Arc flash PPE within the electrical industry

The electrical industry is full of potential hazards, which means it can be particularly dangerous without thorough training and the correct safety equipment. Here, we will discuss personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to arc flash and why it is required within the electrical industry and saves thousands of lives each year.

Arc flash hazards

Arc flash hazards have increased in recent years due to the demand for electricity and electrical products, and when working with electrical equipment, it is important to be properly protected in the case of an arc flash emergency.

An arc flash is the light and radiation produced as part of an arc fault, a type of electrical explosion that occurs due to a connection through air to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system. Arc flashes can cause deep burns, electrical shocks, blindness and even death, unless the correct industry standard personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn. High speed molten copper particles are a particular hazard associated with an arc flash that is not always understood.

Arc flashes mainly occur during the electrical switching prior to works needing to be conducted in an electrically “dead” environment. Lockout tagout equipment must be applied to the switches after isolation to avoid accidental re-energisation and avoid the risk of injury or death.

What is arc flash PPE?

Arc flash PPE is the last line of defence to protect the wearer from serious injuries, especially from heavy burns due to the thermal hazards an arc flash incident can present. Activities to eliminate the risk are carried out before resorting to the PPE alone.

This type of PPE is essential for working in the electrical industry and it is critical to have the right PPE for the job at hand. The protection level offered by the PPE must be assessed in advance through an arc flash study; this is a specific activity needed to produce the risk assessment as per the employer’s obligations in The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The types of arc flash PPE

Switching suits are the ultimate in protection from arc flash and these range from 28cal/cm2 to 100cal/cm2. Arc flash clothing from Reece Safety is made from flame resistant material such as a modacrylic or treated cotton and nylon blend, which is comfortable and lightweight while providing good insulation.

IEC 61482-2:2009 is the standard for protective clothing to protect from the hazards of an electrical arc. Arc flash clothing shows the Calorific Value (cal/cm2) as per tests against the IEC 61482-1-1 Open Arc test method where the ATPV (Arc Thermal Protection Value) can be used to match the values found during the arc flash risk assessments.

Under base layers may be worn under switching suits and other arc flash garments to provide the most effective level of protection to the skin as well as providing extra insulation. Any base layers can only be included in the calculation for protection level if they have been fully tested as a pair of garments – this is often not fully appreciated and, whilst the protection MAY be provided, legally speaking the base layer must be ignored. Whilst it has been found that the heat transfer between the outer layer and base layer is not high it is far safer to wear appropriate fabrics to avoid the risk of other garments melting onto the skin.

High visibility, two tone and single colour arc flash outerwear can also be worn according to the working areas, such as railways, or other industries where standards of colours exist.

The biggest areas of the engineer at risk during an arc flash incident are likely to be the face and hands as these are understandably close to the arc flash point during switching and metering. There are a range of products available to protect these with a full selection of gloves and different face shield solutions according to frequency of use and protection level needed.

In conclusion, arc flash PPE is essential for all electrical workers. Layering is a good solution if the layers are fully tested as combined protection. Face and hand protection are paramount and good options are available to suit frequency of use.

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