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What Happens During an Arc Flash?

What Happens During an Arc Flash?

At Wearwell, we believe that conducting an arc flash analysis and risk assessment, and implementing approved practices in the workplace, can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing an arc flash event. However, environments can often be unpredictable, and accidents can and do happen. While it is unclear exactly how many arc flash occurrences there are each year in the UK, what we do know is that around 1000 electrical accidents are reported to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) annually, and that a significant portion of these accidents are understood to be related to arc flash.

Knowledge is power. While none of us wish to experience an arc flash event, understanding exactly what can happen in such a situation is key to identifying the best methods to reduce arc flash injury, and the most effective ways to react to the event.

So… what exactly does happen during an arc flash?


What happens is that a severe arc is generated from the equipment towards the ground, or towards lower voltage. The energy essentially jumps between the two points, creating an arc… but it actually happens so quickly that workers are unlikely to see it.

What will be experienced, however, is a loud bang and a bright flash of light, which is quickly followed by intense heat. Arc flashes can reach more than 19,000 degrees celsius, and this is undoubtedly the biggest cause of arc flash injury. Depending on the equipment’s voltage, the heat generated can cause severe second degree burns even on those workers who are positioned up to 7 metres away from the equipment. Thick smoke may spread around the area, making it difficult to take deep breaths.

The event itself will usually be very short lived. The emergency lights should kick on, and the smoke should begin to clear. But the impact of the event can last a lot longer. Due to the loud bang and flash of light, temporary deafness or bright spots in the vision can be experienced for days following the event, and if burns or other forms of injury due to flying shrapnel have occurred, full recovery can be very long, painful, and difficult.

Arc flash events can be devastating… but the injuries don’t have to be. Arc flash can be a terrifying experience, but the physical dangers of arc flash can be significantly reduced simply by wearing the right PPE for the environment. With burns being the biggest danger, suitable heat protection or arc flash protective clothing can make a huge difference to what happens after an arc flash, and could mean the difference between life and death.

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