Research conducted by power management specialist Eaton estimates the cost of production downtime alone in an average factory could reach £31,900 within 24 hours of an arc fault. Then there’s the threat to life safety posed by the initial explosion, the potential for reputational damage and the cost of replacement assemblies and parts to consider. These can be catastrophic consequences, particularly in power-critical environments such as process plants and hospitals.
As such, Eaton has launched a campaign specifically designed to highlight the risk of arc faults arising from low-voltage electrical distribution panels in both commercial and industrial buildings.
The estimated costs of downtime are contained in an Eaton White Paper, written by European electrical safety expert Alfred Mörx and available at Eaton WorkSafe. Mörx points out that even those organisations meeting the minimum requirements of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC 61439 Standard remain vulnerable to arc faults. The White Paper, entitled ‘Safety and Risk in Electrical Low-Voltage Installations’, recommends that power-critical operations apply higher standards of safety than those outlined in IEC 61439 so as to minimise the risk posed to personnel, production schedules and building infrastructure alike.
According to Mörx: “When planning and implementing low-voltage switchgear assemblies and the low-voltage installations supplied from them, in many cases it’s necessary from a technical protection point of view to examine whether or not the minimum requirements specified in the generally accepted technical standards are sufficient for actual operation.”
In the event of an extreme incident, a power outage can last for days or even weeks, leaving businesses facing mounting recovery costs. Eaton’s White Paper provides a detailed economic assessment of the damage that can be caused, including shutdown, downtime and restart costs as well as additional costs such as any penalties imposed on a business for failing to meet its agreed client delivery dates.
In some countries, companies could even face legal action despite meeting regulatory requirements.
Devastating for commercial buildings
Chris Pack, product field manager at Eaton, informed Risk UK: “The impact of arc flash incidents can be truly devastating for commercial buildings where power supply is critical to for daily operations. In extreme cases, they can significantly disrupt the security of electricity supply, leading to an outage that can last days or weeks if not longer. Switchgear can be damaged beyond repair and businesses will soon find themselves facing substantial costs.”
For its part, Eaton has carried out extensive research to develop solutions that can not only reduce the risk of arc faults, but also minimise the damage to switchgear in an incident such that businesses can protect their employees and resume normal service quickly without escalating costs.
Low-voltage distribution panels play a decisive role in supplying electrical power, but even if equipment is planned, built and tested to meet the standard, it’s frequently modified and added to over time. Eaton contends that this can result in an arc flash incident.
These hazardous events can also be triggered as a result of human error while working on the switchgear, through contamination, condensation or even due to small rodents or insects damaging the electrical system.