Worker Seriously Burned in Arc Flash Explosion

Workers were installing 480-volt nominal service at a food processing plant for future use. At the time, the plant was using existing service at the same branch circuits. The system was live at the panel where the workers were attempting to take a measurement for an additional service wire.

The victim was waiting at the end of eight separate conduit holes to retrieve fish tape that workers on the second floor were running through conduit they had installed for the new service.

Although he was not sure from which one of the eight conduits the fish tape would emerge, he lay on the ground expecting it to be a lower one. As he was watching, the end of the tape sprung out of a higher conduit; however, because the bus bar was activated and carrying an electrical load of approximately 480 volts nominal AC and 3,000 amps, as soon as it touched the back of the bus bar, it created an explosion and fireball.

He received burns from the fireball on his face and the back of his hands. The arc flash blew out two of the branch circuit boxes and burned the rest of the services.

One of the other workers, who was watching as the victim was attempting to receive the fish tape, immediately ran down two flights of stairs to tend to him after the accident.

Another employee, who was pushing the fish tape through from the second floor, experienced a near miss when a flame came out of the conduit just two feet from his shoulder. He felt the heat of the 1,500-degree flame but did not receive an injury.

After emergency responders arrived, the victim was transported to a nearby hospital where he was treated and transferred to the Oregon Burn Unit in Portland for second- and third-degree burns to his face and hands.

The work required a Level II hot work permit, which included a qualified buddy (journeyman electrician), hard hats, safety glasses, full-face shield (flash rated, nonconductive), rubber gloves (properly rated and tested at 1,000 volts per minute), double-insulated hand tools, flame retardant outer garments, a copy of the "hot work process," and a rescue system.


Figure 1: Workers with Proper PPE

Courtesy of Dean Thomas, GTRI

Applicable Standards

1926.416 (a)(1) Safety related work practices, general requirements – "No employer shall permit an employee to work in such proximity to any part of an electric power circuit so that the employee could contact the electric power circuit in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means."


437-001-0760 (1)(a) Rules for all workplaces, employers' responsibilities – "The employer must see that workers are properly supervised in the safe operation of any machinery, tools, equipment, process, or practice that they are authorized to use or apply."


437-001-0760 (1)(b)(C) Rules for all workplaces, employers' responsibilities – "The employer shall take all reasonable means to require employees to use all means and methods, including, but not limited to, ladders, scaffolds, guardrails, machine guards, safety belt, and lifelines, that are necessary to safely accomplish all work where employees are exposed to a hazard."

Figure 2: Applicable Standards