Don’t let the summer sun compromise your PPE

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Opinion

  Posted by: electime      24th May 2021

Comments by Mark Lant, technical expert at ProGARM

In industries working around high and low voltage electricity, the importance of PPE is widely recognised, and the latest safety requirements are understood by managers and operatives alike. However, the dangers posed by an arc flash are not so well known in comparison. With temperatures of up to 35,000ºF, which is more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun, an arc flash has the potential to burn an operative’s skin within fractions of a second, meaning PPE really is the last line of defence for workers. But the summer heat can pose a risk to workers, who may be unknowingly compromising the protection provided by their PPE in their efforts to keep cool.

The risks of heavy, bulky PPE

For obvious reasons, all arc flash clothing must be full length and long sleeve, to ensure no part of an operative is left unprotected. However, this can become extremely warm for those working during the warmer summer months.

Additionally, arc flash protective clothing has historically been thought of as uncomfortable. This is primarily because in the past, the clothing was typically made from fabrics that provided great protection, but were often heavy, stiff, and rough against bare skin.

A garment can offer the ultimate protection, but if an operative does not feel comfortable wearing it, that protection diminishes when they choose not to wear the garment correctly. Heavy, bulky and rigid PPE is frequently worn incorrectly – it’s all too easy to roll sleeves up or undo a jacket when a garment is uncomfortably hot in the warmer months, but all this seriously compromises the safety of an individual against an arc flash.

Ensuring breathable PPE

Thankfully, uncomfortable PPE can now be a thing of the past, thanks to the use of inherent fabrics. Inherent fabric refers to material which has fire retardant properties as part of its natural make-up. In other words, they needn’t undergo a chemical process to become flame-retardant, as the polymers which make up the clothing are inherently so.

Not only do inherent fabrics offer lifelong protection, garments made with inherent fibres allow movement, breathability and moisture management. The fabric readily absorbs sweat and then dries quickly, not only providing cooling in hot, humid conditions, but doesn’t leave sweat running down the skin.

The importance of layering

While in summer, the thought of extra layers may not be appealing, the material worn beneath an arc flash protective jacket is just as crucial to protecting from the event as outer clothing.

Although the outer garments are key components for providing protection, they are not enough to match the risk posed to an operative’s safety. Therefore it’s vital that any layers worn beneath arc flash clothing, including underwear, should also be arc-resistant. This is because, while the flames caused by an arc flash may not actually come into contact with skin through the protective outer layers, the extreme heat from the event can melt the materials used to manufacture everyday undergarments, including nylon, cotton, and polypropylene. This will inflict burns on an operative and potentially cause non-arc flash protective undergarments to melt into the skin underneath their PPE.

The key to ensuring effective arc flash protection during hot working conditions is to ensure that workers are equipped with garments that will allow them to stay cool and comfortable during their physical tasks, therefore enabling them to wear their PPE in the correct manner without overheating.

For more information on arc flash protection, visit www.progarm.com/arc-flash-protection/