DJC Arc Flash Hazard Article

We are featured in a discussion about Arc Flash Faciility Assessments.

Jeff McDonald of the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) wrote an article entitled, "New Federal Rules Spark Projects," and he included Cundiff Engineering, Inc. as a contributor to the discussion.  Read the article online here: or simply read the text below if you are not a subscriber:

Federal rules governing construction of transmission and distribution installations are becoming more stringent, and affected parties’ efforts to ensure compliance are leading to projects.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, firms affected by the new rules primarily include those “that construct, operate, maintain or repair electric power generation, transmission or distribution installations.” Broadly, those firms are now required to take precautionary measures such as performing arc-flash hazard assessments and ensuring that workers wear appropriate protective clothing. The rules take effect Thursday, but firms can implement them through Jan. 11, 2015 without penalty.

The new rules, along with greater energy demand increasing the likelihood of incidents like arc flashes, are spurring action. At Portland State University, Portland-based EC Co. and Lynnwood, Wash.-based Sparling are teaming up to determine the capability of each piece of equipment at 22 buildings to withstand new energy usage, said Hal Pietrobono, senior project manager for EC Co.

That $600,000 project, due to finish by October, will ensure OSHA compliance, Pietrobono said.

“The new requirements for OSHA … are driving owners to do this,” he said. “Some of the owners are getting ahead of the curve because it’s a real danger. If the equipment is not capable of surviving an impact of energy, it can do real physical damage, including the loss of life.”

EC Co. also is working to ensure OSHA compliance at Portland Community College‘s Sylvania campus. Eventually, testing will take place at all PCC campuses, according to officials.

An arc flash incident took place at one Sylvania campus building while the project team was working on a different one. No workers were present at the time of the incident, which Pietrobono called “coincidental.”

“It blew a hole,” he said. “There was a splice that over time had knocked loose.”

Some public buildings may not have all proper equipment installed, Pietrobono said. This includes newer breakers with lower ratings than older ones.

“We’ve found equipment (at PCC) that is not on the drawings that owners had,” he said. “We don’t know yet whether they are capable of handling the incident energy.”

Testing for arc flash risk is greater now that Portland General Electric is upgrading many of its transformers. The utility is trying to increase the efficiency of its power network and reduce the amount of energy lost through power lines. That increases the amount of energy pulsing through the lines and the likelihood that a faulty breaker will fail, Pietrobono said.

“The current will travel over the PGE line to every owner’s property in the vicinity,” he said. “Equipment needs to be able to withstand the energy surge that goes through the utility’s transformer.”

While electrical contractors study systems and compile data, engineering firms crunch numbers and identify how much energy a system can withstand, said Nabeel Shaaban, director of marketing for Cundiff Engineering.

Institutions such as PSU are increasingly taking action to ensure compliance with OSHA rules, Shaaban said.

“For us, we see it picking up steam,” he said. “We’re seeing an influx in that area.”

Once the system has been analyzed, the engineering firm determines what kind of precautions are needed, including how far away someone should stay from equipment and what type of clothing should be worn, he said.

“We’re trying to track the flow of electricity and the places where it’s going to arc,” Shaaban said. “What they’re going to want to do is create acceptable levels of load that are less dangerous and (ensure that) electricity can be circulated more evenly.”

Oregon OSHA is adopting its own rules to comply with the federal ones, said Jeff Wilson, a technical specialist with the agency. It does conduct scheduled or random inspections, but more often issues fines after an incident occurs. One 35,000-degree jolt of electricity from an arc flash can kill a person.

“Unfortunately, how we get to see those things are often after the fact,” he said. “It very easily could become a death. We investigate all of those very thoroughly.”

Maintenance of boxes is a prudent move because an arc flash can be caused by dusty equipment or an aging system, Wilson said.

“If they’ve got electricians on staff who are working on facilities, they need to make sure they are trained, wearing appropriate clothing and using the right equipment,” he said. “They need to know if there is a chance they could be exposed to an arc hazard and how to avoid that.”

PSU identified that it was not in compliance with the federal standards, and the new project bubbled up to the top of the list of deferred maintenance items, said Rick Viaene, interim director of PSU facilities.

“Our risk is if there is an accident,” he said. “If someone got hurt, they’re going to want to know why we weren’t in compliance with all these requirements.”