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Copyright Material IEEE
Paper No. ESW2015-21
Lloyd B. Gordon

Nicole Graham

Los Alamos National Laboratory

P.O. Box 1280
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Los Alamos National Laboratory

P.O. Box 1663, MS K403
Los Alamos, NM 87545

Abstract - The Standard for Electrical Safety in the

Workplace, NFPA 70E, and relevant OSHA electrical safety
standards evolved in the US, over the past 40 years, to address
the hazards of 60-Hz power that are faced primarily by
electricians, linemen, and others performing facility and utility
work. This leaves a substantial gap in the management of
other types of electrical hazards including battery banks, DC
power systems, capacitor banks, and solar power systems.
Although many of these systems are fed by 50/60-Hz
alternating current (ac) energy, we find substantial use of direct
current (dc) electrical energy, and the use of capacitors,
inductors, batteries, solar, and radiofrequency (RF) power. The
electrical hazards of these forms of electricity and their systems
are different than for 50/60 Hz ac power.
At this workshop in 2009 we presented a comprehensive
approach to classifying the electrical shock hazards of all types
of electricity, including various waveforms and various types of
sources of electrical energy. That paper introduced a new
comprehensive electrical shock hazard classification system
that used a combination of voltage, shock current available,
fault current available, power, energy, and waveform to classify
all forms of electrical hazards with a focus on the shock hazard.
That paper was based on various research conducted over the
past 100 years and on decades of experience.
This paper continues the effort in understanding and
managing all forms of injury from all forms of electricity with the
introduction of a comprehensive approach to classifying all
forms of injury from the electrical arc, including thermal, blast
pressure, hearing, radiation, and shrapnel injury. The general
term arc is divided into the arc, arc flash, and arc blast as a
first subdivision of type of source of injury.
Then, the
parameters of voltage, short circuit current, energy, waveform,
gap distance, gap geometry, enclosure geometry, and time are
used to choose various approaches to analysis. Recent efforts
to understand, model, and estimate injury for these types of
systems, are reviewed. Most of the focus to understand and
predict injury for dc, capacitor, solar, and rf arc hazards has
been only in the past 10 years.
A comprehensive approach to analyzing all forms of injury
from all forms of electrical arcs is presented.
Index Terms Electrical safety, electrical injury, electrical
hazard classification, electrical safety standards, arc flash, arc.
U.S. Government work not protected by U.S. copyright



Over the past century, since the beginning of the

implementation of electricity into modern technology, the
physics of arcs have been under study, primarily for the
purpose of understanding for science and for engineering
Studies focused on the formation, growth,
stability, and decay of diffuse, glow, and arc discharges by
examining the low- and high-density plasma characteristics
such as temperature, charge particle densities, ionized species,
and energy transport. As a result of the study of such terrestrial
discharges as well as astrophysics a new field of physics
evolved over the past half century known as plasma physics.
Numerous publications (1941 1997) summarize much of the
work in gaseous discharges, arc discharges, and plasma
physics [1-12]. The concern of injury from high
density/temperature gaseous discharges, primarily high current
arcs, is relatively new, however, only beginning about 30 years
ago (1982) [13].
Electrical shock, as a form of injury, was recognized from the
very beginning of the use of electricity, in the 1880s, and some
research began as early as 100 years ago. A focus on
understanding the injury mechanisms from electric shock really
gathered momentum with the work of Dalziel and others, in the
1950s, leading to the electrical shock standards that began to
appear in UL, OSHA, IEC, and NFPA standards in the 1960s
and 1970s [14-17]. The initial primary focus in the early part of
the 20 century was on protection of the public in the use of
electricity. A comprehensive summary of this work is found in
Gordon, et. al. [18]. The results of the studies of electrical injury
led to design standards in the United States (US) to protect the
users of electrical equipment. Standards such as the National
Electrical Code (NEC) [19] and those developed by
Underwriters Laboratory (UL) strove to prevent fire and to
protect the user against exposure to electric shock. Well-known
examples of design requirements to protect the user include the
equipment grounding conductor (1960s) and the Ground Fault
Circuit Interrupter (GFCI, 1970s). Key safe work practices to
protect workers against shock were introduced into national
standards in 1913 (NESC for utility work) and the 1970s (OSHA
and NFPA 70E), such as avoidance of energized electrical
work, and the use of dielectric PPE.

The first focus on protection of the electrical worker was the

development of safe work practices for transmission line
workers, found in the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)
[20], first initiated in 1913 at the National Bureau of Standards.
In the 1970s electrical safe work practices was broadened to
cover facility type work, with the Occupational Safety and
Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 and the creation of National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 70E (1979). The initial
focus by NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the
Workplace, was on the shock hazard for the electrician or other
facility electrical worker, dealing with 60 Hz, ac power.
The US national codes for electrical safe work practices
evolved primarily for work on 60-Hz power transmission,
distribution, and utilization equipment, and for the first few
decades (1913, 1970 1990) focused primarily on the shock
hazards. The result was the reduction in electrocutions to
electrical workers by as much as a factor 20 over 30 years.
Although burn injuries from arcs was known to occur, a real
focus on understanding and prevention of such arc flash
injuries did not begin in earnest until a classical paper by Ralph
H. Lee, The Other Electrical Hazard: Electric Arc Blast Burns,
published in 1982 [13]. By the mid 1990s OSHA and NFPA
1995 70E [21] began introducing the issue of injury and
protection from the thermal hazard of electric arcs into the
standards. For about 15 years (1995 2000) the focus for arc
flash injury and protection was on the hazard created by ac
power systems, i.e., 50/60 Hz power systems, since this is
where most of the documented injuries were occurring.
However, by about 2000 it was recognized that other forms of
electrical energy, such as dc, and other types of systems, such
as battery and capacitor banks, could also result in injury from
It is important to summarize the recognition of shock and arc
flash hazards for ac and dc electricity, and the resultant
development of safety standards. Shock hazards for ac were
studied from as early as 1936 through the 1960s [14, 15,16, 22]
resulting in the safety standards for ac electric shock, such as
OSHA 1910.300 (1970) and the 1979 NFPA 70E [23]. Although
Dalziel had studied the effects of dc shock in the 1950s [24], his
work for dc was not discussed and incorporated into U.S.
national standards until 2009 2012 [18, 25] with the
clarification of 100 V dc as the threshold for hazardous dc
shock. Arc flash hazards for ac power systems were highlighted
with Lees paper in 1982 [13] and introduced into national
standards in 1995 [21]. Arc flash hazards for dc voltages began
being discussed in the conferences and workshop about 2000
and were introduced into the national standards in 2012 with
the method in Annex D of the 2012 NFPA 70E [25] for dc arc
flash calculations for battery banks.
Requirements for
managing dc arc flash hazards are still pending for national
standards (e.g., NFPA 70E).
Although the unique electrical hazards, such as dc, in
industry and research laboratories were mentioned by Dalziel
as early as 1951 [26, 27] and later discussed by Gordon [28],
they did not find a place in the national standards until article
350, Safety-Related Work Requirements: Research and
Development Laboratories in the 2009 NFPA 70E [29].
Although this paper includes the arc flash hazards of facility ac
power, the unique contributions are in other forms of electricity,
as discussed below.


