Arc Protection Around the World

American standards for electrical safety protection have had a beneficial impact abroad. Innovation and globalization now flow both ways in this important area.

Globalization is good for you! Keep saying it (even if you don’t believe it): It really is good for everyone. Things change, and the individuals and companies that can improve, innovate, and automate will win.

Workers around the world have benefited from innovations in the U.S. market on arc flash protective clothing systems and PPE. The largest manufacturers of arc flash faceshields manufacture in the United States. These two companies now sell millions of dollars of arc flash shields, goggles, and other products around the world because of the U.S. development of safety standards.

Another benefit of globalization from safety standards is welcomed by multinational corporations: When safety standards go global, the multinationals can easily have the same training, engineering standards, and PPE standards in all countries. Multinational corporations, by international law, cannot have lower standards in facilities in another country without huge repercussions--so when the safety standards are the same in the countries in which they operate, multinationals and the workers benefit.

In 1994, OSHA promulgated a standard that changed the face of electrical safety for utilities. The OSHA 1910.269 standard "apparel clause" brought clothing to the forefront in PPE for electric arc. The arc hazard had been recognized since the 1980s, and clothing's role had been recognized, but the solution was not so apparent. Duke Energy, DuPont, and several utilities, including LG&E Energy (now a subsidiary of e-ON), began researching the electric arc hazard and commonly worn clothing, with the conclusion that flame-resistant clothing made a huge difference in worker survivability in electric arc. The chart on page XX shows the decline since 1994 in fatalities from electrical accidents that could have an arc component. The 1910.269 "apparel clause" has resulted in nearly 75 percent of U.S. electric utilities now outfitting their workers in flame-resistant clothing. Another electrical protection standard, National Fire Protection Association's 70E, made flame-resistant clothing the choice for most electrical tasks in 2000. It also had an impact on the use of flame-resistant clothing; use of flame-resistant clothing and voltage-rated gloves in electrical tasks in the workplace helped to contribute to the 25 percent decline in electrical fatalities in the United States since the introduction of these standards. More can be done, and the impact on the world can be even greater because of the lack of electrical safety standards, especially PPE standards. This can be attributed to many factors. One is a desire to engineer out the hazard; this is fine if it works, but avoiding PPE when a potential hazard is still in the workplace is not the best course of action, especially when flame-resistant clothing is so commonly available and so apparent in its life-saving effects.

Improvement in flame-resistant clothing's comfort, protection, cost, and durability has made refusing to use arc-rated clothing suspect. In the early 1990s, Jim Green, a retired researcher from DuPont, introduced and patented the idea of cotton-nylon blend to increase the durability of flame-resistant cotton. This breakthrough and his tenacity have made lighter-weight flame-resistant cotton the mainstay of arc protection.

New materials for specialty uses, such as steel and aluminum smelting, chemical exposure, and cleanroom flame-resistant clothing are being developed at an increasing rate. Some of these innovations are being developed in the United States, others from all around the world. Additionally, ideas of protective engineering are crossing borders on a larger scale all the time. Recently, I visited countries that have benefited from U.S. innovations; they also are benefiting the U.S. market with pricing and innovations. They are Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Germany.

Australian Innovation
Australia has been slow in adopting the flame-resistant clothing standards common in the United States. I spent a week educating and being educated in Australia in May of this year. One of the top researchers in the field of electric arc, Dr. David Sweeting, is a resident of Australia. He completed a Ph.D. in electric arc several years ago and is one of the few holding such credentials. Sweeting had not done clothing testing on electric arc but has a better handle on arc assessment than many in the United States. Our time together convinced us we should work together, and he is now a member of the IEEE 1584 committee and the Electric Power Research Institute's Arc Flash Research Committee.

Australians had seen the United States' work on hazard assessment, and Sweeting raised an issue with the physics of the U.S. model. His groundbreaking work helped clarify our understanding of arc flash assessment (still in its infancy), and our extensive work in arc flash clothing and PPE helped him in developing protection strategies. Australia and New Zealand are creators of some of the first arc flash PPE that also sheds molten aluminum. These materials are now also made in the United States also, but the original innovations came from outside this country. Innovation and globalization flow both ways.

Canada Models 70E, Best Standards Guide New Zealand and South Africa
Canada is one of the first countries to have adopted a standard similar to NFPA 70E. Most of the arc flash research, whether on clothing or on hazard assessment, has come from a Canadian company, Kinectrics. Our company does all of its testing at Kinectrics.

Peru and Brazil adopted standards similar to OSHA’s 1910.269 a few years back, but Canada formed CSA Z462, becoming the first and only country to adopt an NFPA 70E-type standard in agreement with NFPA in the United States.

New Zealand is taking the best of the current standards and allowing a little more freedom while arc flash assessment is maturing. The same is true of South Africa, where Zarheer Jooma's South African Standard Board committee members are adapting the best of the U.S. and EN standards for their country. Zarheer is an electrical engineer with Arcelormittal, a steel manufacturer in South Africa, and he has a passionate commitment to globalization of safety standards.

Noting that the United States has developed most of the arc flash-rated materials, he said, "It would be in the best interest of [South Africa] if we are able to accommodate good working garments from all over the world." Clothing companies in Africa, such as A.J. Charnauld Company, which is one of the largest manufacturers of flame-resistant wool in the world, are committed to developing, exporting, and importing the best technologies to protect their people. Standardization plays a unique role in this process. "With the fall of apartheid, our country has experienced tremendous growth," Andrew Chamauld said. "The middle class is growing, and all our people are working to make South Africa greater. The commitment to growing business and jobs makes safety standards even more critical. Growing countries can benefit the more mature economies. As our economies transition, safety becomes even more important."

Dr. Holger Schau of the Technical University of Ilmenau in Germany is the convener of the International Electrical Committee's arc flash committee, which has just finalized the new IEC standard for arc flash clothing. This standard is basically the same as ASTM F1506 but allows an alternative arc flash test for the materials, which is a box method.

The box method, Sweeting's papers, and research by Dr. Tom Neal in cooperation with Ferraz-Shaumut in Boston, Mass., have inspired ASTM to develop a new arc flash test method to further research on the behavior of clothing in electric arc. Other German research has led to a new, high-temperature plastic that performs much better in electric arc and is now being used in U.S. military night vision goggles. This increase in clothing research has brought about other breakthroughs, including benefits for the U.S. military.

About four years ago, I received a call from Gehring Textiles in New York. Gehring had received a call from the U.S. Navy about an issue with the Marines Corps: Marines involved in improvised explosive device (IED) attacks had been severely injured by melting T-shirts. Newer, more comfortable, synthetic T-shirts had been melting onto soldiers, with grave consequences. Shirts provided by the military were equally dangerous in these unique attacks.

Gehring enlisted expertise in arc flash and all of the PPE developments we have worked on for utility and electrical workers to develop a new, non-melting T-shirt material. The material has been hugely successful for the Marines, and now Tencate (a Dutch company that bought the American company Southern Mills) has developed a new material that is slated to replace all U.S. military uniforms. This new material is made in the Atlanta, Ga., area from fibers that are made in Austria and Germany. This means Twaron in Germany and Lenzing FR in Austria are now being used to protect members of the U.S. armed forces even better than before. I recently arc rated this new material, and it is amazing in arc.

Enjoying a Win-Win
The best of globalization combines research, innovation, quality control learning from other cultures, and cross-pollination from interdisciplinary studies to create better products at better prices and for the good of more and more of the masses. Who can argue with a win-win?

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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