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Arc Flash Mitigation, Part 1

As more and more industries and data center operations address arc flash electrical safety concerns, the high risk associated with what used to be normal maintenance and operations task is becoming apparent to owners of these facilities. Often the existing arc flash incident energy levels make it necessary for work on equipment to be done de-energized in order to be in compliance with OSHA regulations. For data centers, de-energizing equipment can often have a significant impact on operations. To this end, implementing arc flash mitigation should seriously considered by personnel responsible for operating data facilities.

Many times incident energy levels can be reduced to allow performance of energized work (with the use of proper Personal Protective Equipment or PPE). While PPE, administrative controls, and warnings are required for every facility and make up key components of an electrical safety program, they are the least effective approach to mitigating arc flash hazards.

What are some of the ways to help minimize risk to personnel with regards to arc flash hazards? The most effective arc flash safety programs are those that do not rely on worker training, warning signs, PPE, and administrative controls, but look to incorporate “safety by design” in the specification of equipment and design of electrical power systems. It is important to realize that typically there is no single hazard reduction solution. The entire electrical distribution system needs to be evaluated holistically to effectively minimize the risk of an arc flash event.

For facility operators that are still unaware of the equipment hazard ratings at their facility, the first step is to have an arc flash analysis and short circuit coordination performed. This is process requires a thorough analysis of your electrical systems by a qualified consultant. After gathering very detailed data on your existing electrical systems, the consultant will utilize specialized software to calculate the hazard levels on your distribution gear. The results of this study will give you understanding of the risks inherent to your equipment. Labels will be created to identify each piece of gear as to the hazard rating. You will then be able to follow well-defined guidelines on how to safely operate, modify and maintain your systems.

Part 2 of this blog will discuss the characteristics of an arc flash and a variety of mitigation techniques.

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