In order to provide a basis for arc electrical injury thresholds
for all forms of electrical energy it is important to briefly review
30 years of study of electrical injury from arcs.

Categories of Electrical Injury from Arcs

The types of injuries from electric arcs can be broadly divided

into 6 major categories:
(1) conductive thermal energy from hot materials such as
molten metal slag and droplets from the arc, resulting in burns
to the skin, or ignition of clothing
(2) convective thermal energy from the hot gas and plasma
reaching the skin and clothing, and possibly inhaled into the
(3) radiative thermal energy from the intense IR, visible and
UV radiation output of the arc, resulting in burns to the skin, or
ignition of clothing
(4) slow rise time blast pressure wave energy from the kinetic
energy deposited into air, resulting in injury from being thrown,
or concussion or hearing injury
(5) fast rise time, supersonic acoustic pressure wave energy
resulting in injury to the ears, lungs, and brain
(6) kinetic energy in shrapnel resulting in injury from
accelerated parts from the damage and destruction of electrical
system components.
An additional hazard of arcs is the release of toxic gases by
the decomposition of gas, conductor, and insulating materials,
and will not be covered here.
The strong magnetic fields from short-circuit currents has
also been listed as a secondary hazard. However, the
biological hazard from tissue exposure to the high magnetic
fields is negligible due to the short time of exposure and
relatively low field strengths (the possible exception may be for
the wearers of medical electronics). The effect of the strong
magnetic fields on arc movement and large forces on
conductors will be covered, however, since it has relevant
effects such as directed arcs in horizontal electrode geometries,
and conductor destruction in very high-current, impulse arcs
(e.g., MA fast rise time capacitor arcs).
Early studies (beginning in 1980s) focused on the thermal
injuries from electrical arcs, including primarily categories 2 and
and 3 above, since this was the most common cause of
electrical burns and a few fatalities [13]. Initially, the 1995
NFPA 70E [21] and the PPE manufacturers focused on
protection from the thermal hazards (items 1, 2, and 3 above)
with the use of FR (flame retardant) and later AR (arc rated)
clothing. Recognition of the non-thermal injuries, primarily injury
from kinetic energy deposited in the expanding air and parts,
including categories 4, 5, and 6, did not enter into 70E and PPE
manufacturing until some time later, although these hazards
had been recognized earlier by some. The 2000 NFPA 70E [30]
added hearing protection requirements, and the 2004 NFPA
70E [31] mentioned shrapnel in information Annex K.
Terminology for the topic of arc injuries has been confusing
over the past years, with the terms of arc, arc flash, and arc
blast. These terms have sometimes been used interchangeably with sometimes different intent or meaning.
For example, the hazards of welding arcs are primarily 1
(slag) and 3 (radiation energy). The primary injury that NFPA
70E has addressed formally is the thermal injury, including

items 1, 2 and 3. Although NFPA 70E seems to include all

forms of injury in the definition of arc flash hazard, A
dangerous condition associated with the possible release of
energy caused by an electric arc, the 2015 NFPA 70E clarified
that the incident energy for quantitatively determining
protection from the thermal energy, is the amount of thermal
energy impressed upon a surface.. This is due to the issue
that research and models have not yet quantitatively
determined acoustical boundaries for determining precise
protection for injuries to ears, lungs and the brain. NFPA 70E
does recognize injuries from 5 (injury to the ears) and 6
(shrapnel) and PPE companies are designing arc flash PPE
considering protection from acoustic energy and shrapnel.
However, since super sonic acoustic injury may dominate for
fast rise time impulse arcs, for this article the following terms will
be used:
Arc hazard The thermal hazards from a stable, low-voltage
arc, such as an arc welder, or a self-extinguishing, 120-V short
circuit, and includes items 1 and 3 above. Typical PPE for these
burn hazards are leather gloves, shoes and aprons, to protect
against molten metal (item 1) and eye protection (with radiated
UV, visible, and IR filters as needed) to protect the eyes against
molten metal and radiated energy.
Arc flash hazard The thermal hazards from a high-energy
arc, that must include some of items 2 (convective thermal
energy) and 3 (radiative thermal energy). Typical facility arc
flash hazards are dominated by injury from items 2 and 3, but
will also have components of items 1, 4, 5, and 6.
Arc blast hazard primarily the injuries from the kinetic
energy deposited into acoustics and high velocity shrapnel,
items 4, 5, and 6.
Although these definitions may not exactly match definitions
in current standards, they are useful for the discussion
presented here.

