Why is Voltage Rating Important in Selecting Circuit Protection Devices?


This is an extremely important rating for overcurrent protective devices (OCPDs). The proper application of an overcurrent protective device according to its voltage rating requires that the voltage rating of the device be equal to or greater than the system voltage. When an overcurrent protective device is applied beyond its voltage rating, there may not be any initial indicators. Adverse consequences typically result when an improperly voltage rated device attempts to interrupt an overcurrent, at which point it may self-destruct in an unsafe manner. 

There are two types of OCPD voltage ratings: 
  1. straight voltage rated and;
  2.  slash voltage rated. 

The proper application is straightforward for overcurrent protective devices with a straight voltage rating (i.e.: 600V, 480V, 240V) which have been evaluated for proper performance with full phase-to-phase voltage used during the testing, listing and marking. For instance, all fuses are straight voltage rated and there is no need to be concerned about slash ratings. 

However, some mechanical overcurrent protective devices are slash voltage rated (i.e.: 480/277, 240/120, 600/347). Slash voltage rated devices are limited in their applications and extra evaluation is required when they are being considered for use. The next section covers fuse voltage ratings followed by a section on slash voltage ratings for other type devices.


An overcurrent is either an overload current or a short-circuit current. The overload current is an excessive current relative to normal operating current, but one which is confined to the normal conductive paths provided by the conductors and other components and loads of the distribution system. As the name implies, a short-circuit current is one which flows outside the normal conducting paths.


Overloads are most often between one and six times the normal current level. Usually, they are caused by harmless temporary surge currents that occur when motors start up or transformers are energized. Such overload currents, or transients, are normal occurrences. Since they are of brief duration, any temperature rise is trivial and has no harmful effect on the circuit components. (It is important that protective devices do not react to them.) Continuous overloads can result from defective motors (such as worn motor bearings), overloaded equipment, or too many loads on one circuit. 

Such sustained overloads are destructive and must be cut off by protective devices before they damage the distribution system or system loads. However, since they are of relatively low magnitude compared to short-circuit currents, removal of the overload current within a few seconds to many minutes will generally prevent equipment damage. A sustained overload current results in overheating of conductors and other components and will cause deterioration of insulation, which may eventually result in severe damage and short circuits if not interrupted.

Short Circuits 

Whereas overload currents occur at rather modest levels, the short-circuit or fault current can be many hundred times larger than the normal operating current. A high level fault may be 50,000A (or larger). If not cut off within a matter of a few thousandths of a second, damage and destruction can become rampant–there can be severe insulation damage, melting of conductors, vaporization of metal, ionization of gases, arcing, and fires. Simultaneously, high level short-circuit currents can develop huge magnetic field stresses. The magnetic forces between bus bars and other conductors can be many hundreds of pounds per linear foot; even heavy bracing may not be adequate to keep them from being warped or distorted beyond repair.

Fuse Protection

The fuse is a reliable overcurrent protective device. A “fusible” link or links encapsulated in a tube and connected to contact terminals comprise the fundamental elements of the basic fuse. Electrical resistance of the link is so low that it simply acts as a conductor. However, when destructive currents occur, the link very quickly melts and opens the circuit to protect conductors and other circuit components and loads. 

Modern fuses have stable characteristics. Fuses do not require periodic maintenance or testing. Fuses have three unique performance characteristics: 

  1. Modern fuses have an extremely “high interrupting” rating–can open very high fault currents without rupturing.
  2. Properly applied, fuses prevent “blackouts.” Only the fuse nearest a fault opens without upstream fuses (feeders or mains) being affected–fuses thus provide “selective coordination.” (These terms are precisely defined in subsequent pages.)
  3. Fuses provide optimum component protection by keeping fault currents to a low value…They are said to be “current- limiting.”

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  • Cooper Bussman


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