In industries working around high and low voltage electricity, the importance of PPE is widely recognised, and the latest safety requirements are understood by managers and operatives alike. However, the dangers posed by an Arc Flash are not so well known in comparison. But with temperatures of up to 35,000ºF, more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun, an Arc Flash has the potential to burn an operative’s skin within fractions of a second, meaning PPE really is the last line of defence for workers. Yet there’s a surprising lack of knowledge when it comes to appropriate protection.
Here ProGARM, Arc Flash protective clothing specialists, highlights the top considerations when it comes to Arc Flash PPE.
- Layering is key
The material worn beneath an Arc Flash protective jacket is just as crucial to protecting from the event as outer clothing. While the outer garments are key components for providing protection, they are not enough to match the risk posed to an operative’s safety, meaning protective base layers should be worn at all times.
While the flames caused by an Arc Flash may not actually come into contact with skin through the protective outer layers, the extreme heat can melt the materials used to manufacture everyday undergarments, including nylon, cotton, and polypropylene. This will inflict burns on an operative and potentially cause non-Arc Flash protective undergarments to melt into the skin underneath their PPE.
- Flame Retardant doesn’t mean Arc Flash resistant
While many could be forgiven for thinking that flame retardant (FR) PPE can also provide protection in an Arc Flash incident, this is not the case. There are separate safety standards for Arc Flash clothing, which go further than those for fire resistance, meaning that the level of protection provided by solely FR clothing does not match that of Arc resistant PPE.
Arc Flash protective clothing is designed to not only protect operatives from fire, but from the thermal energy generated by an Arc Flash, which can also cause external and internal burns. In fact, fabric used in Arc resistant garments must meet higher tear resistance and tensile strength than those used for fire-resistant clothing.
- Is the material treated or inherent?
Two phrases regularly used for PPE clothing are ‘treated fabric’ and ‘inherent fabric’. Treated fabric is made from fibres which are not flame retardant by nature but have undergone a chemical process to add a fire resistance quality to them. The protection relies on that treatment not being degraded or worn off during its lifetime. However, washing or long-term use can reduce the protection these safety garments offer, which is why this type of clothing is generally cheaper.
Inherent fabric, on the other hand, refers to material which has FR properties as part of its natural make-up. In other words, they needn’t undergo a chemical process to become flame-retardant, as the polymers which make up the clothing are inherently so. Inherent fabric does not lose any of its protective qualities after long periods of wear or washing, but tends to be more expensive due to its durability.
- PPE designed specifically for both men and women
The universal fit of safety garments combined with increasingly mixed gender workforces across all industries is posing a great risk to female workers, due to protective clothing that is not tailored to their size and shape.
Many women are often faced with wearing either unisex or men’s jackets, which are sizes too big and not suitably fitted. While many may not realise it, these ill-fitting clothes hugely impact the level of protection. Uncomfortable and baggy jackets make it all too easy and tempting to roll up the sleeves or unfasten the jacket, which leaves areas of the body unprotected. Those looking to address the issue of protective clothing for women, should look to specially designed PPE for women.
- Comfort is crucial
A garment can offer the ultimate protection, but if your team is not comfortable wearing it, that protection diminishes when they choose not to wear the garment correctly. It’s all too easy to wear an everyday belt, roll sleeves up or undo a jacket when a garment is uncomfortable, but this seriously compromises Arc Flash protection.
However, uncomfortable PPE can now be a thing of the past. Garments made with inherent fibres allow movement, breathability and moisture management. The fabric readily absorbs sweat and then dries quickly, not only providing cooling in hot, humid conditions, but doesn’t leave sweat running down the skin.