Electrical Waveforms and Equipment of Interest

The type, or waveform, of electrical arcs, from various

sources of electrical energy can be divided into 9 major groups:
(1) single phase power-frequency arcs, 50 and 60 Hz, from
facility/utility sources
(2) three phase power-frequency arcs, 50 and 60 Hz, from
facility/utility sources
(3) sub radiofrequency (1 Hz to 3 kHz, not 50/60 Hz) arcs,
such as 400 Hz power systems and low frequency inductive
(4) direct current (dc) arcs, which can have an ac component
(ripple), from power supplies, typically with overcurrent
(5) direct current (dc) arcs from battery banks
(6) direct current (dc) from large solar power systems
(7) radiofrequency arcs, 3 kHz to 300 GHz, such as high
power inverters and high power induction furnaces
(8) fast rise time impulse arcs, such as from high voltage
(9) slow rise time impulse arcs, such as from large inductors
These nine waveforms of interest, based on source and timevarying nature, will later be divided into 4 fundamental
waveforms, and subdivided into nine subcategories as a
function of the sources. Although the majority of recent studies
of the injuries of electric arcs have focused on the thermal
injuries from 50 and 60 Hz power frequencies, there is enough

known about the physics of various types of arcs, and some

recent studies on dc and battery bank arcs to propose some
preliminary thresholds for safety.

Electrical Energy Conversion

The challenge facing the understanding of which of the above

6 injury mechanisms dominate, or are present, as a function of
the nature of the source of the arc centers around how electrical
energy (V x I x t) is converted into other forms of energy,
namely conductive thermal, convective thermal, radiative
thermal, acoustical, mechanical (e.g., moving mass), and
magnetic. Knowing how electrical energy is converted into
these 6 other forms of energy will lead to an understanding of
what percentage of the electrical energy is converted to each of
the other forms. Clearly, this conversion is a function of the
nature of the arc, which is, in turn, a function of many properties
of the arc, such as length, temperature, radius, waveform, rise
time, lifetime, and constituent species (e.g., gas, metal,
dielectric). In turn, some of these parameters, such as arc
length, arc temperature, lifetime and constituent species are a
function of boundary conditions, including gap distance,
electrode geometry, enclosure geometry, and conductor/
dielectric materials. In short, analytically predicting energy
conversion is NOT a simple problem. Nevertheless, some
theoretical and experimental studies have provided some
understanding. The goal in this section is to review what is
known about energy conversion, from electrical to other forms,
in order to understand injury mechanisms for the various
proposed types of arc.
1) Conductive thermal energy refers to the conduction of heat
to the body or clothing directly from hot solid materials. Since
the worker is generally only in contact with solid materials with
the hands, and the hands are usually well protected by leather
gloves, the primary form of injury is molten or hot materials
coming in contact with other parts of the body, less protected.
In general, dielectrics are vaporized by the arc event and are a
part of the hot gas/plasma, or cool very rapidly due to their low
thermal mass. But, molten metal droplets, with temperatures
on the order of 1000 K, are ejected from the arc event. Even
though at a lower temperature than the hot gas/plasma, molten
metal droplets have a high heat capacity, and can cause severe
burns to exposed skin and ignite clothing before they cool. It is
nearly impossible to predict how much of what material is
ejected in molten form due to the completely of electrode
melting which will be a function of many parameters (arc length,
current, current density, material type, arc lifetime, etc.).
Although it may be the dominant cause of thermal burns for
arcs (as defined above), such as welding arcs, and selfextinguishing 120 V class arcs, it is generally accepted that this
is not the primary mechanism of energy transfer causing burns,
for high current arcs with arc flash hazards. There has been
little attempt to model and predict the amount of electrical
energy converted to molten metal droplets, and thus to
conductive thermal injury.
2) Convective thermal energy refers to the transfer of heat to
the worker by moving fluids, namely gas and plasma (ionized
gas). Radiative thermal energy refers to the emission of
electromagnetic radiation from the arc reaching the worker,
primarily in the infrared (IR), visible, and ultraviolet (UV) bands.

The discussion of these two forms of energy will be combined

here, as it is generally believed that these two forms of energy
are responsible for most of the thermal injury to the worker in
arc flash events, and, there is significant confusion and differing
opinions as to which conveys more energy.
Initial considerations of the thermal injury from arc flash
events assumed that all of the energy leaving the arc was in the
form of radiated energy [13]. Early calculations used the 4
power of the temperature law, assuming that the emitting body
(the arc) radiated uniformly in 4 steradians, and that absorbing
body (the worker), uniformly absorbed over the whole exposed
cross section. Assuming that the radiating body, the arc, is
around 20,000 K, typical of the core of a high-current air arc,
and the receiving body is around 300 K, the T term dominates.
During his 30 years of study of arc physics, Lowke developed
models of arcs in various pressures for many currents [3, 4, 6,
7, 11, 12]. In summary, he found that low current arcs, and arcs
in very high pressures were optically thin, and energy
transferred away from the arc was primarily through radiation
losses. Thus, energy reaching a point away from the arc was in
the form of radiation, and the above temperature difference
used above could work. However, atmospheric pressure, highcurrent arcs were optically thick and energy radiated by the
arc was absorbed by gas and plasma, and thus coupled into
increased heating of the gas, and increased ionization of the
plasma. This was particularly true near the electrodes where
the arc has its smallest radius and magnetic forces drove
plasma and gas fluid flow. The self-magnetic compression of
the arc column near the electrode drove a flow of gas along the
arc column and cool gas from the surrounding atmosphere
enters the arc column in order to maintain mass continuity. The
convective transport of heat by such self-generated flows in
high-current free-burning arcs constitutes a significant
proportion of the electrical power input into the arc column and
arc behavior is largely determined by these magnetically driven
flows. This is particularly true for arcs over 500 A.
Lowke determined that these convective energy transfer
processes dominate near the electrodes (less than 4 cm away)
and predicted that only about 10 % of the thermal energy is net
radiation loss, and 90% is convective transfer [7]. In other
words, radiation from the arc core is absorbed by cool gas and
plasma, transferring radiation energy at the arc to convective
energy in the fluid. For long arcs (> 4 cm from an electrode), the
arc radius grows, the arc temperature drops, and convective
forces (fluid flow) decreases. Thus, radiation transfer will
increase as the plasma/gas becomes more optically thin.
How is this relevant to understanding thermal energy
transport from an arc to a worker? First, energy transport for
shorter arcs, such as phase to phase, will be dominated by
convective energy transport by the gas/plasma, whereas the
center of long arcs will have an increased component of
radiative energy transport. Second, the effects of an enclosure
will differ for short arcs, where turbulent fluids will be directed by
the enclosure towards the worker, whereas for longer arcs more
radiation will be absorbed by materials, and less reflected.
Currently, PPE is designed to protect against both types of
thermal transport, radiation and convection, regardless of which
type of energy is dominant. However, better understanding of
what type of thermal injury is dominant may affect some PPE
design. For instance, radiated energy is best managed by
materials that reflect the incident radiated energy, and do not
transmit or absorb the energy. This issue is important for face

