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Arc flash safety – Mark’s story

Hear from experienced electrician Mark who was badly burnt by an arc flash while working on a commercial switchboard. He spent three weeks in hospital and couldn't work for three months.

“It's not worth risking your life to get the job done quickly or to please a client.” Mark.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 357MB)

Mark: I've been an electrician for about 18 years now and I'm very confident in what I do and I still ended up in hospital.

I got up that day, a standard day, not thinking anything of it I says that I'll bounce in and do that power quality assessment I had to do.

I'd assessed the work to be done live and I was very confident on what had to get done in response to do it live. All I need to do is clip on these four crocodile clips, which isn't a hard task, you know what I mean, I can see the bus bar.

I've clipped on the first one and then I went to clip on the second one, as soon as I touched it, it just went bffff - this white yellow flash, you know what I mean, on my face and just a really disgusting noise. I wasn't unconscious but I sorta realised what had happened and I could just smell all my hair had burnt and my skin was all burning, and I could see all my clothes were all burnt and things and my skin was hanging off and that, I was just all black.

Mel: So, when I first found out he had the accident I was at work but when I answered the phone I couldn't actually understand what he was saying, he was all gibberish and, but all I got was 'I'm in a bad way, I'm being taken to hospital'. I just, like, panicked, yeah.

Mark Pocock: In Mark's case while he was working in the switchboard, as a result of attempting to pull off two pieces of insulation, he exposed the risk of two separate electrical phases in bridging that out with his screwdriver he's created a large arc flash with high volt current available inside the switchboard, which has resulted in a large fireball which burnt Mark considerably

Mel: When I first walked in to see him, he was in a hospital bed and he was just black, black and his hair was singed and…

Mark: The injuries I actually sustained would have been, it was actually 12 per cent body burns so that involved skin grafts for that to heal they cut or they grind your skin off and then lay that on top of the burns.

Mel: So, the next day after the skin grafts, as soon as I walked into his room, in the burns ward, he was just head to toe in bandages, he looked like a mummy. I think that's when it hit me.

Mark: The first week was not an enjoyable time, I was in splints, full arm splints, leg splints, couldn't even pick my own nose. Every second day I had to get all my dressings took off, so you've got dressings stuck on to skin grafts or sticking to you so you need to go in your shower and get all wetted up to release like all the stickiness of it and then take it off and it just sticks to your skin and it's sore. I didn't know what I was going to look like.

In hospital for three weeks and, yeah, off work for three months and what I didn't realise then, during with what I was going through how it had hurt Mel and how it had emotionally strained her, mentally and emotionally. It's not a nice feeling, you know, that the person you love is obviously upset and hurt because of what's happened to you.

Mel: Mark definitely didn't realise how much his accident had affected me. The realisation of how serious it was. He could have died, yeah, just had no idea.

Mel: When Mark started having his rehab, that was hard because he had been in hospital for such a long period of time without moving, he was really happy when he called me that he told me he had walked for the first time, with a zimmer frame, so he still had to lean on it but I was really proud of him.

Mark: It was also a really big emotional burden that's getting put on your loved ones, whether it be your wife, you know what I mean, your family, your parents. Something like this puts an emotional burden on them.

Mel: He loves his work, he loves to be always, you know, keeping his mind active, so when he couldn't go straight back to work that also held some frustrations with some, I think some, a little bit of anger. I was really happy to see him back at work, I do want to be with him for the rest of my life so I am grateful that he is healed.

Mark Pocock: You can prevent arc flash by eliminating the hazard. Turn the power off and isolate the equipment, even if that means rescheduling the work for another time. Remember, working near energised parts can be just as dangerous as performing live work. Arc flash risk isn't just limited to large switchboards, they can also occur in smaller switchboards, electrical supply pillars and even large electrical equipment, so plan your work and always follow your safe working procedures.

Mark: Yeah I think one thing that I would like to get out there after my accident is just to all the other sparkies out there, just don't work live. Don't put yourself in situations where, like I was, just because you're trying to please the client, just because you're trying to get the job done faster.

If you've got a wife, kids, family, like, it's just not worth it. Nothing is worth your life.

Arc flash safety tips:

  • Prevent arc flash by eliminating the hazard. Turn the power off and isolate the equipment, even if it means rescheduling the work to another time.
  • Arc flash is not just limited to large switchboards – they can also occur in smaller switchboards, electricity supply pillars or large electrical equipment, so plan your work and always follow your safe working procedures.
  • Working near energised parts can be just as dangerous as performing live work - it can cause electric shock, arc flash burns and damage to equipment.The most common causes include:
  • no risk assessment or inadequate risk assessment
  • failure to isolate or isolate upstream
  • failure to test
  • inadequate supervision
  • young workers and apprentices
  • no safe work system
  • competency levels of workers, qualified technical persons and supervisors.

Arc flash launch webinar

Watch the film launch webinar, and watch the Commissioner for Electrical Safety, Greg Skyring's presentation recorded on 7 May 2020. A special thank you to everyone who joined in for the live webinar.

'The message is clear and the potential outcome was a stark reminder for people in the industry. Personally, looking at Mark's burns was very difficult but the film was so much more powerful because of these images. I can say hand on my heart that Queensland's approach to leadership in safety is superior to other parts of the world. I want you all to feel as proud of yourselves as I feel proud of you. Thanks for your ongoing leadership and professionalism.'
Bill Martin, Safety Advocate

'Mark, on behalf of all electrical workers, thanks for making this video - This WILL save lives and make workers and employers think about the risks before they undertake work. Well done'.
Keith McKenzie, Electrical Trades Union

'Well done with the Arc Flash film launch, Mark and Donna spoke very well. Greg a shame you couldn't contribute in the live stream …. I know that must have been frustrating'.
Glen Cook, Energy Queensland

'Just wanted to say congratulations on the launch and well done. Looking forward to being able to share the video with my networks'.
Tracey Wilson, Working Visions

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