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Safeguarding Against Arc Flashes: Arc-Compliant and FR Clothing

Safeguarding Against Arc Flashes: Arc-Compliant and FR Clothing

Take me to view Arc-compliant clothing

Ever heard of Arc flashes? They're pretty serious electrical incidents that can happen when things go wrong with electricity. But don't worry, we've got your back!

Before we dive into why Arc protective clothing is so important, let's first understand the nature of the threat it tackles. They're intense bursts of heat and pressure caused by electrical Arcs, not something you want to experience first-hand!

Understanding the Threat: What is an Arc Flash?

An Arc Flash occurs when an electrical Arc, or Arc discharge, is generated due to the passage of electricity through a non-conductive substance, such as air. When this occurs, it causes gas to break down electrically, creating a continuous release of plasma accompanied by a high-pressure blast and intense radiant heat. This intense burst of energy poses significant risks to individuals exposed to it. Alarmingly, studies reveal that 57% of electrical workers have experienced or witnessed an Arc flash first-hand.

What causes an Arc Flash?

  • Accidental contact or dropping of tools or equipment onto live conductors
  • Errors or oversights in isolating equipment
  • Equipment malfunction stemming from defective components, incorrect installation, or regular wear and tear
  • Presence of dust, corrosion, or other contaminants on conductor surfaces
ARC clothing

Industries at Risk: Who Needs Arc Flash Clothing?

Wherever there is live electricity, the risk of an Arc flash incident exists. Arc flashes aren’t confined to specific sectors; they can occur across various industries, including but not limited to utilities, power generation, industrial electrical, petrochemical, and rail. Prioritising Arc protective clothing is essential to mitigate potential risks and ensure the safety of any workers who are working near live electricity.

What is Arc-Compliant Clothing?

These specially designed garments serve as a shield against the hazards of electrical Arc flash incidents. 
  • Crafted from top-notch, inherently flame retardant fabrics, these clothes maintain their protective properties wash after wash
  • Layering multiple Arc compliant garments, such as shirts, trousers, and coveralls, can provide increased protection by trapping air between the layers
  • Don't forget the importance of Arc flash undergarments! Avoid the risk of wearing synthetic materials as they melt and cause additional harm in the event of an Arc flash
  • Arc flash clothing adheres to the standards outlined in EN 61482-2, and undergoes testing through two well-established methods

How is Arc Flash Clothing Rated?

Ever noticed those CAL ratings when it comes to arc flash protective gear? Well, they're like the garment's superpower! CAL, short for calorie rating, measures how much energy the gear can absorb without the onset of a second-degree burn.
So, here's the scoop: CAL ratings are measured in cal/cm2, indicating the amount of energy the gear can brave in the event of an Arc flash. The higher the CAL rating, the stronger the shield the garment provides. Arc flash clothing goes through ELIM (Energy Limit Value) testing to determine the maximum energy it can absorb without causing a second-degree burn. The ELIM rating is lower than the ATPV (Arc Thermal Performance Value) rating, which represents the incident energy level with a 50% probability of a second-degree burn. Whether it comes from ELIM or ATPV, the CAL rating helps choose the right level of personal protective equipment (PPE) for a specific arc flash hazard.

Prioritise safety with Lapwing's Arc-compliant clothing

Arc clothing railway

Debunking Myths Surrounding an Arc Flash & Arc Clothing:

Although Arc flash clothing is crucial for safeguarding individuals in hazardous environments, various myths continue to circulate within related industries. Let's delve into and dispel some of these misconceptions:

Myth #1: Arc Flashes Only Occur in High Voltage Systems
Reality: Arc flashes can occur in systems at 120 volts or higher. Even lower voltage levels can lead to an Arc flash when conductors are closely spaced together.

Myth #2: Only Personnel Directly Engaged Should Wear Arc Flash PPE
Reality: All individuals within a shock hazard area must wear Arc protective clothing, as determined by thorough safety assessments. Prioritising safety for everyone in the vicinity is paramount to preventing accidents and minimising injuries.

Myth #3: Once Equipment is Assessed for Arc Flash Hazard, There's No Need for a Redo
Reality: Things change over time, from ageing equipment to evolving regulations. Workers in Arc flash risk environments must stay updated, assess risks dynamically, and ensure safe equipment use. Employers should provide current training and signage, and regular assessments are crucial for identifying new risks in a comprehensive safety strategy.

Myth #4: Standard Clothing Provides Sufficient Protection Under Arc-compliant PPE
Reality: During an Arc flash, temperatures can soar to 19,000℃, which melts standard clothing. Arc compliant clothing is specifically designed to withstand such extreme conditions, minimising the risk of injuries. Arc flash base layers, like leggings, long-sleeve tops, and underwear enhance protection and can be worn comfortably under other Arc clothing.