shields. Incident convective energy is best managed by

materials with a high damage or ignition temperature. This is
more important for torso and arm protection. Note that radiative
energy only impacts the portions of the worker in direct line of
sight of the arc event, and does not reach any portion of the
worker at right angles to, or facing away from the arc. The sole
thermal injury mechanism for portions of the worker facing away
from conductive metal droplets and radiated energy is the
convection thermal hazard, i.e., hot gas/plasma fluids sweeping
around the worker. It was the convective thermal hazard that
drove the development and requirement for the balaclava to
protect the back of the neck and close the gap between the top
of the shirt and the hard hat.
3) Subsonic pressure waves will result from relatively slower
rise time arcs, such as the ms rise time arcs in facility ac power.
Supersonic pressure waves will result from faster rise time arcs,
such as the s rise time arcs from low inductance capacitor
banks. Acoustic pressures from facility type arcs was first
highlighted in 1979 [32] and discussed in several subsequent
publications [33-36]. Acoustic pressures in fast rise time arcs
results in super sonic wave fronts and has been studied related
to lightning and capacitor bank discharges, which occur in the
order of microseconds [37-40].
4) Shrapnel results from the high currents that melt electrode
materials, and acoustic and magnetic forces that dismantle and
propel parts, especially metal parts [36].

Thresholds Leading to Injury

There are many parameters that ultimately affect the incident

thermal or acoustic energy impacting a worker. Boundary
conditions, such as electrode geometry, enclosure geometry,
and electrode materials, certainly affect arc behavior and
incident energy. However, first, we must have an arc, second,
the arc must have sufficient voltage, current, and energy to
reach the worker, with some form of converted energy. So,
before taking into account the boundary conditions, it is best to
establish if we have a hazardous arc by establishing thresholds
for an arc hazard.
For instance, a carpet shock at 20 kV, 10 A, and 200 kW,
sounds hazardous, drawing an arc up to 1 cm. But, the brief
time, around 1 ns, and the very small energy, 0.01 J, result in a
high voltage arc that has no arc or arc flash hazard.
A Jacobs ladder (a high voltage arc that lasts for many
seconds) certainly has sufficient voltage (10 kV) to sustain an
arc for many seconds, but does not have enough current
(typically mA) to create an arc hazard (negligible metal is
melted) nor enough energy to ionized sufficient air to create a
hot gas or plasma. Of course, there is a shock hazard, but that
is not the topic of this paper.
An arc welder, running about around 20 V and 300 A is
certainly an arc hazard, but does not have sufficient voltage and
current to create an arc flash hazard (there is a thermal hazard
from radiant energy that reaches the worker.
Another example is arcs created by batteries. A 9 V smoke
detector battery will make an arc, but has insufficient energy to
melt substantial metal, and is not an arc hazard. A 12 V car
battery does have sufficient energy to melt more metal, and
begins to become an arc hazard, but cannot sustain an arc
leading to an arc flash hazard. Although the car battery may

have sufficient current to feed an arc flash, it does not have

sufficient voltage.
To prepare the reader for some of the current and energy
thresholds used in the arc hazard classification system below,
let us take a look at three key parameters necessary to
transition from no hazard, to an arc hazard, and then to an arc
flash hazard.

Current as a Threshold

An arc can be maintained at a level as low as 10s to 100 of

mAs, if the voltage is high enough (e.g., a Jacobs ladder).
However, sufficient UV to injure the eyes is unlikely below 10 to
100 A. It is generally accepted that at least 500 A or more, is
required to feed a growing plasma leading to an arc flash.


