When it comes to industrial safety, all of us understand the importance of wearing a hard hat, protective gloves or steel toe-capped boots.
In fact, most employers wouldn’t dream of letting their teams on-site without adequate protection, and workers themselves are more than clued up when it comes to the latest safety requirements.
However, the same can’t be said when it comes to the potentially fatal risk posed by arc flash – a relatively misunderstood, but extremely common type of electrical explosion facing many sectors, from industrial electrical, to utilities, civil engineering and rail.
In fact, according to research conducted by ProGARM and the BSIF, a concerning 63 per cent of professionals across the six sectors most at risk (industrial electrical, power generation, rail, utilities, wind and petrochemical) aren’t clear on what governmental guidelines provide the guidance on how to work safely when arc flash is a threat, while 80 per cent of those who were aware felt the guidelines were ambiguous.
To discuss the life changing impact an arc flash can pose and the worrying lack of awareness around the subject, at ProGARM we brought together a group of industry leaders representing a host of different sectors to form a roundtable discussion. Following our research with the BSIF, the discussion aimed to shine a spotlight on the life-threatening risks thousands of workers are placed at each and every day.
What are the issues?
Throughout the debate, one issue became very clear. All experts agreed that a lack of arc flash knowledge in turn leads to complacency, which then filters down the ranks, encouraging those completing the work to become overly-confident about the danger they are in, and almost forgetting to be worried and cautious about the threat. In short, if those at the top do not view arc flash as a big enough risk, it puts their employees in danger.
Not only this, a concern emerged around the danger when it comes to sub-contractors and self-employed workers. Perhaps due to a lack of employer management, it transpires that more employees are harmed when working on a contracted basis, and as a result many in the industry are demanding that contractors receive the same level of health and safety training as those employed full-time by businesses.
However, when it comes to influencing those operatives in the field, it appears that many have already made up their mind on how dangerous an arc flash is. This brings up questions about the recruitment process, with businesses now wanting to employ those who adhere to safe working practices at all times.
Those in the health and safety division identified some of the reasons they believe are behind these problems: workers lack a fundamental level of fear, so do not approach dangerous jobs with caution; finance departments don’t pay employees on time-making them reckless in their work; and clashes between health and safety and procurement teams cause hold-ups.
How do we overcome the problems?
Looking to overcome the current issues, it seems the prevailing opinion is that holding a working group, where personal arc flash experiences can be shared for educational purposes, would be helpful in improving the knowledge and awareness surrounding arc flash in the industry. As well as this, the experts all believed that it is now time to lead by example and equip all workers with the correct protection to ensure their safety.
Workshops were also highlighted as a potential method to ensure this level of knowledge moves forward. These workshops would allow for experts to visit sites and train workers first-hand to help cultivate a safe working environment.
We’ve said it for a long time – an arc flash can be absolutely devastating, with the scale of destruction often being underestimated. It’s the most dangerous risk on any work site and it’s therefore absolutely essential that workers are protected.
Jarl Coldrick is international sales manager at ProGARM
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