Our customers for Arc Flash PPE regularly ask us questions regarding Arc Flash Rated Underwear and if there is a need for it. We have put together the following information that we hope will help in providing a better understanding of why you should consider Arc Flash Rated Underwear and the benefits it provides to the wearer.
The IEC offers comprehensive directions on how to establish an electrically safe work environment, right from identifying and evaluating the risks involved, choosing suitable protective clothing and accessories, taking all precautions and safety measures to protect the workplace and its inhabitants, and imparting necessary training for employees on safety norms and best practices.
Compliance with this standard requires employers to select the right personal protective equipment (PPE) or clothing for the workforce after ascertaining the degree of risks that employees are likely to face when working near or on electrical installations. While the task may seem relatively straightforward, there is much more to the process than what meets the eye. There are several other factors employers are often forced to consider before investing in PPE, most important of them being the utility value of PPE and the costs involved.
The Need and Effectiveness of PPE
PPE has long since been a matter of concern for both employers and workers. Employers have deliberated the costs involved in having workers suited up in arc-rated protective clothing throughout the day, simply to be prepared to face the lurking possibility of an arc flash. Workers on their part – sporting uncomfortable suits, tools and gear on a regular basis – failed to appreciate the need and value of these units.
However, the need to comply with the IEC standard has driven companies to adopt a more practical approach by switching to arc-rated daily wear for employees who are likely to be exposed to arc-flash hazard during their regular work.
This decision, though mutually acceptable, does not fully protect workers against the impact of the arc flash as modern daily wear and underwear, including those that bear FR labels, are made from a mix of both natural and man-made fibres.
The use of cotton undergarments is still widely prevalent. However, IEC doesn’t consider cotton clothing to be effective against electrical arcs. Untreated cotton or wool could be acceptable if the weight of the material is enough to counter electrical arc conditions or flame hazards a worker is most likely to face.
Advancements in textile technologies have ushered in a change in the kind of fabrics that are incorporated in daily wear. Comfort, ease-of-use, maintenance and life of the clothing have evolved to a great extent due to the synthetic material blends that have been introduced over time. Unless suitably reinforced and treated, such synthetic clothing does not offer any protection against electrical accidents, especially for workers employed in industrial settings and electrical installations.
Many of the contemporary undergarments are made from synthetic fabrics based partially or fully on wicking materials like polyester, spandex, polyethylene, nylon and others that are more likely to melt or vaporise and cause skin burn issues.
Arc Flash Clothing Options
Employers are free to choose the right PPE that offers the best protection against electrical hazards in their working environments. However, when it comes to arc flashes, not even the best of PPEs may prove effective if arc-rated undergarments aren’t part of the protective kit.
As the heat from the arc flash is capable of breaching several layers of the protective garment, the layer closest to the skin naturally must offer the highest level of protection. Minus arc flash rated underwear, the safety of the worker is anyway compromised as undergarments made from ignitable fabrics are bound to cause serious health complications, way beyond burn injuries.
How Arc Flash Rated Underwear Can Prove Beneficial?
Including arc-rated underwear as part of the PPE kit works both in favour of the worker, as well as the employer in many ways:
- Ensures compliance with IEC standard as it eliminates the risk of “fabric melting” in undergarments.
- Arc flash-rated underwear of the right calorific rating offers adequate protection against the far reach of the arc flash that can otherwise easily ignite the under layer of the PPE.
- The piece of clothing offers extra level of safety, especially when combined with other arc-rated outer wear.
- Regular undergarments, apart from being prone to risks of ignition and melting, may not fit quite well beneath the protective clothing or gear. They could also hinder or disrupt free movement distracting workers from their jobs. The right size and snug fit of arc-rated undergarments make the protective clothing more comfortable and easy to sport and work in for long hours, if required.
- Additional costs incurred on arc-rated undergarments are fully justified, given the fact they ensure effective compliance and enhanced safety levels in the workplace.
Arc-rated undergarments are available with all leading suppliers of PPE. Now that nylon, polyester, acetate, polypropylene and rayon-based PPE is acceptable only when their protective power can be demonstrated, employers must take additional care before investing in protective clothing. They must ascertain the type of fabric used in these garments, how the fabric has been treated to ensure compliance, the nature of tests conducted on these garments and product thermal rating before choosing the right arc-flash rated undergarments. Elastic bands in underwear and socks too need equal attention lest they melt and breach compliance!