Electrical Arc Injury Studies and Results for AC Power


Energy as a Threshold

Perhaps the most important parameter to establish the onset

of an arc, an arc flash, or an arc blast hazard is energy. A
carpet shock delivers 0.01 J, an arc at a 12 V door bell button
delivers 12 J per second (12 W), an arc at a smoke alarm
battery delivers about 5 J per second (5 W), an arc at a car
battery delivers about 2 kJ in 0.2 s (10 kW), an arc welder
delivers about 6 kJ per second (6 kW). A direct short circuit
across capacitors will create: 10 J capacitor - sparks and a
sharp noise, 100 J capacitor hazardous sparks and a loud
noise, 1000 J hazardous sparks and potential damage to
unprotected ears, 10 kJ hazardous sparks, molten droplets,
rupture to ear drums, and strong magnetic forces on conductors
involved, and 100 kJ substantial molten droplets, acoustic
injury to ears, exposed skin, and possibly lungs. Using typical
short circuit currents and breaker operating times, a short circuit
in a facility will create: 120 V receptacle 20 kJ, arc hazard, 0
m arc flash boundary; 277 V phase 50 kJ, arc hazard, 0 m arc
flash boundary; 480 V, 3 phase 100 kJ, arc flash boundaries
around 1 m, etc.
An approximate estimate for sufficient energy to create
sparks, reaching the eyes, would be 100 J; for sufficient energy
to create an arc flash of 1 cm, would be 20 J; for sufficient
energy to create an arc flash of 10 cm, would be 2 kJ; for
sufficient energy to create an arc flash of 100 cm, would be 200
kJ; and, sufficient energy to injure the ears from a fast rise time
capacitor discharge, would be 20 J (assumes 1 % probability of
injury, 50 % conversion to acoustic energy, and 45 cm working
distance [39]. Acoustic energy injury thresholds for continuous
arcs (e.g., an arc welder) are likely much higher (5 kJ per
second) and for a slow impulse arc from a 60 Hz source,
perhaps 20 kJ. (Does an arc at a 120 V receptacle present an
ear hazard?)
Energy is useful as a threshold to determine: if enough metal
can be melted to create molten droplets, if there is an arc flash
boundary (assuming that voltage and current are sufficient), if
there is enough energy to create an acoustic hazard, and if
there is enough energy to impart high velocity to shrapnel.

currently study that 208 V, three-phase may present an arc

flash hazard. For DC, test in the past 10 years indicate that a
dc voltage as low as 150 V may be able to sustain an arc flash
to present a hazard. A threshold of 100 V dc is used by some,
for the beginning of an arc flash hazard.

Voltage as a Threshold

Although much study has been done, and there are varying
conclusions, it is generally accepted that 120 277 V singlephase ac will not sustain an arc flash due to the cooling and de
ionization processes during the current zeros. There is

Beginning with Ralph H. Lees paper in 1982 [13], and

continuing over the next 25 years, substantial research has
been published on the thermal hazard of facility power arc, from
the flash hazard [41-46]. Some measurements were made on
the acoustic pressures generated by the relatively slow (100
ms) rising facility arcs. [32-33]. Due to this relatively slow time
scale, the majority of electrical energy goes into thermal and
radiation energy (90%) and less energy into kinetic forms of
energy (acoustic and shrapnel). Thus, the focus on the arc flash
injury resulting from radiation and convective burns was
appropriate, and the assumption that 100% of the electrical
energy converted was reasonably accurate. There are many
papers published on the arc flash burn injury, thresholds for
burn, and treatments of such injury. The current threshold for
the beginning of incurable 2 degree burn, i.e., the arc flash
boundary, came as a result of this research. However, there
were no thresholds for blast wave, or acoustic energy, as these
forms of energy did not dominate.

Electrical Arc Injury for DC and Capacitor Arcs

There are much fewer injuries and fatalities due to dc or

capacitor arcs, including battery banks, so little research has
been done to characterize the conversion of electrical energy
into the various forms of arc flash and arc blast energy,
including conversion into radiation, convection energy (hot gas
and plasma), super sonic acoustic energy, magnetic energy,
and kinetic energy. For example, the shock wave from facility
arcs is subsonic, with primary injury mechanisms of eardrum
rupture and pushing the worker back into other structures. It is
likely that less than 10% of the electrical energy is converted
into acoustical energy. For fast rise time capacitor arcs,
however, research has shown that electrical energy conversion
to acoustic energy could be as high as 50%. This is due to the
rapid deposition (s) of large energies into a small volume,
resulting in supersonic velocities, piling up air mass in front of
the shock wave. This shock wave can produce substantial baro
traumatic damage to hearing and lungs, and cranial shock wave
damage (to the brain). This injury mechanism may dominate
over thermal injury at a given distance, since more of the
electrical energy is going into kinetic energy, than into thermal
injury. There are undocumented examples of exposure to air
arcs from 20 kJ size capacitor discharges with workers
approximately 2 meters distant. Damage to the ears and face
(burst capillaries) was evident. Conversion of fast rise time
impulse discharges into acoustical energy was discussed
above. Although there are a number of electrocutions from
capacitors, the author has yet to find a case of an arc flash
injury from a capacitor discharge. There are a handful of cases
of injury from dc arc flash from large battery systems.
Only in the past 10 years have studies been conducted to
gather data and model dc arc flash energies for the
transportation industry and large battery banks [47-51]



G. Summary of Arc Injury Studies

The research from the 1980s to today have led to
understanding of many of the thermal injuries of 50/60 Hz ac
arcs, and some of the thermal and kinetic injuries of other
sources. The findings from this research will be used to explain
the basis for existing thresholds for ac arc injury found in current
standards, and for the basis of thresholds presented for injury
from dc and impulse arcs. Cleary, more research is needed to
better determine thresholds for injury mechanisms less

The following description of a comprehensive electrical arc

hazard classification system is an overview. In this short paper
it is not possible to present the full details of this system, plus,
there is still a more work to be done. For instance, the reader
does not have the user tools in this paper to understand and
determine the parameter values necessary to calculate the
incident thermal and acoustical boundaries. Nor are the various
theoretical and empirical models presented here.

Electrical Parameters Determining Injury from Arcs


In order to provide the basis for an expanded electrical arc
hazard classification system, it is important to review what
already exists in electrical safety standards.

Standards Covering AC Arc Hazards

The primary US standards to set thresholds to protect

workers against thermal ac arc injury is NFPA 70E [52], which
relies on IEEE 1584 [53] for estimating incident energy.

Standards Covering DC and Other Arc Flash Hazards

Although the 2012 NFPA 70E [25] added a method of

calculating dc arc flash for battery banks, in Annex D, this
section is not a part of the requirements of the standard. Thus,
there are no national standards, yet, that cover non-facility ac
arc flash or other arc hazards.

