Five Important Things to Know About Arc Flash PPE Programs

Five Important Things to Know About Arc Flash PPE Programs

A well-designed electrical safety PPE program can help mitigate injuries in the event of an arc flash.

When it comes to arc flash protection, multiple factors must be considered when creating, implementing, and maintaining a workplace electrical safety personal protective equipment (PPE) program. While utilizing the hierarchy of risk controls, such as lock-out/tag-out procedures, to put equipment in an electrically safe work condition, those working on energized electrical equipment should always wear arc rated (AR)/flame resistant (FR) personal protective equipment (PPE) on a job site to help mitigate injuries should an arc flash occur. AR/FR PPE includes, but is not limited to, head gear, clothing, gloves, and footwear. If an employee is not equipped with the proper PPE required for the task at hand, he or she could be at risk of serious or fatal burn injuries due to an unexpected arc flash.

Arc flashes are dangerous and unexpected, but a well-designed electrical safety PPE program can help mitigate injuries in the event of an arc flash. With a surplus of information available, it can be difficult to determine what is important to incorporate into a thorough PPE program and what is not. Safety managers should be aware of these five caveats when designing and implementing an electrical PPE program that will be most effective in helping to protect employees on a day-to-day basis.

1. The company is responsible for developing and implementing an electrical safety PPE program. When it comes to employee electrical safety, the company is responsible for ensuring that a thorough and effective PPE program is in place to help protect workers from jobsite electrical hazards. An employer is financially accountable for injuries its employees sustain from an arc flash incident. The associated costs of arc flash injuries can compound quickly, especially if an AR/FR PPE program is not in place. The upfront costs of implementing an AR/FR program may seem daunting; however, the absence of an appropriate program can add up. Not investing in an AR/FR daily wear program can end up costing a company much more for an employee’s medical bills than the initial costs of implementing adequate PPE safety measures. Moreover, it places employees’ safety first.

2. Employees must be properly trained and informed about AR/FR PPE. In addition to implementing a PPE program, it is important for employees to receive thorough training on the importance, proper use, and care of their AR/FR daily wear and task-based PPE. It is the company’s responsibility to educate their employees to ensure they understand the implications of wearing daily wear and task-based AR/FR PPE incorrectly.

PPE, including AR/FR clothing, gloves, shoes, and head and face protection are all crucial components to keeping electrical workers safe. Wearing them correctly is vital to helping mitigate injuries if an arc flash takes place. As such, educating employees on the proper fit and how to wear their AR/FR PPE helps to ensure they understand how to thoroughly protect themselves against hazards. Additionally, the company must monitor PPE use to ensure its employees are diligently donning their AR/FR PPE and wearing it correctly. If an employee’s AR/FR PPE is not being worn properly, the company must address the issue and work with the employee with additional training or other incentives or consequences to ensure he or she is wearing the AR/FR PPE correctly while employed by the company.

Care for AR/FR garments is another important safety measure that must be communicated to employees. All AR/FR garments come with care tags, which provide the wearer with instructions on how to wash and maintain the garments. It is important to follow these instructions, as not doing so could compromise the AR/FR properties of the garment.

3. The company must stay familiar with updated NFPA 70E consensus standards. NFPA 70E publishes updates every three years, and it is the safety manager’s job to know when new information becomes available and to review it thoroughly. Once revised information is published, safety managers should re-examine their electrical PPE programs to account for the relevant changes in the updated industry standard. With each update to NFPA 70E, there may be important and valuable information, which will help ensure employee safety and help mitigate potential workplace injuries. Updates may seem confusing and overwhelming; however, the new standards are vital to building compliant PPE programs and ensuring proper jobsite precautions are taken.

4. Human error must be considered in risk assessments and affects PPE best practices. The 2018 revision to NFPA 70E now includes taking the potential for human error into account when conducting a risk assessment and will likely affect your current PPE program. This addition helps to provide a more comprehensive method of protecting employees by identifying human weakness and implementing measures to further ensure employee safety. Human error precursors that may be present can now be considered and countered in risk assessments and are grouped into four categories: task demands, work environment, individual capabilities, and human nature. They include numerous, familiar error precursors such as time pressure, distractions, lack of knowledge, and complacency. Informative Annex Q of NFPA 70E identifies human performance modes that employees work in as well as human performance tools used to counter the error precursors listed above. While Annex Q of the 2018 edition of 70E is not required for compliance to the 70E standard, it has excellent information regarding human performance and workplace electrical safety.

Daily wear AR/FR programs are now a PPE best practice over low energy (PPE CAT 2), task-based PPE programs and help address and minimize the risk of injury due to human error when arc flash hazards are present. If an employee is required to wear daily AR/FR garments, he or she will be better protected against unexpected arc flash hazards because he or she will have the daily wear on, which is not always the case with low energy, task-based AR/FR PPE coveralls. A daily wear program reduces the risk of an employee forgetting to put on PPE when performing an energized task. It also eliminates common excuses for not donning appropriate AR/FR body PPE such as lack of time, lack of knowledge, discomfort, and complacency. Therefore, wearing daily wear for the entirety of the work day can help provide better overall protection. With today’s FR technologies, daily wear AR/FR garments are more comfortable, breathable, and almost indistinguishable from street clothing. Having AR/FR garments that employees are comfortable in helps ensure they will wear the garments and remain better protected against workplace hazards.

5. Adding arc ratings of two garments do not necessarily add up to achieve a combined rating. Proper hazard assessments identify the arc rating required to help mitigate injury in the event of an arc flash. Layering AR/FR clothing can be useful in achieving the desired level of protection; however, two arc ratings on separate garments do not necessarily “add up” to make a combined rating of the two. For example, a 4 cal/cm2 shirt paired with an 8 cal/cm2 jacket do not necessarily create a 12 cal/cm2 system. According to NFPA 70E requirements, a layered system must be tested via ASTM F-1959 in a qualified lab to determine if the layers produce the required level of AR/FR protection (PPE CAT) or arc rating for your workplace. Reputable fabric and garment manufacturers will be able to provide layered arc rating data and may be able to test your preferred layered garment system to determine the accurate combined arc rating.

Additionally, if an employee is working in an environment where arc flash hazards may be present, his or her outermost layer must be an AR/FR garment even if his or her other clothing is sufficiently rated to protect against thermal hazards. If the outermost layer is not an AR/FR fabric, the garment can ignite and continue to burn after the arc flash is over and may result in severe burn injuries.

Daily wear AR/FR garments are a simple and effective way to help mitigate the risk of burn injuries from arc flash incidents, but it is important to note that AR/FR PPE should be the last line of defense, the last risk control for thermal hazard protection. Utilizing the risk controls in the hierarchy and addressing how human error can affect the various risk controls should be the key priorities when working on a project. AR/FR daily wear PPE should be worn the entire work day as a precaution against arc flashes and should not be seen as an uncomfortable suit of armor. Appropriate safety protocols should always be taken to help prevent hazardous events.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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