Advancing electrical PPE for workers
June 30, 2008
Eight years ago, NFPA 70E 2000 was the recognized standard for safe electrical work practices in the workplace. Since then, NFPA 70E has undergone one revision (2004) and is currently undergoing another. As more attention is given to NFPA 70E by the electrical industry, safer worker practices and clearer definitions are being added due to more experience and understanding of the hazards in the field. With each revision, NFPA 70E raises the bar by increasing the knowledge and protection of the worker.
This is also true with electrical PPE. During the same eight years, the industry began not only to understand the importance of developing and implementing an electrical safety program, but it has also come to understand the difficulty of ensuring that the worker is actually using the issued PPE while in the field.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to provide PPE that will not hinder the task at hand and create a comfortable solution for the workers.
Face shields were once the major complaint for most workers. In 2000, arc-rated face shields were typically dark and color tinted, making wire color identification and tasks performed in dimly lit areas all but impossible. Due to advancements in technology, today’s face shields offer a specialized tinting that makes wire color identification much easier.
Today’s face shields also include increased light transmission, allowing the worker to perform tasks in areas that may not be well lit. This makes the lenses clearer while still meeting the ASTM F2178-07 standard test method for determining the arc rating of face protection products. Although today’s face shields are clearer, some people may still wish to use an unrated face shield for their task. By doing so, they expose themselves to serious injury.
NFPA 70E section 130.6(C)(1) specifically states, “Employees shall not enter spaces containing live parts unless illumination is provided that enables the employees to perform the work safely.” In other words, in areas where the newer, clearer face shields still fail to provide enough light to work safely, auxiliary lighting is required. Unrated shields should never be used.
Lightweight options for garments have been created by layering different materials and by advances in material composition. New garments are as much as 28 percent lighter than traditional gear in some applications.
Comfort has also been achieved by creating a higher degree of breathability for the garment, compared to options in the past. Advancements in fabric technology, such as FR-treated cotton blends, help the body maintain a more constant temperature, adding to the worker’s comfort level. Air passes through the FR-treated cotton blend fabric fibers, allowing the worker’s perspiration to evaporate off his skin. The evaporation causes a natural cooling effect, allowing the worker to perform his task more comfortably than ever before.
Personal cooling systems have also seen many product improvements. In the past, these systems were heavy, bulky and expensive. In recent years, these systems have become self-contained and less expensive. But these systems were still relatively heavy and designed specifically for certain manufacturer’s switching hoods, making retrofitting existing hoods and hoods from other manufacturers virtually impossible. Today, there are personal cooling systems, which are not only self-contained and weigh less than a pound, they also have the ability to universally fit most manufacturer’s switching hoods and are very affordable.
Hand protection has also seen changes. Today, there are not only insulating rubber gloves available, but switching gloves are available, too. Switching gloves are manufactured from FR fabrics and are intended for use where there is no potential for making contact with any type of energized conductor or equipment.
NFPA 70E addresses the hazards of both shock protection and arc flash protection when discussing glove usage. It’s easy to become confused when reading NFPA 70E section 130.7(C)(6) which states, “Employees shall wear rubber insulating gloves where there is danger of hand and arm injury due to electric shock.” The section goes on to say, “hand and arm protection shall be worn where there is a possible exposure to arc flash burn,” and then references section 130.7(C)(13)(c). This section states, “Leather or FR gloves shall be worn, where required, for arc flash protection. Where insulated rubber gloves are used for shock protection, leather protectors shall be worn over the rubber gloves.”
Many people would interpret this to mean that leather gloves, by themselves, are acceptable for working where an arc flash may occur. (This is a potentially dangerous interpretation.) This also leads people to believe that if leather protector gloves are acceptable, then other gloves made of non-flammable textiles are also acceptable. Remember, leather and non-flammable textiles offer no voltage protection, and only ASTM certified leather protectors may be worn over insulating rubber gloves.
OSHA 1910.269 states: “When working on or near 50 volts or greater, while energized, the use of voltage-rated gloves is required.” NFPA70E 130.7(C)(9)(a) requires voltage-rated gloves for many of its tasks listed. While there are some tasks where voltage may not be present, most tasks with a possibility of an arc flash involve the presence of voltage.
Recently a new standard was proposed to the ASTM committee regarding arc flash testing of all gloves. If this standard is accepted, confusion for glove applications should be minimized. By providing an arc thermal protection value (ATPV) rating for the combination of insulating rubber gloves and leather protectors, proper application could safely be determined. It would also allow gloves to have dual application of both voltage protection and arc flash protection. This standard is still being considered by the committee.
Hair and beard nets
Due to several incidents occurring within the food industry, FR-rated hairnets and beard nets have been developed and are now available. These items are typically constructed of extremely lightweight (1.7 oz) woven Nomex material. Hairnets and beard nets manufactured from this material can be laundered on a regular basis and are reusable. Because normal hairnets and beard nets are usually manufactured from synthetic fabrics, which can melt at low temperatures, this FR option should be used by all industries requiring their workers to wear this PPE while performing their tasks.