Cool Tools: Personal Protective Equipment

By Jeff Griffin | May 15, 2017




The Electrical trade is one of the most dangerous to work in. Electricians face the usual hazards found on most job sites, and the additional risk of electrical shock can cause serious injuries and death.

Safe working practices are the result of training, using the right tools and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and constant observance of procedures that make safety the first priority of every work day.

Safety is a fundamental part of training because of the immense negative impact unsafe working conditions can have on lives and companies, said Thomas Spellman, lead safety instructor for the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) of Greater Boston.

“Many of the brothers and sisters of Local 103 here carry titles in addition to ‘electrician’ or ‘technician,’” he said. “They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and grandparents. We must be vigilant in our focus and training of safety to our membership in an effort to reduce or eliminate injury and death as well as the negative consequences that could occur to the roles we play in others’ lives.”

[SB]Positive safety records and a professional, encouraging attitude toward safety can drive company success.

“By imparting the notion of safety first, employees feel empowered to do what is right and to not shortcut work practices because they know the first priority of their local/company is their safety,” Spellman said. “Successful job safety programs/mentality increase opportunities for companies to obtain potential contracts and gain new business prospects.”

Employer-supplied PPE serves as a last line of defense for the worker who is exposed to hazards. The PPE needs to be adequate for the hazard and be American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rated to be considered approved safety equipment.

“The quality of the equipment needs to outweigh the cost of the equipment,” Spellman said. “Quality materials are typically more comfortable and aesthetically more appealing. Workers should not have to be concerned with the fit and look of their PPE because it could lead to equipment being worn incorrectly or not at all.

“However, PPE should not be the first choice or solution to work among a hazard. Steps should be taken to engineer out, or remove, the hazard through the use of administration controls, thus eliminating the need for PPE. This initial analysis is an OSHA requirement. Knowing that not all hazards can be eliminated/reduced, PPE must be issued to all workers in the field,” he said.

Westex by Milliken provides arc-rated (AR)/flame-resistant (FR) fabrics used in protective apparel, said Mike Enright, vice president. He described several improvements in PPE clothing.

High visibility: “Construction, utility and other workers are routinely exposed to the hazards of low visibility—such as motor vehicles and heavy equipment—while on the job,” Enright said. “There are now high-visibility AR/FR garments that are certified to ANSI 107, which provides guidelines for the design and performance of materials for high visibility safety apparel in the [United States].”

FR denim: “FR denim fabrics combine the look of everyday jeans with protective, comfortable and reliable industrial workwear,” he said. “Safety, comfort and ease of movement are critical for today’s workers, and FR denim is increasingly becoming workers’ fabric of choice. Today, the market is starting to see FR denim with flex or stretch capability that enables workers to move, bend and climb freely as their job requires. This results in safety, comfort and ease of movement to help workers be as productive and as safe as possible.

“Additionally, the FR market has grown significantly over the past few years, which has led to dozens of fabric manufacturers entering the global market. With the increased number of fabrics in the FR market, end-users need to be aware of what fabric makes up their garment and who manufactures the fabric. A garment’s performance depends on the scientific knowledge of the AR/FR fabric manufacturer. Manufacturers with the right scientific knowledge; advanced, state-of-the-art equipment and specialized staff are factors in the science of life-saving FR technology.

“Standards offer fair comparisons of protective properties but do not adequately address other important characteristics critical to achieve long term program protection and success. Many generic or unproven fabrics promote meeting minimum standard requirements,” Enright said.

Bjorn Schantz, product marketing specialist, Salisbury by Honeywell, said Honeywell offers arc-flash-rated clothing, hoods and face shields, insulating rubber gloves and leather protectors and insulated tools. Over the past two years, the company introduced several new products that improve safety and comfort for users.

“Lift-front hoods have significant improvements in airflow, outward visibility and weight reduction, providing an arc-flash-protection hood that is not only more comfortable but also safer than the industry standard,” Schantz said. “Next-generation rubber insulating gloves offer improvements in dexterity and pliability, allowing electrical workers longer periods of work time with less fatigue.”

Premium, lightweight 40 cal/cm2 arc-flash garments, with more than 30 percent reduction in fabric weight, keep users cooler and interfere less with movement.

“New wide-throat dielectric boots feature a unique design, which makes the boots easier to step into and out of as needed, yet also fit naturally for hours of comfort,” Schantz said. “Premium polycarbonate face shields offer increased color recognition, improved warp resistance in hot conditions and permanent antifog, antiscratch coating.”

Honeywell offers a variety of PPE products that include hearing protection, fall protection, eye protection, gas detection, first aid and others.

Industry Regulatory Standards

Recent changes in the regulatory standards apply to PPE. In 2014, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) published the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, that has become a “recognized industry practice” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). NFPA 70E is a voluntary standard that addresses electrical safety in the workplace and is designed to assist employers and workers in the understanding and implementation of electrical safety precautions.


The 2015 edition of NFPA 70E contains several changes related to AR/FR clothing.

Hazard risk category (HRC) was replaced with PPE category. This was simply a name change; the math and logic are the same.

HRC category 0 is eliminated. Arc flash PPE categories now are numbered 1–4 only. The previous HRC 0 allowed workers to wear non-FR 100 percent cotton clothing where the arc incident energy was calculated to be less than 1.2 cals/cm2. Further research determined there is an ignition hazard of non-FR clothing regardless of arc energy. Now there is a yes/no table to determine if an arc is possible. If an arc flash hazard exists, arc-rated clothing is required.

29 CFR 1910.269

After nearly 10 years of revisions, OSHA’s final federal rule 1910.269 went into effect in July 2014. This standard affects workers in electric power generation, transmission and distribution. To comply with the rule, employers need to provide employees with AR/FR garments rated equal to or higher than the potential work zone arc flash incident energies. To determine the required garment protection level, employers must make reasonable estimates, or calculations, of the arc flash incident energy of their facilities and transmission and distribution systems.


The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) covers utility workers during the installation, operation or maintenance of electric supply, along with communication lines and associated equipment. The NESC is revised every five years, and the 2017 edition was published in August 2016.

Employers are required to perform a hazard risk analysis for employees that work on or near energized parts or equipment. If the assessment determines energies available are more than 2 cal/cm², workers should wear protective clothing (or clothing systems) that have an arc rating equal to or greater than the anticipated energy level. —J.G.

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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