From the COO: Arc Flash Offers Learning Moment

March 21, 2013

Last week, while performing regularly scheduled maintenance on SLAC’s linear accelerator, there was a mechanical equipment failure of a 12 kilovolt power supply which resulted in an “arc flash” explosion. I am very thankful to say that no one was hurt during this serious event. 

Those relatively new to SLAC may not know we had an arc flash in 2004, which resulted in serious burns to a worker and a major investigation by the Department of Energy (DOE). These events brought about major changes to how the laboratory performed work.

In last week’s incident, we avoided injury because we followed our work planning and control process: define the work scope, identify and analyze hazards, develop and implement hazard controls, and perform work within controls.

Through proper work planning and control, the electrical team was aware that arc flashes were a potential risk when dealing with high-voltage equipment. They implemented the necessary steps to control this hazard, such as ensuring engineering and administrative controls were in place, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and following our procedures.

SLAC’s Infrastructure and Safety Director Craig Ferguson noted that the difference between these two events and their dramatically different results is work planning and control. He commended the electricians for identifying the hazards and putting controls in place to prevent possible injury.

Paul Golan, DOE Site Office manager for the lab, also had a lot of praise for SLAC’s electricians following the event, saying they were among the best he has worked with. He also said the reason why no one was hurt is because the electricians planned the work correctly, executed the plan and have a very positive safety culture.

This is a valuable learning moment for each of us – not all of us work on high-voltage electrical equipment, but we all have hazards in our jobs. Whether it is using a ladder, driving to work or performing repetitive motions at our desks, it is essential that we take the time to identify the risks associated with our work, put the right controls in place and perform the work as planned.

Vigilantly following our work planning and control process helps ensure everyone goes home safely and the lab continues to produce science.

If you want to learn more about SLAC’s work planning and control process, contact Mark Weibel at ext. 4264.