Thought Leadership

Qualified head protection in an arc flash situation

July 2, 2014

weldingQ. With the new head protection requirement according to the changes in OSHA standard 1910.269 and 1926.960, I am curious to know what qualifies as adequate protection in an arc hazard situation. Would a balaclava/goggle be considered adequate protection as an arc flash hood?

A. The new OSHA standard allows balaclava/goggles, balaclava faceshield and stand alone faceshields up to a limit and common bee-keeper style arc flash hoods but the new OSHA standard doesn't really define them. Because it lists the ASTM F2178 standard, it is clear they are all allowed.

It is likely that a faceshield/balaclava (called a hood in the OSHA standard) would be OK up to about 20 cal if properly designed and rated (NFPA 70E cuts them off at 12 cal but this is based on data without use of safety glasses under the shield) but at some point you should move to a more thorough protection like a balaclava/goggle (if you have low risk of shrapnel) or a bee-keeper's style hood if there is more risk of shrapnel to the face.  Most of the shrapnel we have seen in arc flashes has been porcelain from insulators and switch gear. Often trainers refer to molten metal particles at 700 MPH as "shrapnel", these materials will not go through a cloth and enter the body so a faceshield is not the issue. We have no deaths related to arc flash "shrapnel" on record so focus on protection and comfort.

By the NFPA 70E definition, a balaclava is part of an arc flash suit or flash suit hood because it helps provide 360 degree protection. If you use the tables, you must use a bee-keeper's style hood with a face piece but if you have done calculations, you may use a balaclava/goggle or balaclava/faceshield to higher levels than allowed by the tables (see Annex H.3).

Two pros of using a balaclava/goggle as an arc flash hood:

1.  Allows overhead protection from shock since there is no fabric on hardhat (overhead lines would require this).

2. Allows better face protection since energy cannot get under the hood.

Two cons of using a balaclava/goggle as an arc flash hood:

1. Only eye, no face protection from potential flying parts (other than molten metal). This is up to the assessor to determine.  

2. Fogging with the goggle right on the face.


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