Now more than ever, companies are becoming aware of the dangers associated with arc flash and are discovering ways to prevent the catastrophic and possibly fatal burns that could result from exposure. For the skeptics, NFPA statistics show that an arc flash occurs every four minutes in the United States. With numbers like that, the question becomes when, not if, an arc flash will happen to someone at your company.

First, your hazard assessment
So you need to implement an NFPA 70E compliant garment program as soon as possible. Your hazard assessment will tell you exactly which Hazard Risk Category (HRC) applies to each job task at your facility. Each HRC correlates to a minimum arc rating that a flame-resistant garment or garment system would need to provide.

If each job task calls for a different HRC, you might be asking your employees to change into five different types of flame-resistant clothing throughout the day depending on what task they are performing. Who has time to police that? Who takes the blame if an employee wears the wrong clothes?

Not to worry — NFPA has addressed this issue in Annex H of NFPA 70E. Annex H, The Two-Category Simplified Approach, offers the alternative of dressing in HRC 2 clothing on an everyday basis. HRC 2 will cover most electrical work 1000 volts and under with a few exceptions that are noted in the standard. Annex H also calls for HRC 4 arc flash suits to be worn when employees are exposed to greater than 1000 volts, again keeping in mind the exceptions.

This is good news: instead of dealing with five separate clothing systems, you have only two. But wait, you still have a decision to make. When putting your employees in HRC 2 clothing, you can choose flame-resistant shirts and pants, or you can consider coveralls.

Coverall coverage
I’m sure many of you are picturing a few people at your company who you know won’t wear coveralls. Many of the job tasks that electricians consider “routine” would now require them to wear a coverall. Even a job task as simple as verifying voltage between 280 and 600 volts with a voltage meter will call for the coverall. Do you think an electrician who has been with your company for 20 years is going to stop what he is doing and put on a coverall to use a voltage meter?

Ask yourself:
  • Who is going to police this?
  • What if no one is watching — will the employees stop what they are doing to put on a coverall?
  • What if the employees leave their coveralls on the other side of the plant the day before — will they really walk to the other side of the plant to find them?
  • What if they put on the coverall but don’t wear it correctly, leaving the front unzipped?
  • Will the employees really put a coverall on top of their other clothing during hot and humid weather?
Choose the coveralls route and you might be left with some employees who will wear them all the time, some who will occasionally wear them, and others who will never put them on. You could have gaps in a clothing program that needs to “cover all” of your employees.

Everyday wear
A flame-resistant shirt and pant program is an alternative to coveralls, and a change of culture for your employees. You are making a statement when you provide them with work wear that is expected to be worn to work every day regardless of the job being performed.

The fabrics have changed dramatically in the past five years and FR fabrics are now lighter and more comfortable than ever. The improved comfort factor will help your employees accept the change in culture as more of a benefit — not to mention helping your company fulfill its safety responsibility.

The other part of the equation is whether to buy the shirts and pants, or rent them from an industrial uniform provider. When you implement your FR shirt and pant program with an industrial uniform provider, you eliminate the upfront cost because the company buys the garments on your behalf. You are then charged a low rental rate per employee on a weekly basis. A rental program “covers all” of the sizing, laundry, inspection, size changes, repairs and replacements as part of your weekly rate. A typical HRC 2 FR shirt and pant rental program is less than $2.00 per employee/day.

When the statistics show that an arc flash is occurring every four minutes in the United States, why are you waiting another day to keep your workers safe? Change your clothing program immediately and implement Annex H. Later, when your hazard assessment is complete, it is likely that your FR clothing solution will still be the same.