The Cost of Providing Arc Flash Protection

So far in this series, we have explored the many costs of an arc flash incident, the frequency of arc flash incidents, and the economic costs involved. Now we’d like to take a look at how you can mitigate the damage – both personal and economic – in the event of an arc flash.

First, it’s important to note that the overwhelming majority of arc flash events are the result of human error. No matter how well trained your workers are, it only takes a split second loss of concentration or a tool slipping through someone’s fingers to set the table for disaster.

That means that it’s a matter of when, not if, one of your employees will find themselves subjected to an arc flash. And when it happens, the actions you take today are going to determine whether that employee is able to walk away relatively unscathed or not.

There’s no getting around the fact that arc flashes happen. But, given that the technology exists to protect your people at a reasonable cost means that there is no excuse for any of your employees to ever suffer a catastrophic injury or die from an arc flash.

Since the publication of OSHA 1910.269, virtually every electric utility company operating in the U.S. has taken the necessary measures to ensure that their employees are outfitted in arc rated, flame resistant (AR/FR) clothing, rated to protect against the arc flash hazard identified through the hazard analysis. In the 70E world, however, many employers have been much more reluctant to provide their employees with the AR/FR clothing required to keep them safe.

FRC is too expensive, some argue. And besides, NFPA 70E doesn’t require mandatory compliance. While that latter statement may technically be true, OSHA does require you to take all necessary steps to protect your employees against known hazards. And when it comes to arc flash hazards, there are no better guidelines you can follow to meet that standard than 70E

So, the truth is, providing employees who work in energized environments with the appropriate PPE is not optional. But is it “too expensive?”

When outfitting employees with PPE to protect them from arc flash hazards, you have two basic options – daily wear and task-based PPE. For an in-depth comparison of the pros and cons of each approach, see our multi-part blog series on the topic. But, to provide a brief summary, there are several issues with arc flash suits:

  • Not always at the job site and available when energized work needs to be performed
  • Most workers find them hot, uncomfortable and clumsy to work in
  • Many workers have hygiene concerns about sharing perspiration-soaked suits with co-workers

FR Clothing Vs Non-FR Clothing – Arc Flash Comparison

If your employees are exposed to electrical hazards on a daily or near-daily basis, then daily wear is probably the way to go. The advantage of daily wear is that your employees are always wearing it when on the job. There’s no need to take the time track down an arc flash suit, meaning there’s less chance that employees will work in an energized environment unprotected. With a well-managed FRC program, your employees can choose the garments that are the most comfortable to them, which further encourages compliance. But what does it cost?

In the final 2014 version of the 1910.269 rule, OSHA estimates that providing an employee with eight sets of FR daily wear would cost an average of $453 per year1 – or $2,275 over 5 years. Factoring in inflation and that amounts to $2,451 in 2018 dollars. Multiply that figure by 100 workers, and your investment in arc flash protection over 5 years totals $245,100.

The bottom line is that providing your workers with protection against arc flash incidents is vastly more economical than absorbing the cost of an arc flash incident that injures or kills an unprotected employee. Looking back at our previous posts, in the second post in the series we concluded that the chances of any one electrical worker being subjected to arc flash event were 1 in 8300. For a company with 100 electricians, that means you have a 1.2% chance of one of your employees enduring an arc flash in any given year.

Multiplying that 1.2% chance of being in an arc flash by the estimated total cost of an arc flash injury of $23M established in our previous post in this series (1.2% of $23m) results in an annualized expected cost of arc flash injuries for a company that does not provide PPE to its employees of $277,000. Extrapolate that over 5 years and the 5 year anticipated economic cost of arc flash injuries (5 x $277,000) is $1.38M – or $1.155M more than the $225,000 cost of outfitting your employees in FRC for 5 years.

Even if we were to discount the true cost of an accident by 80%, the cost of arc flash injuries for a 100 person company would be $55,000 per year, or $277,000 over 5 years.

 $23M x 20% = $4.6M x 1.2% annual accident rate = $55,000 per year x 5 years is $277,000

At a total cost of $245,000 over 5 years, outfitting employees in daily wear is still a net positive economic investment – and that doesn’t even take into consideration the ethical value of protecting your employee’s safety as well as your company’s reputation.  So, even when you reduce the risk factors to a level that is far below reality, providing your employees with FRC is clearly the better option.

Obviously, the impact of a serious industrial injury or fatality can’t be reduced to dollars and cents. However, failing to protect the financial future of your company in an effort to harvest short-term savings can have a devastating impact on the employees who rely on you for their livelihood. For all of these reasons, we highly recommend that anyone who employs electricians fully comply with OSHA requirements to provide workers with the protection they need to come home safe every night.

This is the final post of a 4-part series exploring the financial implications for employers of an arc flash incident involving one of their workers. Be sure to read the other posts in the series: The Many Costs of an Arc Flash Incident; How Common are Arc Flash Incidents; What Does an Arc Flash Injury Actually Cost Your Business; in order to fully understand why providing employees with arc flash protection is such a good investment.

  1. Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution; Electrical Protective Equipment, OSHA, 2014, Page 1098.

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