This year, the well-dressed electrical contractor is turning away from shoes by Armani and hats by Yves St. Laurent. Sharp dressers sport hiking-style work boots, more comfortable dielectric footwear, colorful work gloves and NFPA 70E-compliant headgear.

New standards for testing face, hand and foot protection will drive the fashion trends, both in the industrial plant and outdoors for linemen. Although manufacturers definitely design with safety standards foremost in their minds, many are adding fashion statements to their products. This allows workers to go into restaurants or malls still wearing safety gear, like boots, and not feel like clunky misfits.

“As an employer under OSHA, we have to assure that our employees have PPE (personal protection equipment) that is adequate to deal with hazards,” said Chuck Weyrick, staff health and safety representative with First Energy, Akron, Ohio. “Without standardization of product testing, we cannot assure that a face shield rated at 20 calories won’t melt or warp at 10 calories.”

In addition to its power lines, First Energy is involved with facilities services and generating, so they see many facets of electrical safety issues. Since 1996, the company has provided its electricians with a clothing program. Electricians can choose from a couple of different catalogs for a full range of PPE.

Facing safety

In addition to his daily job responsibilities, Weyrick is among those working on the ASTM International (www.astm.org, West Conshohocken, Pa.) F-18 committee, which is working to test face shields. F-18 is working toward a standard method to compare the ability of face shields to withstand heat energy caused by arcing.

The work is moving along and should be completed sometime around the end of 2003.

“The market is in a real period of transition,” said Jeff Morris, vice president of sales and marketing at Salisbury-Electrical Safety Division (www.whsalisbury.com, Skokie, Ill.). “Contractors are forced to wear face shields against arcing when racking in or racking out,” he continued. Insulated, 1,000V-rated tools are important, too.

In addition, an anticipated September 2003 expansion of NFPA 70E (www.nfpa.org, Quincy, Mass.) standard—which served as the groundwork for the OSHA 1910 Subpart S regulations—will require workers use to face shielding whenever working around energized equipment. NFPA 70E covers shock, arc blasts and explosions caused by electrical hazards.

Electricians will be pleased with the new look and reorganization of the 70E manual. According to Ken Mastrullo, NFPA’s staff liaison to the 70E committee, one of the notable changes will be the addition of a Class II hazard double-layered face-shielding hood standard. This reflects an update of ASTM’s standard for testing shields. It will allow for an eight-calorie test standard for face shields.

Mastrullo says the 2003 version of 70E will be easier to use and in closer conformance with the National Electrical Code parts. For example, Article 100—both in NEC and in 70E—will be definitions. The rest of the book also will reflect NEC style.

“These changes will make it a lot easier to follow,” Mastrullo said.

There are some substantive changes proposed to 70E, too. A major change in 70E is the requirement for PPE to protect against an arc flash from 4 to 10 feet. Research showed that the 4-foot boundary was not adequate. The 2003 regulations will call for protective clothes anywhere inside the 10-foot boundary.

Another change is in the job briefing form. Requirements for the energized electrical work permit are being updated. All of the parts in the energized and non-energized PPE requirements will be in a more logical order.

The first vote on the 70E revisions will come in May. At worst, there may be appeals on some of the changes, and then it should be available in mid-September.

“We can calculate the hazards,” Weyrick says. “We can then match the standards to the hazards and know exactly what the standard will protect.”

Typically, the First Energy electrician does not wear flame-resistant clothing. Rather, they wear 100-percent cotton clothing. Where there is the potential for arcing, they will cover up with protective clothes.

Fancy footwear

ASTM is also working on a revision to its testing process for dielectric footwear.

The latest fashion and safety dictates an overshoe with non-conductive hardware to reduce the chance of arcing. The well-dressed, ladder-climbing electrician checks for deep (not high) heels for extra security on ladders. Most boots will fit all climbing spikes.

Sizing dielectric overshoes is a matter of personal preference, according to Kerri Apperson, product development coordinator for LaCrosse Safety & Industrial Shoe (www.lacrosserainfair.com, Portland, Ore.).

