Arc Flash & Electrical Safety News

Blog Author Steve Hudgik

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Many Arc Flash Fatalities Are There?

There is a statistic, that is commonly quoted, that says there are ten arc flash incidents per day resulting in one to two deaths per day.  This statistic is identified as coming from a report compiled by Capelli-Schellpfeffer, Inc.

In a paragraph titled "Two Deaths Per Day" Fire Engineering magazine states: "An arc flash is an electrical release of energy hotter than the surface of the sun and capable of exploding with the strength of eight sticks of dynamite. It kills two workers a day, every day, year in and year out; arc flash injuries occur 1,000 times more often than a shark attack. A shark attack receives front page coverage in the newspaper; an arc flash fatality doesn’t make the news at all."

Is this true? 

Are there two fatalities per day resulting from arc flash, but they just are not being reported?  I'm an electrical engineer who has worked in power plants, paper mills, refineries and manufacturing facilities starting back when digital controls meant racks full of relays.  I've not seen anything that indicates such a level of arc flash fatalities.

Yesterday I was compiling statistics from OSHA listing all of the workplace fatalities for a 12 month period - July 2009 through June 2010.  All fatal workplace accidents are reported to OSHA.  I noticed only one arc flash fatality during those twelve months.  There were many electrical fatalities -- in particular resulting from contact with overhead wires.  But the statistic of one to two arc flash fatalities per day is not supported by the facts.

I can't find the original Capelli-Schellpfeffer paper with this statistic.  Maybe it is old and out-of-date, and facilities have updated to have proper labeling and protections in place -- with the result being a dramatic drop in arc flash inuries and fatalities.  That would be GREAT news and a huge success.

But claims are being made that this statistic is true and current.

I don't minimize the danger of arc flash or the seriousness of arc flash injuries.  Workers, and other personnel, need to be aware of the danger from arc flash, and the importance and function of protective equipment, procedures, labeling, equipment and PPE.  We cannot take arc flash lightly.  But we should not be using incorrect "facts" just because they serve a good purpose.  When we start to change the truth, eventually our belief in fiction (aka myths or "old wives tales") will result in disaster.

The truth is that arc flash is extremely hazardous.  It can happen suddenly and with great violence.  It can never be treated casually.

Your comments are welcome.

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posted by Steve Hudgik | This Arc Flash Post and 15 Comments |


At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does it matter whether it is true or not, as long as it supports better safety?

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Electrical Safety Guy said...

A consideration perhaps; many facilities in less developed parts of the world have far poorer safety measures.

Would that report take into account places outside the US?

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth (facts) is the only thing that really matters. Without it, you can't improve upon anything. From the data I've seen, there are basically "electrocutions" and "electrcial burns" being reported. I've seen no official statistic for "arc flash deaths". All electrocutions have accounted for ~340 deather per year for the last decade (OHSA website). If the "1 every 28hrs" is TRUE then that would be 312 of the 340 total but OHSA reports that 42% are from contact with overhead lines. Just saying something "don't make it so".

At 9:07 AM, Blogger JohnW said...

I found your blog because of a recent incidence.

Is there a history of domestic arc flash fatalities?

I purchased a new GE Premiere oven range, les than year ago.
Yesterday my wife put a SS tea kettle on the burner to heat water. About 30 to 45 seconds later the burner coil exploded. The flash was so hot it burned a hole completely through the coil, and through the bottom of the SS kettle.

I called the dealer to request a repair, and asked if this was a common occurance, to which she said yes. I never heard of this before.

I shudder to think what may have happened to my wife had she been near the range at the time (she had turned away to the sink).

What's your take on this?

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Steve Hudgik said...

JohnW, thank you for your comment. I work in industrial safety so I had to do some research on your question. I was surprised to learn that, electric stove burners do experience arc flash explosions. I found stories about stove explosions punching a hole through a skillet and glass tops being shattered.

