The Causes of Arc Flash Fatalities
I examined OSHA fatality reports from June 2001 through April 2012 to determine how many arc flash fatalities had occurred. The search turned up four arc flash fatalities, with a possible two others. Please note that a few of the OSHA fatality reports do not report the specific cause of the fatality. For example, a fatality on July 18, 2009 is reported simply as: "Fatality at a bookstore under construction." However, over 99.5% do have a specific description. While this leaves open the possibly of an additional arc flash fatality that was not accurately reported, but it is very unlikely.
The following are the arc flash fatalities that were reported during this ten year plus period . There were four fatalities that I could find that were specifically reported as arc flash fatalities:
December 12, 2009 - Shady Dale, GA
A worker was installing a new breaker. The disconnect was placed in the off position and the worker began disconnecting the input/output cable from the lugs inside the box when an arc flash happened.
December 21, 2009 - Alapaha, GA
A worker was replacing a breaker at a saw mill when an arc blast occurred.
August 31, 2010 - Crystal River, FL
Employee doing electrical work was exposed to an arc flash.
July 16, 2011 - Colusa, CA
An employee was killed when an electrical panel exploded.
An additional two fatalities reported as an electrical incident might be categorized as an arc flash, but were not reported as an arc flash:
April 18, 2011 - Duarte, CA
An employee died after suffering electrical burns on his arms, hands and face.
August 10, 2011 - Houston, TX
A worker was using hand-held tools and a drop light while inspecting a skid. He was electrocuted when his sweat caused the drop light to arc.
The OSHA fatality reports do not provide specific information that would allow the cause of the arc flash to be determined. That makes it difficult to know what measures need to be taken to prevent a similar accident. However, the most effective electrical safety measures is to never work on energized electrical circuits or equipment. Before starting electrical work, verify the power is off and locked out.
In reviewing the OSHA fatality reports I found that other types of electrical accidents are reported as having caused over 45 fatalities during this same time period. Most were electrocutions caused by inadvertent contact with energized wires. Here is a sampling of some of those reports:
November 5, 2010 - Roosevelt, NY
A worker was electrocuted when ladder contacted overhead electrical lines.
July 19, 2011 - Peoria Heights, IL
When a worker started to fall from roof he grabbed an exposed electrical wire to catch himself and was electrocuted.
September 20, 2010 - Port Orange, FL
A worker was digging up an underground electrical conduit. He reached into the hole, grabbing the conduit and was electrocuted.
November 8, 2010 - Centerton, AR
While finishing poured concrete with a broom, when a worker lifted the broom to reposition it, the handle extension of the broom contacted an overhead electrical wire.
There was also a significant number of fatalities in which it was not possible to determine whether the cause was electrocution or some other cause. For example:
April 8, 2010 - Lampass, TX
A worker was in the process of replacing a line and collapsed. Not sure if the cause was a heart attack or electrocution.
We often see signs that say "Think Safety." In reviewing fatality and accident reports, it seems that a large number of accidents are caused by not thinking about what we are doing. Whether this comes from a lack of training or just a straight-forward lack of thinking cannot be determined from the OSHA reports. However, be sure your employees know that electricity is extremely dangerous; that they know the rules and procedures for working with electrical conductors and equipment; and that they know they'll never be reprimanded for taking the safest option.
Here are some examples from the OSHA fatality reports:
July 1, 2010 - Odessa, TX
A worker was using a broom handle to push ground wire into the live wire and caused an arc electrocution.
July 8, 2010 - Tallapoosa, GA
A worker was performing an electrical wire replacement. He placed an electrical wire in mouth, then grabbed a metal scaffold. The worker was electrocuted.
What can be done to help employees remember to always take the safest option? Safety labels and signs are a valuable tool in this area. They communicate safety information and reminders at the specific location wear they are needed. Not only can safety messages be posted near potential electrical hazards, they can be put on tools and equipment – reminders the workers using those tools about safety hazards they might encounter. Safety labels can be placed on tool cribs, racks and bins. They can be used on ladders, lift buckets, and even shovel and broom handles.
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Try the free online Arc Flash Labeling Quiz