de-energised before work commences
  • ensuring workers have tools, test equipment and PPE suitable for the rated level of fault current
  • consider the use of a safety observer.

“Adopting and implementing higher-order controls before considering administrative or PPE controls will significantly reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring. The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned,” the alert said.