Following the launch of its new ProtecWork range, Peter Dumigan, Managing Director of the Hultafors Group UK, talks to PE about the importance of Protective Wear for electricians.
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that staff have the right level of protection and training against risks on-site. However, employees have a personal responsibility to be aware of risks and potential injuries, and to ensure adequate protection for themselves, their safety and wellbeing.
What does this mean for electricians’ workwear?
Depending on the task to be performed, PPE for electricians generally includes safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, insulating (rubber) gloves and flame-resistant clothing.
What’s the difference between Protective Wear and 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 your 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 has been designed and developed to protect the wearer from serious risks such as heat, flames, electric arcs and hazardous chemicals. In effect, clothing that can mean the difference between life and death for the wearer.
What are the different risk environments?
In order to meet the protective requirements for 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. For this category there are CE (European Conformity) 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 risk, which include major hazards like electric arcs and molten metal splashes or liquid chemicals.
What protection do electricians need?
Never assume that a Category I garment will protect you against the more serious hazards and risks defined in Category III. It won’t, and you will be putting yourself at serious risk if you think it will.
This means you have to understand the hazards and risks of a specific working environment, or knowing the risk level, before you start work so you can wear appropriate clothing and PPE accessories.
That risk assessment, and therefore 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.
To do this, you add up the total number of ‘Calories’ of all the layers of your outfit.
Also, 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.
For instance, using Snickers Workwear’s ProtekWork clothing, a typical set of garments that could be worn in an electric arc risk environment would be:
- Baselayer – 2462 long sleeve turtle-neck shirt and a pair of 9468 wool long johns.
- Midlayer – 2660 long sleeve polo shirt and a 2862 hoodie.
- Toplayer – 1260 Softshell jacket CL3 with a pair of 6362 work trousers, plus a 9068 beanie, a 9069 multi-purpose neck/head warmer and 9262 wool socks.
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 the level of protection of a fabric/garment.
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 can be caused by heat or hot substances in a solid, liquid or gaseous state. Burns are classified into four types:
A first-degree burn results in damage to the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). This normally heals in a couple of days.
A second-degree burn damages the dermis (thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis). This usually causes skin blisters and major inflammation.
A third-degree burn 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.
A fourth-degree burn 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 is 18%.
How can you increase your chances of avoiding injury?
Based on independent tests and reports, coupled with our years of experience, we recommend that you never wear garments that offer total protection of less than 11 cal/cm2 if you are going to work in or near a high-risk environment.
This calorie level does not provide total protection, but should be seen as a minimum level. Different jobs require different levels of protection. Be sure you know the risk level before you enter a specific risk environment, and wear appropriate clothing.
How can you ensure you are better protected?
One of the best ways 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. We have conducted a number of tests that show the air gap increases protection by more than 5 cal/cm2.
The calorie level of the extra protection depends on a variety of factors, such as fabric structure, thickness and construction – for a precise value, combined tests on each layer must be performed.
What we know for certain is that wearing multiple layers improves the protection rating. Therefore, it’s best to think of the air gap between each layer as extra protection that improves your chances of avoiding burns in the event of an accident.
To download a copy of the Snickers ProtecWork catalogue click here.