The Future of Arc Hazards

NFPA 70E and IEEE 1584 focus on managing the arc flash
hazards for 60 Hz ac systems. The focus of this paper and of
future research include accounting for and managing other
injury mechanisms found in the arc blast, and in developing
methods for arc flash analysis of dc, capacitor and battery
systems. Research is currently underway nationwide which will
add to our body of knowledge in the area. The few arc flash
thresholds used in this comprehensive electrical arc
classification system for dc, capacitors and batteries are based
on the concepts of available arc energy and on predicted
conversion to other forms of energy.


The US standards for setting the thresholds for electrical

hazards have focused on 60 Hz ac electric shock over the past
80 years, and on 60 Hz electric arc flash injury over the past 30
years. There are, however, many more forms of electrical
energy (dc, impulse, rf, subrf), and lesser understood
mechanisms of injury (such as super sonic acoustic impact, and
shrapnel). Missing thresholds in electrical safe work practice
standards lead to a need to account for:
- arc flash hazards for dc, capacitors, inductors, solar power
systems, and battery banks.

Predicting potential thermal and kinetic injury depends highly

on the dynamic nature of the arc. The arc properties and
behavior is a function of many parameters, including: arc
voltage; current; power; energy; waveform and frequency;
duration of the arc; magnetic forces; electrode geometry and
material; boundaries, such as enclosure type, size, geometry
and material; and grounding.
Which parameters are known, which must be calculated, and
which may be unknown, vary as a function of the source,
system design, and arc behavior. For example, for 60 Hz facility
arcs, the voltage is always known, and the short circuit current,
and thus short circuit power, is calculated from system
impedance from known values such as transformer impedance,
wire impedance, etc. Energy deposited is calculated by
knowing, or estimating, arc time, usually determined by
overcurrent protection operating times. Several models and
software packages are available to quantitatively calculate the
energy value. To this level, the results are rather well known.
But, when we fold in arc behavior as determined by parameters
such as magnetic forces, electrode geometry, enclosure
geometry, and grounding, there is insufficient theoretical
knowledge to quantitatively calculate accurate incident energy,
and thus, thresholds for injury. Even more complex is that arc
behavior may dramatically reduce the arc time, through arc
extinguishing, and the overcurrent operating time, may give an
overly conservative result. Although there are some methods
for limited theoretical prediction of the arc behavior for certain
situations, there is no theoretical model to predict the hazards
for all cases. As a result, IEEE 1584 and thus NFPA 70E have
relied on data taken from testing and measurements to develop
empirical models. The weakness of the empirical models is that
they can only reasonably predict those cases for which tests
have been performed. There are still many cases for which
there is very limited data, such as some electrode and
enclosure geometries, and for dc and impulse arcs.
Parameters, such as voltage, short circuit current, power,
waveform, and arc time, vary substantially when comparing
arcs from facility power, battery banks, solar arrays, capacitors,
inductors, and rf sources. Very high voltage does not guarantee
an arc hazard (carpet shock is 20 kV), nor does high power, or
a long arc time (such as an arc welder). The most important
common parameter among all arcs is energy, which is
necessary to create substantial thermal, acoustic, and kinetic
hazards. Without energy, there is little injury. Although energy
is actually the result of an ac arc flash calculation, using
voltage, current, and time (E = V x I x t) and is necessary to
calculate the arc flash boundary and the incident energy, which
are both based on energy per unit area, it is seldom used as a

threshold for the hazard. To better contrast the arc hazards of

different waveforms, energy is a key parameter for thresholds in
this system.
Thus, understand that the following proposed electrical arc
flash hazard classification system is necessarily a draft that will
improve with further testing and theoretical research, and the
development of better empirical and theoretical models.

Organization of System Super Categories

The comprehensive electrical hazard classification system

presented here starts by dividing electrical sources and energy
into 4 super or general categories, based on source and
waveform (refer to the charts in the accompanying
Category 1 50/60 Hz power arcs
1.1 single phase
1.2 three phase
Category 2 DC arcs
2.1 DC power supplies
2.2 Battery banks
2.3 Solar arrays
Category 3 Impulse arcs
3.1 Capacitors
3.2 Inductors
Category 4 Sinusoidal arcs, not 50/60 Hz power
4.1 subrf 1 Hz to 3 kHz
4.2 RF 3 kHz to 300 GHz
The selection of this General Category depends on source and
waveform. The first number, X, in a hazard class designation,
X.x gives the General Category.

30 Electrical Arc Hazard Classes

Each of the 4 General Categories, and 9 subcategories are

then broken into a number of Hazard Classes, depending on
possible injury based on voltage, short circuit current,
waveform, energy released, electrode geometry, enclosure
geometry, and magnetic forces.
To properly classify electrical energy the worker or work
planner must be qualified, and have the ability to determine the
necessary information. Current OSHA and NFPA standards
state that the qualified worker must be able to determine the
nominal voltage. This is an example of how the standards
were written with a focus on 60 Hz shock hazards. To properly
use this hazard classification system the qualified worker must
be able to determine more than just nominal voltage.
With very few exceptions every type and source of electrical
energy can be placed into one or more of the 30 plus Hazard
Classes. The classes are color coded to represent the level of
hazard using 5 colors. Colors are not necessary, however, as
the second number, x, in the Class designation also gives the
hazard ranking. The 5 ranks are:
Classes X.0 Blue no electrical arc hazard
Classes X.1 Green minimal electrical arc hazard,
possible minor injury
Classes X.2 Yellow can seriously injure if
insufficient PPE is worn
Classes X.3 Red Serious hazard, will seriously
injure or kill even with PPE, or insufficient PPE is available.
Classes X.4 Maroon There is no PPE available for
working close to the source.

