Electrical work requires an ability to stay calm under pressure, but concerns about arc flash safety issues can make even the most level headed worker nervous. One way to help your employees maintain a steady hand is to provide the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Arc flash gear will ensure workers are protected from head to toe and help them stay focused so they can get the job done without undue concerns about safety.
What Is Arc Flash?
Arc flash is an unexpected electric discharge traveling through the air between two conductors or from a conductor into the ground. Arc flash explosions cause fires that harm people and equipment. Temperatures may exceed 30,000 degrees F, vaporizing metal and propelling plasma and molten metal in all directions. In general electrical systems must run at 480 volts-plus to create an arc flash. The risk grows the higher the voltage.
Personal Protective Equipment for Arc Flash Safety
The proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and good safety procedures and training can protect against arc flash. But first, the flash protection boundary (FPB) needs to be determined, so that you will know what level of protection is needed from the protective gear. For instance, with incidents involving available short-circuit current of 10,000 amps or less, FPB could be only a few inches. Correct PPE should include voltage-rated gloves and protectors, goggles or safety glasses, flame-resistant clothing, and safety shoes. If the short-circuit current is higher, the FPB increases. The PPE should match the level of the hazard.
National Fire Protection Association 70E, a standard for electrical safety in the workplace, calls for five hazard/risk categories for protective clothing and PPE. A simplified two-category arc-rated method is allowed, and is used by most employers. Category 2-level risks might allow daily work clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt and pants/coveralls arc rated at a lower level, while for greater Category 4-level hazards, arc flash suits would be required. For hazards greater than Category 4, different work methods must be employed that lower arc rating, since PPE can’t provide proper protection.
The PPE should have an arc rating that equals or is more than any calculated incident energy.
What PPE You Will Need
The Occupational and Safety Hazards Act (OSHA) publishes some guidelines for PPE in a variety of work situations. Following are some of the basic requirements for electrical workers, as determined by OSHA and NFPA 70E.
- Non-conductive eye protection against extreme heat and molten metal should fit comfortably and properly, providing unrestricted movement and vision, and not impede any other PPE’s function. These include safety spectacles, goggles, or face shields. An arc-rated face shield — a wraparound type– might also be required and should protect forehead, chin, ears, and neck. For some types of work requiring greater protection, an AR flash suit hood or “head sock” might be needed
- Head protection might be a hard hat, which should always be slow burning, among other qualities. Class B hard hats offer the highest protection level when it comes to electrical hazards, including burn protection (up to 20,000 volts) and high-voltage shock. Headgear should fit properly, with an adjustable headband. It should not have cracks or holes, nor should the brim or shell be deformed. Hard hats with ventilation penetration should generally not be used.
- Electrical workers should protect feet and legs by wearing non-conductive footwear. These shoes, which reduce the risk of a worker becoming a conductor for electrical energy, protect against open circuits that measure up to 600 volts. Electrical hazard, safety-toe shoes should not be worn wet or allowed to be worn through or their insulating protections properties could be compromised. They should also not have metal particles embedded in the heel or sole, nor should the worker touch grounded, conductive things. Shoes should be of leather, and may have steel toes if not exposed.
- Hand and arm protection for electrical workers usually consists of insulated rubber gloves and sleeves, designed to provide protection at certain voltage ratings, and marked accordingly. As gloves increase in voltage rating, they decrease in dexterity.
- Body protection might include arc flash kits, arc-rated flash coveralls, arc flash shirts and pants, and fire-resistant carbon x underwear.
- Ear protection should be ear canal inserts, as muff-type ear protection can be stripped off in an arc blast.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that workers are trained in the use, care, and maintenance of PPE. One of the best ways to ensure your employees understand the proper use and care of PPE is to enroll in a seminar that teaches safe working conditions, and explains how maintenance affects equipment and reduces injury.
If you’re interested in arc flash safety equipment, enroll in the Arc Flash Electrical Safety With Hands-on Practical Skills Training seminar with NTT Training can help you and your employees navigate the world of PPE. Contact us today to set up a seminar for you.