Myth #5: Arc Flash is Only a Risk in Welding and No Other Tasks
Reality: Arc flash incidents are prevalent across industries. Workers handling power supplies in distribution centres, industrial/commercial maintenance teams, and power generation sectors are particularly at risk. Basically, when working in hazardous zones, everyone must wear PPE.

Myth #6: Safety Glasses or Sunglasses Are Sufficient Eye Protection in an Arc Flash
Reality: Safety glasses and sunglasses offer minimal protection to eyes, as they are made from plastic and will melt in the 19,000℃ temperatures of an Arc flash. Arc flash visors shield faces from burns, protect eyes from bright light, and are durable against impacts from debris caused by an Arc flash explosion.

Myth #7: Flame Resistant/Retardant PPE Offers Adequate Protection
Reality: While FR PPE will protect against flames, it doesn’t adequately protect against high-voltage thermal bursts. Arc flash clothing adheres to distinct safety standards, ensuring optimal protection in hazardous environments.

Inherently Vs Treated Non-Inherently FR Clothing:

Both have your back when it comes to fire safety, but they take slightly different paths to get there! Inherently flame resistant materials are like natural-born firefighters. On the other hand, treated flame retardant materials get a little help from special chemicals. So, even though they're on the same team, they've got their own unique ways of safeguarding from flames. 

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Let's break it down more:

Inherently Flame Resistant Clothing: Flame resistant clothes are made from materials that naturally resist catching fire. These materials, like Nomex and Kevlar, are durable and can handle high temperatures. They don't lose their fire resistance over time. This type of clothing helps people stay safe during fires by preventing flames from spreading quickly.

Treated Non-Inherently Flame Retardant Clothing: Flame retardant clothes are treated with chemicals to enhance its resistance to fire. However, this treatment can wear off with washing or time, reducing its effectiveness. Common fabrics like cotton can be treated this way to add a layer of protection against fire. 

ARC Flash vs. FR: Understanding the Difference

Let's talk about Arc flash clothing versus FR (flame resistant/retardant) clothing! These two types of gear are essential for staying safe in workplaces with fire and electrical hazards. While they both aim to protect individuals, they differ in their specific applications and protective capabilities. So, let's dive in and learn what sets them apart!

Here's a simple breakdown: while all Arc flash clothing is flame resistant, not all FR (flame resistant/retardant) clothing is Arc flash compliant.

ARC Flash Clothing

Arc-compliant clothing undergoes rigorous testing to ensure protection against intense heat exposure, such as in situations where underground cables are accidentally struck at construction sites. Think of it as a superhero suit, shielding against extreme heat, pressure, and molten materials. Specifically designed and tested for high-risk environments, Arc flash clothes are governed by EN 61482-2. This European Standard employs two common testing methods:

Open Arc Test Method: This test determines how much heat a garment can handle before causing burns. It's measured in calories per square centimetre (cal/cm2), helping teams choose the right safety gear based on risk assessments. It's a reliable way to ensure our clothing protects against arc flash incidents.

Box Test Method: This test comes in two versions: the 'material box test' checks heat tolerance causing burns, while the 'garment box test' visually evaluates protection. Garments are tested against a 500ms arc, categorised into Class 1 (4kA arc current) or Class 2 (7kA arc current).

FR Clothing and Why it Matters:

Think of FR (flame resistant/retardant) clothing as your trusty shield against fires. Designed to resist ignition and self-extinguish, FR clothing safeguards against various potential threats. Helping employers meet safety regulations and keeping workers safe from fire and thermal hazards. In places like construction sites, where flammable materials are common, fire accidents are a constant risk. 

FR Standards: In the UK, FR clothing undergoes evaluation by two main standards: EN ISO 11612:2015 and EN ISO 14116:2015. These standards make sure that flame-resistant clothing is put through thorough testing and certified to keep workers safe. It's all about providing peace of mind for both employers and employees.

Let’s wrap up this blog post

Here's the key: Knowing the difference between Arc flash clothing and FR gear is key for workplace safety. They both protect against fire and electrical hazards, but in different ways. Arc flash clothes are tough and tested to handle extreme heat, while FR clothing acts as a reliable shield against fires. 

Remember, not all FR gear can handle arc flashes, so pick the right one for your workplace. 

With our lineup of stocked FR and Arc protective gear, you can be equipped with top-notch protection against Arc flashes. The gear we stock isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about delivering comfort, durability, and peace of mind for every wearer.

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With thanks to:

9 Arc Flash Myths Busted, (2023), ProGarm.
What is an Arc Flash? The Definitive Guide, ProGarm.
The Difference Between Arc Flash & Flame Resistant Clothing What You Need To Know, ProGarm.