However, she says the company tends to sell more of the 18-inch tall and short 5-inch shoes than the mid-sized 14-inchers.

Their current line of PowerPro series boots is a 15kV design. They are bright orange and have 3M Scotchlite Reflective tape for visibility in low-light conditions. Emerging new standards will require dielectric boots to be 20kV rated. They meet ASTM and 1117 standards.

Apperson said LaCrosse is working on a 20kV-rated boot. “Our current boots will pass a 20kV test, but it takes down some of the voltage on the second or third test,” she said. Their new boots, available before the end of this year, will meet the 20kV standard.

The standards found in the 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926 Subpart E Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment reference the use of PPE. NECA’s Manual—Personal Protective Equipment: A Guide for Selection, Care, & Use in the Electrical Contracting Industry (Index #5120), is an excellent resource regarding regulations.

While there is not a lot one can do to make dielectric overboots go stylin’, the look of general work boots is quickly moving away from the clunky, steel-toed boot to something more acceptable off the job site.

“Work boots are not those huge, luggy, old-school all-leather boots anymore,” said Natalie Boardman, product coordinator for Danner Shoe, (www.danner.com, Portland, Ore.).

While most good boot companies automatically certify any of their steel-toe or safety-toe products to hazard standards, most manufacturers are going more to a lifestyle product. “Guys on the job want a good, composite or steel safety product to wear to work and one that they can keep on when they meet their wives for dinner,” she continued.

Besides being better looking, the typical boot is lighter in weight, easier to clean up and more affordable than traditional models.

Bootmakers are adding Cordura accents, giving their work boots a look closer to a hiking boot than a work boot. Boots frequently are waterproofed with Gore-Tex and may feature a Thinsulate liner for warmth, too. “We are working for a lightweight, hiking style boot, but one with the specifications the supervisor demands,” Boardman said.

Helping hands

Just as golfers and wide receivers benefit from good specialty gloves, electricians will find value in the latest products for hand protection.

It is a simple fact of life that most electricians do not use rubber gloves, even though OSHA regulations say they must be worn any time 50V power or more is present.

“Many electricians cite dexterity issues as a reason for not wearing gloves,” Salisbury’s Morris said. However, there are newer, thinner gloves on the market. Cost is not a factor, either. Good gloves, a leather protector and bag only cost about $45.

“We just released a new TechWear glove for shipping the first of this year,” said Lane Satrick, president of L.H. Dottie Company (www.lhdottie.com, Los Angeles, Calif.). The glove offers an ergonomic fit.

Its neoprene backing prevents people from cutting their hands. A synthetic leather called Charrude is used on the palm to absorb moisture while providing both sensitivity and abrasion resistance.

Today’s gloves not only stand up to the jobsite, but they also look good and are not necessarily identifiable at first glance as “work clothes.” Colors and materials are becoming more like what one would expect in consumer products.

“These are tight-fitting gloves aimed at electricians working in tight places,” Satrick said. It is quite common for contractors to rub against re-bar or rough mortar in the course of work.

“Electricians need a good, cut-resistant glove that gives them good dexterity—almost like a golf glove,” he added. Products are available for warm working areas as well as lined gloves for winter or cold-area use.

Forget about the excuse that it is too difficult to tighten wire nuts with gloves on. There even are safety gloves with cut fingertips (clarinet players will recognize the strategy immediately) that afford full dexterity and feeling while protecting the rest of the hand.

It is significant that clothing makers now use synthetic materials in their products. Manufacturers of PPE express both pleasure and relief with an update of the 70E PPE clothing technology requirements. In this area, 70E defaults to ASTM’s F-1506. Previous wording said synthetic fibers were not permitted in PPE. While aimed at keeping nylon or other quick-melting materials off workers in hazardous areas, the regulation had the unintended effect of banning fire-retardant materials which included synthetics.

The new wording on synthetics will bring the regulations into concordance with technological realities and the style dictates of the 21st century. EC

HARLER, a frequent contributor to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, is based in Strongsville, Ohio. He can be reached at 440.238.4556 or curt@curtharler.com.