The dangers of electric arcs – what electricians need to wear to protect themselves | Hultafors Group

The dangers of electric arcs – what electricians need to wear to protect themselves | Hultafors Group

Peter Dumigan, Managing Director of the Hultafors Group UK, owners of Snickers Workwear and its ProtecWork range, discusses the dangers involved with electric arcs and the considerations electricians must make in their choice of protective wear.

Whilst it’s an employer’s legal responsibility to ensure that staff have the right level of protection and training against risks on-site, employees have a personal responsibility to be aware of risks and potential injuries to ensure adequate protection for themselves, their safety and wellbeing.

Depending on the job task to be performed, PPE for electricians generally includes safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, insulating (rubber) gloves and flame-resistant clothing.

Protective wear vs standard workwear

In terms of clothing, there’s a big difference between conventional workwear and specialist protective wear. Over the years, workwear has evolved to make the working day more comfortable and efficient, with built-in functionality for tools and fixings, as well as protection against cold, rain and the effects of warm weather.

Protective wear, which can have one or more CE (European Conformity) marks, has been designed and developed to protect the wearer from serious risks such as heat, flames, electric arcs and hazardous chemicals.

Risk environments and CE protection

In order to meet the protective requirements of a specific risk area, protective wear is divided into three categories – the higher the category number, the higher the level of protection.

Category I covers exposure to minimal risks, and for this category there are CE standards such as EN 343 (rain protection) and EN 14058 (cold protection).

Category II includes exposure to medium risks, for instance EN 20471 for high visibility clothing.

Category III covers exposure to serious risks, which include major hazards such as electric arcs and molten metal splashes or liquid chemicals.

What protection do electricians need?

To be able to properly identify what protection you need, you have to know what risks you, your employees or your workmates face.

Never assume that a Category I garment will protect against the more serious hazards and risks defined in Category III. It won’t, and you’ll be putting yourself at serious risk if you think it will.

That means understanding the hazards and risks of a specific electrician’s working environment or knowing the risk level before you start work.

That risk assessment and the determination of the ‘calorie levels’ required in the clothing needed has to be carried out by the company buying the clothing. Importantly, each working situation will have its own required minimum protection, depending on the risk situation.

How do I know the protection level of my outfit?

It all starts with having working clothes with the appropriate CE mark for the specific risk environment.

In work locations that involve a risk of electric arcing, you must also ensure your clothing offers a level of protection that corresponds to the risk level – Category III.

You do this by adding up the total number of ‘calories’ of all the layers of your outfit and it’s important to remember that high-risk environments require that all the clothes you wear, including underwear and base layers, provide protection against heat and flames.

What is a ‘calorie’ in the context of PPE?

In PPE terms, calories are used to define the protection level of a fabric, an item of clothing or the system of materials/garments.

When an electric arc is triggered, different types of energy and risk factors are created, such as arc power, arc energy and incident energy, all of which are measured in calories. This is why calories per square centimetre (cal/cm2) has become the unit used to measure a fabric’s or garment’s level of protection.

What sort of electric arc risks do electricians have to deal with?

Arcs due to electrical faults can cause severe injuries and damage such as thermal injury, serious burns, electric shock, noise, UV emissions, pressure and shrapnel, as well as toxic exposure and the impact of physical and mental shock.

What sort of burn injuries can occur?

A burn to the skin or other tissue is caused by heat or hot substances in a solid, liquid or gaseous state. They can cause tissue damage to various degrees, depending on the nature, intensity and duration of the damage. Burns are classified into four types:

First-degree – results in damage to the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin), which normally heals in a couple of days.

Second-degree – damages the dermis (thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis), usually causing skin blisters and major inflammation.

Third-degree – causes total damage to skin/tissue and is characterised by hard, white skin resembling parchment. In a full-thickness skin injury, sensory receptors in the tissue are damaged, meaning no pain will be felt in the damaged area.

Fourth-degree – extends through the entire skin into underlying fat, muscle and bone and, as a result, the skin is black and charred with dead tissue.

The injury area is defined as the TBSA (Total Burn Surface Area) percentage, which expresses the size of the burn as a percentage of total body area. For instance an arm is approximately 9%, and a leg 18%. Avoid injury with proper protection Based on independent tests and reports coupled with our years of experience, we recommend that you should never wear garments that offer total protection of less than 11 calories/cm2 if you are going to work in or near a high-risk environment.

This calorie level doesn’t provide total protection, but should be seen as a minimum level. Different jobs require different levels of protection, and the higher the calorie level your clothes (or outfit) have, the better protection you get. That’s why you should know the risk level before you enter a specific risk environment, and wear appropriate clothing.

Wear layers to increase your protection

One of the best ways to improve your level of protection is to wear layers – base-, mid- and top-layers. A fundamental requirement is of course that all the garments are certified and flame retardant.

The main benefit of wearing layers is that the air gap formed between different garments provides increased protection. There is no general rating for how much increased protection the air gap between layers provides. We have, however, conducted a number of tests that show that the air gap increases protection by more than 5 calories/cm2.

The calorie level of the extra protection depends on a variety of factors, such as fabric structure, thickness and construction – and for a precise value, combined tests on each layer must be performed.

To get more details about the Snickers ProtecWork range of protective wear, click here

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