This graded approach is very useful to identify hazardous

electrical systems, and to develop design and work controls.
This system does cover most of the direct injury mechanisms
that could occur from the exposure to electrical arc energy,
including the 4 Categories discussed in Section II-A above with
thermal and kinetic injury. This system, however, does not
cover all secondary hazards created by electric arcs, including
initiation of facility fire, non ionizing radiation (electric, magnetic,
and RF fields), ionizing radiation (some X-rays are created from
very high current arcs), chemical hazards (battery materials and
toxic arc gases). Those secondary hazards are not usually
covered by electrical safety standards, but by other methods
and standards.
Keep in mind that this system attempts to cover ALL hazards
from arcs, including those that do not have an arc flash hazard.

Category 1 50/60 Hz Power Arcs

Category 1.0 arcs and sparks without sufficient energy to
melt significant metal, short circuit power less than 100 W no
Category 1.1 Single phase arcs, no arc flash boundary, low
thermal hazard (< 300 V ac, 100 W P < 3000 W)
Hazard sparks to the eyes
Category 1.2 No arc flash boundary, thermal hazards
Hazards sparks to the eyes, thermal injury from molten
metal in the hands, or current through tools or jewelry
Category 1.2a single phase, < 300 V, 3 kW
Category 1.2b single phase, 300 V, 3 kW
Note arc flash hazard analysis must be done
Category 1.2c three phase (any), arc flash boundary < 1
cm, arc flash hazard analysis must be done
Category 1.3 arc flash boundary greater than 1 cm, incident
energy at 45 cm less than 40 cal/cm
Category 1.3a vertical electrode geometries
Category 1.3b horizontal electrode geometries, need to
increase incident energy appropriately, may move hazard to
category 1.4
Category 1.4 incident energy at 45 cm 40 cal/cm
Notes: This draft hazard classification for all arc hazards for
ac power (any voltage) includes systems with substantial
thermal and sparks hazards that have no arc flash hazard, such
as ac welders and arc furnaces

Category 2 DC Arcs
Category 2.0 no arc hazard, all dc sources
(< 100 W short circuit power, < 1 J energy released, any
Category 2.1 No arc flash boundary, all dc sources
Hazard sparks to the eyes, low thermal hazard
(100 W P < 3000 W short circuit power, < 10 J energy
released, any voltage
Category 2.2 No arc flash boundary, thermal and spark
( 3 kW short circuit power, can have any voltage or any
current, but not both V 100 V dc and I short circuit 500 A)
Hazards sparks to the eyes, thermal injury from molten
metal in the hands, or current through tools or jewelry
Category 2.3 dc arc flash hazards, arc flash boundary
greater than 1 cm, incident energy at 45 cm less than 40

When V 100 V dc and short circuit current 500 A dc, an arc

flash hazard analysis must be conducted.
Hazards arc flash injury, sparks to the eyes, thermal
injury from molten metal in the hands, or current through tools
or jewelry
Category 2.4 dc arc flash hazards, incident energy at 45 cm
40 cal/cm
Notes: This draft hazard classification covers all arc hazards
(sparks, thermal through jewelry and tools, and arc flash) for all
dc sources. Categories 2.3 and 2.4 may be further subdivided
into three subcategories, which will be useful in methods of arc
flash analysis.
Categories 2.3a or 2.4a dc power supplies
Categories 2.3b or 2.4b battery banks
Categories 2.3c or 2.4c solar arrays

Category 3 Impulse Arcs

Category 3.0 negligible energy, no arc hazards, capacitors
and inductors (< 20 J stored energy)
Category 3.1 minor injury if energy is deposited in jewelry
or tools, noise but likely no injury to ears, avoid contact, advise
hearing protection (20 J E < 100 J stored energy)
Category 3.2 no arc flash hazard, sparks, thermal hazard
from deposition in tools or jewelry, ear hazards (100 J E < 1
kJ stored energy)
Category 3.3 arc flash hazard, substantial ear hazard,
sparks (1 kJ E < 100 kJ stored energy), PPE is available for
these hazards
Category 3.4 dominant hazard is acoustic energy for
capacitors and arc flash hazard for inductors, there is no
sufficient PPE ( 100 kJ stored energy stored energy)
Notes: This proposed hazard classification does NOT
account for the shock hazards for high voltage capacitors. The
shock hazards will likely dominate and keep the worker outside
the arc hazards, except for Category 3.4 capacitors, where the
acoustic hazard may stretch past the shock hazards.
For all Category 3.x, can be subdivided into
3.xa capacitors
3.xb inductors
since the exact injury mechanisms and hazard analyses will
be different.
G. Category 4 Sinusoidal arcs, not 5060 Hz power
Category 4a Subrf arcs (1 3 kHz)
Category 4b RF arcs (3 300 GHz)
There are few systems with substantial power in the range of
subrf (1 3 kHz) except for 400 Hz power systems for aircraft
and military, and low frequency induction furnaces. In general,
addressing arc hazards will be similar to methods used for
50/60 Hz ac.
The primary interest for arc and arc flash hazards in the rf
range (above 3 kHz) are the MW level power converters
(rectifiers and inverters) associated with dc power transmission.
It is unlikely, however, that workers will be exposed to arc and
arc flash hazards since (a) there are many hazards (e.g., shock
and rf fields) that keep worker away from the equipment when
operating, and (b) fast acting, overcurrent protection is required
to prevent major equipment damage, limiting energy deposited
in a failure.

Nevertheless, subrf and rf high-power systems need further

analysis to adequately characterize arc and arc flash hazards
for workers.
Many elements of this new arc hazard classification system
have been under development and review with several efforts,
including the NFPA dc task group, DOE, and DOD. The value
of this new arc hazard classification system can be shown
through examples.

Differentiation Between Hazardous and Non-Hazardous

Electric Arcs

A challenge in the laboratory with many forms of electrical

energy is the differentiation between hazardous electrical
energy (that which can injure or kill), and nonhazardous
electrical energy (that which will not injure or kill). One can be
near an electric arc and not be seriously injured (e.g.,
electrostatic discharge arcs). Thresholds are required in the
workplace to establish reasonable boundaries.
fatalities and serious injuries must be prevented. What level of
injury is acceptable? And how much can one count on work
control and worker qualification to protect the worker during
exposure? The answers to these questions are often quite
Minor injury might include 1 degree burns, sparks on the
skin, ear discomfort, etc. At what level do we need eye
protection for sparks? At what level do we need hearing
protection. What is the limit of leather gloves for thermal
hazards? Some energized work with arc hazards is common
(e.g., welding), others should be discouraged (e.g., 480 V).