Burner coils do fail. If the coil fails in such a way that it breaks and part of the coil contacts a metal part in the stove, the result can be a violent arc flash explosion.

I did not find any information about how to reduce the likelihood of an injury from this type of stove burner failure.

This got me thinking that maybe I should switch to a gas stove. However, when I researched injury rates I did not find any reported injuries or fires resulting from electric stove burner failures. There are many reported fires and injures from gas stove failures, so I think I'll stick with my electric stove.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Steve Hudgik said...

Thank you for your comment Electrical Safety Guy.

The information in this blog post is from OSHA and thus only covers incidents in the U.S. I've seen some atrocious electrical practices in other countries, so I imagine the injury rate is higher. But I don't have any hard facts covering electrical injuries outside the U.S.

At 4:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one thing I learned about statistics in college... "Statistics are like a string bikini; what they cover up is a lot more interesting than what they reveal!" I too have questioned the CapSchell stat and, as you stated, can't really draw a definitive conclusion without seeing the demographic data. That being said, I have a tendency to believe it must be based on global incidences. Tim F.

At 3:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary P
Industrial elect. for 33 yrs, elect. for 40 yrs. We are told abt all the arc flash fatalities
but we have never had one at our work place. Our worst injuries were from overhead power lines, not motor starter arc flash. An operator here was able to throw off a 4160V starter while motor running, a lot of smoke and burned up starter but no arc flash burns.

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had a hard time as well, trying to find current and more accurate data on Arc Flash related injuries and fatalities. One of the biggest reasons we do not have a more accurate outlook of the injuries related to Arc Flash incidents, is that the reporting and collecting of data has changed over the years. True, OSHA should be notified of any work related fatality, but that just does not seem to be happening. Another big problem with Arc Flash related injuries is the classification of the injury itself. Hospitals and the medical profession as a whole, classify most Arc Flash related injuries as burn injuries. Even if those injuries result in death, because of the severity of the burns, the fatality will be labelled a burn fatality and not an Arc Flash. Because of budgetary cuts, the Center for Disease Control is the regulatory agency that is now collecting the information and the statistics are hard to find.

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous electric motor rewinds said...

This is why it's important to take safety measures along with the work environment to avoid incidents.

At 12:39 AM, Anonymous brooklyn movers said...

The fatalities can also be attributed to the person in charge of it. Faulty wiring is one major issue too.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Zach said...

I can understand people's idea of "Well, even if it's not true, it supports better safety." While that might be an okay stance to take, I don't think there's ever a reason for stretching the truth. You could make the argument that by greatly exaggerating the dangers of arc flash, you are taking away fear of other, more-serious dangers that a worker should be concentrating on. I don't think it's a good policy to just say "well, let's make a worker super-afraid of every danger; that will ensure he's very careful". If you're doing that, you're like the boy who cried wolf. A worker will learn that you exaggerated a threat and might not take your other warnings as seriously as they should be taken. My thoughts on it. I write safety training for a living, so it's a topic I consider pretty often.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Steve Hudgik said...

Zach, thank you for your comment. I agree. If we are going to make good decisions, they need to be based on reality.

At 5:55 AM, Anonymous Steve Jones said...

In all of my 43 years of working with industrial controls and systems 480v or less, I have never experienced an arc-flash incident for myself or for any co-worker around me. I think this whole issue is way overblown. Certainly electricity is dangerous, and we all know it, but these new regulations make working a real pain in the butt. Everywhere I go lately what I hear is not "How wonderful it is that we are now protected from ourselves" but instead "I really hate this crap". If an electrician or other "authorized person" manages to arc-flash themselves to death, they shouldn't have been in there in the first place.

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous R. Andrews said...

I agree with you. There are all too many cases of statistical tampering (lies). Lies, Damned lies, and those that make up statistics.

Never before in all of human history have we been safer yet the legislation goes on and on in an effort to remove the very last vestiges of perceived hazards.

All this is at a cost to our personal liberty and out pocketbooks.


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