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Safety Up Your Sleeve: Rubber PPE use and care

By Tom O'Connor | Mar 15, 2023
SELCAT, Haugland

Construction workers have dangerous jobs, so personal protective equipment is vital to preventing these workers from electrocution. When working on live wires or energized equipment, rubber gloves and sleeves should always be worn and used properly.

Construction workers have dangerous jobs, so personal protective equipment is vital to preventing these workers from electrocution. When working on live wires or energized equipment, rubber gloves and sleeves should always be worn and used properly. 

Rubber goods should be tested in accordance with the American Society for Testing and Materials F819-10 (2015)—Standard Terminology Relating to Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers, Conformity Assessment Notes. This guide provides inspection techniques that may be used to examine electrical protective rubber products for irregularities. 

What to look for

Visually inspect rubber goods for holes, punctures, cuts, tears, ozone cutting or checking, embedded foreign objects, texture changes, hardening, stickiness, swelling, softening, inelasticity or other defects that could reduce insulative protection before use. Examine each inside cuff for cracks, tears, punctures or stretching. The fingertips should also be inspected for ozone checking or other wear. PPE should not be worn if any defects are discovered. 

Conduct an air test on rubber gloves prior to use by squeezing or rolling them. If any air escapes through small cuts, tears or holes, they are unsafe for use. A rubber glove inflater may also be used for air testing. Rubber protective insulating gear should be tested using an inflater prior to issuance and at the following intervals:

  • Gloves: every 6 months 
  • Sleeves: every 12 months 
  • Insulating blankets: every 12 months 
  • Insulating line hoses and covers: on indication that the insulating value is suspect 

However, in some circumstances, a water test maybe required, which entails filling up gloves with water to help identify any holes.

Proper storage

Keep rubber gloves and sleeves not in use in a canvas bag or other approved container to prevent sharp objects from damaging them. Rubber gloves are typically stored with the cuffs facing downward to allow drainage and better circulation. This also helps minimize the possibility of objects falling into them. Additionally, rubber protective gear should never be folded, left in direct sunlight, near or with petroleum products, near sharp objects or with anything placed on top when stored. 

Lineworkers contacting energized circuits or equipment between 50V and 600V should wear Class 0 rubber gloves with leather protectors. When working with larger voltages ranging from 600V to 15,000V, wear Class 2 rubber gloves with leather protectors and Class 2 rubber sleeves. Typically, rubber protective sleeves should meet or exceed the class rating of the rubber gloves used. 

Rubber gloves and sleeves should also be worn when working within extended reach of an energized circuit or piece of equipment. This includes when the lineworker or a conductive object is within 5 feet of an energized circuit or equipment. Rubber sleeves are not necessary when working with less than 600V, unless arms are exposed to the energized equipment or the 5-foot rule will be encroached. 

ETD requirements

The Electrical Transmission and Distribution (ETD) Partnership Best Practice takes the 5-foot rule a bit further. There are several effective safety and health best practices and frequently asked questions approved and posted on NECA’s and OSHA’s websites. 

The ETD partnership requires rubber gloves and sleeves to be worn from cradle-to-cradle and lock-to-lock, which means prior to the time the pad-mounted equipment is unlocked until work is finished and the equipment is relocked. When line work is done from an aerial lift or bucket truck, the PPE should be worn cradle-to-cradle, or worn from the time the worker is on the ground before work begins until they return to the ground when work is finished. 

Finally, lineworkers and utilities must always comply with the requirements in OSHA’s Power Transmission and Distribution standard in general industry (CFR 1910.269 and CFR 1926 Subpart V) in construction. Each regulates lineworker safety and establishes minimum education and training requirements. In the event the proper precautions cannot be met, alternative work practices can be discussed with a supervisor.

Header image: SELCAT, Haugland

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].

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