Clarification of Types of Thermal Injuries

There has been a general lack of appreciation for the thermal

hazards of high current arcs, which cannot sustain an arc flash.
The welder is well trained for this hazard, but not the
homeowner working on their car battery. This hazard is not
clearly stated in NFPA 70E.
There is confusion and varying opinion on how electrical
energy is converted into radiant and convective thermal energy.
Some have claimed that up to 90% of facility arc flash energy is
radiant energy. However, the physics of arcs does not support
this. Currently, a conservative approach to arc flash analysis
and PPE selection attempts to protect the worker against both,
without knowing the type and percentage. As our measurement
techniques and models improve for short and long arcs, we will
better understand the ratio of thermal hazards from radiant
energy vs. convective energy. This may lead to specialized
PPE for certain classes of arcs.

Better Thresholds for Acoustic Hazards

Studies for the acoustic hazards of arcs have focused on the

50/60 Hz facility arc. Preliminary studies show that rise time
may make a significant difference for impulse arc acoustic
injury. Further study is warranted to understand the difference
between subsonic and super sonic injury.


Selection of PPE Based on Injury

Selection of PPE is based on the injury to be prevented.

Initially, PPE is chosen rather conservatively, not really
understanding the mechanisms of injury. However, as we
better understand the energy conversion mechanisms, we will
better understand the types and amounts of incident energies,
and be better able to choose the right PPE for the possible
injuries. Understanding incident conductive, convective, and
radiative thermal energy; slow rise time and fast rise time
acoustic energy; sparks and molten metal ejected; and shrapnel
will help us to better design and choose PPE for all classes of
arc hazards.

The NFPA 70E dc ask group worked over six years and
contributed several new sections on dc to the 2012 and 2015
versions of NFPA 70E, including the dc shock approach
boundary table, the dc arc flash calculation method in Annex D,
and the task tables for work on battery banks.
Much of the information on ac facility arc flash hazards and
some of the data for dc arc flash hazards came from efforts
under the IEEE 1584 committee, and the collaborative effort
between NFPA and IEEE on arc flash hazards.
And finally, information from acoustical impulse injury was
contributed by the Army Research Laboratory as a part of the
effort of the DOD Electrical Safety Working Group.



Further Studies Needed


Perhaps current methods to develop arc flash models for

ac arc flash hazards rely too much on empirical methods based
on data in laboratory settings with somewhat simplistic test
setups. Incorporating more of the existing knowledge of the
physics and behavior of arcs may help to improve the accuracy
and diversity of the arc analysis models.
There is ample opportunity to test energy outputs from
sources other than facility ac, including dc, capacitor, battery,
and inductor discharges. The type and amount of energy
needs to be measured.
This paper has presented a comprehensive arc hazard
classification system that has been evolving over the past 10
years. This system incorporates existing electrical arc flash
safety standards, as well as covering areas of injury and types
of electrical arc hazards not previously covered by such
The classification system is based on the
substantial international research conducted over the past 30
years on the injuries from electrical arcs.
This paper is addressing many new areas of analysis of arc
hazards, previously not covered. Thus, it is certainly an initial
approach, leaving room for much further study.
Future papers will provide more details on the basis,
development, and application of this system. For the future we
need to look towards proposing new material for US national
standards to cover all electrical arc hazards.




This material presented has been under development over
the past 10 years involving a number of committees and task
groups, including the NFPA 70E DC task group, IEEE 1584, the
electrical safety subgroup of DOEs Energy Facility Contractors
Operating Group (EFCOG), and the DOD Electrical Safety
Working Group.
A series of Electrical Safety Workshops has been held in the
DOE complex from 2004 to 2014. Over the past 7 years, a DC
working group has studied the shock and arc flash hazards of
dc, battery and capacitor hazards. Some of the contributors
came from Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific
Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics
Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Stanford Linear
Accelerator Center, and others.


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Lloyd B. Gordon graduated from Texas Tech University in

1981 with a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He started his
research career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
(DOE), conducting research in topics of pulsed power
engineering, plasma physics and dielectric engineering from
1981 to 1986. From 1986 to 1991 he was in the Department of
Electrical Engineering at Auburn University, and from 1991 to
1998 was in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the

University of Texas at Arlington. Since 1998 he has been at

Los Alamos National Laboratory (DOE). Dr. Gordon has 25
years of experience in experimental high-energy research, 39
years of experience as an educator and trainer, and has
focused his efforts on R&D electrical safety over the past 19
years. He has lectured to and trained over 50,000 scientists
and engineers throughout the DOE and DOD complex over the
past 20 years in R&D Electrical Safety. Dr. Gordon is currently
the Chief Electrical Safety Officer at Los Alamos National
Laboratory (LANL), chairs the ISA committee on Electrical
Safety Standards for High Power R&D Systems, is the LANL
representative for the DOEs Energy Facility Contractors
Operating Group (EFCOG), chairs the EFCOG Electrical Safety
Workshop (2004 2014), is a member of the IEEE 1584, Guide
to Arc Flash Calculations committee, and manages the
DOE/EFCOG Center of Excellence for Electrical Safety. He
may be contacted through the Center website at
Nicole Graham graduated from Los Alamos High School in
May 2014 with high honors. She is currently studying at the
University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the fields of
Mechanical Engineering and Biology. Nicole plans to continue
her graduate education in biomedical engineering. Nicole has
been a student intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory since
May 2013, and works closely with the principle author on all
aspects of the management of electrical safety.