Working around electricity is dangerous, and to reduce the risk of electric shock and electrocution, electricians depend on a variety of personal protective equipment (PPE), including clothing made of shock-resistant fabric, insulated gloves and boots, eye and face protection, full arc-flash-protective gear, and more. However, it wasn’t always this way.
“In the early 1900s, as the electrical industry was just getting started, the survival rate for a journey worker electrician was 50 percent,” said Ryan Bradt, assistant training director, Puget Sound, Wash., Electrical JATC. “That meant, if you were an electrician in this era, you had a 50 percent chance of leaving the job alive.”
Today, safety is the cornerstone of Puget Sound Electrical JATC’s training programs. There, apprentices learn about safety practices and acquire changed attitudes about safety.
“My father’s and grandfather’s generations of electricians had a pretty lax attitude about lockout/tagout and verifying that equipment was de-energized,” Bradt said. “Stuck in their ways of thinking, luckily they made it to retirement, while my generation was being taught through apprenticeship a better way. I often tell the apprentices in my classes that they are the change agents for safety attitudes.”
Following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Washington State safety standards, Puget Sound Electrical JATC apprentices are required to wear the proper PPE in each lab. This often includes safety glasses and gloves, hard hats, insulated gloves, and arc-flash protection. Training includes how to properly select the PPE for most cases for lockout/tagout of circuit breakers, switches, etc. There also are two different classes that cover the majority of the topics in NFPA 70E.
“Contractors today have zero tolerance for apprentices not following safety requirements,” Bradt said. “This is largely driven by labor insurance, bonding and customer requirements. Other standards for working safely near energized equipment have changed, and this has driven the need for flame-resistant [FR] clothing and other PPE.”
PPE is required when working on energized systems. It is important to understand all work to de-energize a system is considered energized work and thus requires PPE.
“OSHA regulations that drive compliance for use of PPE are CFR 1910.132(d) (Hazard Assessment/Equipment selection) or CFR 1910.331-335 for electrical work and CFR 1910.269 for electrical utility workers,” said Scott Francis, regional market manager for Westex by Milliken. “These regulations provide direction on the ‘what to protect’ but not how to assess the hazard and protect against it. The ‘how to protect’ is usually found in industry consensus standards.”
As an industry consensus standard, NFPA 70E outlines elements of an electrical safety program, including the specification and use of PPE, to protect workers from electrical hazards. In September 2017, the National Fire Protection Association published the 2018 edition of this standard, which reiterates and reinforces the concept of an electrical safety program and highlights the risk control hierarchy.
“This reinforcement impacts PPE use in a few ways,” Francis said. “NFPA 70E looks to mitigate electrical hazards, with PPE serving as a final layer of defense for employees. While hazard elimination is the top priority, arc-rated PPE plays a crucial role by mitigating burn injuries in an arc-flash incident by perpetuating its self-extinguishing and insulating properties to reduce body burn percentage and greatly increase the probability of survival.
“While NFPA 70E has always emphasized the role employers play in properly outfitting employees against electrical hazards, the latest updates to NFPA 70E also place a measure of responsibility on employees to adhere to all policies and procedures, including wearing their PPE. The new update also expands the definition of host contractors, meaning they now shall play a part in advising, educating and protecting contracted electrical workers in hazardous situations,” he said.
Fabrics for PPE
FR fabrics are a key element of PPE for electrical workers, and manufacturers have placed emphasis on making these fabrics softer and more comfortable while maintaining their protective qualities.
For garment manufacturers, suppliers and other end-users, Westex by Milliken offers a comprehensive and customizable line of innovative FR and arc-resistant (AR) fabrics that are guaranteed to be FR for the life of the garment, Francis said.
“UltraSoft Flex provides enhanced comfort and mobility to bend with workers as they move on the job,” he said. “Backed with proven flame resistance, UltraSoft Flex is a multihazard protection fabric that workers will want to wear.”
Westex by Milliken has more than 60 years of experience manufacturing FR and AR fabrics.
“Millions of garments made with our fabrics are in service globally in the electrical, utility and many other industries, underscoring a proven track record of offering FR [and] AR fabrics with an excellent balance of protection, comfort and value,” Francis said.
Brian McCauley, leader, Honeywell Salisbury Assessment Solutions, said the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) categorizes four basic types of electrical injuries: electrocution, electric shock, burns and falls resulting from contact with electrical energy.
“NIOSH further states that many workers are exposed to electrical energy while completing their daily responsibilities, and many are unaware of the potential electrical hazards present in their work environment, making them more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution,” McCauley said. “On the job, contractors daily will face the risk of electrical shock, arc flash and arc blast when they are working on or in close proximity to energized equipment. Workers can, therefore, face electrical safety hazards in virtually any work site, from industrial facilities where low-voltage equipment under 600V AC is in use to high-voltage electrical utility power plants.”
McCauley said Honeywell offers PPE, industrial safety products and equipment to protect workers from helmet to boot, including hearing protection, safety harnesses, respiratory and electrical safety equipment, turnout gear for first responders and protective eye-, hand- and footwear.
“Our new products are increasing safety protection while also improving the user experience,” McCauley said. “PPE cannot successfully protect a worker if it’s not worn. And PPE that doesn’t allow workers to do their job or impedes their efficiency or just isn’t comfortable to the point that it’s a distraction will not be worn. Our research facilities worldwide work to not only develop new, next-generation products and technologies, but to advance continuous improvement in our existing products. These improvements focus on increasing functionality as well as improving comfort and design.
“For instance, we’ve recently applied new technology to a series of new products enabling full-color recognition and improved optical clarity in our new arc-flash head and face protection hoods. In terms of ergonomics, we’re improving our products across the board, from offering easier fit dielectric overboots to more flexible and comfortable insulating gloves to the lightest weight HRC 4 suits,” he said.
Honeywell has introduced PPE embedded with RFID technology, so users can track and manage it using software.
“While not a product, per se, we are continuing our industry-leading emphasis on training as job one,” McCauley said. “To help with meeting worker electrical safety program NFPA 70E needs, our Salisbury Assessment Solutions Team can help with customized assessments, compliance support, and electrical engineering and training.”
John Eckel, senior technical training specialist at Honeywell Miller Fall Protection, said construction industry workers at heights of 6 feet or greater must meet fall protection safety requirements that include OSHA, the American National Standards Institute and CSA Group standards as well as the very stringent ASTM F887.
Honeywell Miller personal fall protection products include full-body harness body wear, connecting devices, anchorage connectors, ladder climbing systems, confined space and rescue devices, professional fall prevention and protection training, and engineered solutions.
Individually, these components will not provide protection from a fall, but properly used in conjunction with each other, they form a personal fall-arrest system, which is vital to job-site safety.
“New fall protection designs are eliminating, as much as possible, the inclusion of metal components,” Eckel said. “One example is the introduction of a Kevlar web loop on the back pad of harnesses that allow for a ‘metal-less’ connection when used with a Kevlar, energy-absorbing lanyard with a choke-off loop.”
Safety and comfort are being improved with advanced materials and innovative features.
Eckel cited Kevlar/Nomex Miller DualTech webbing as an example. Patent-pending, 10,000-pound tensile strength webbing is engineered with permanent fire-retardant properties. The webbing offers the durability and FR properties of Kevlar on the outer side with softer FR Nomex on the inside of the webbing for greater comfort. The webbing ensures arc protection and durability that eclipses nylon webbing.
The PivotLink design enhances freedom of motion and comfort, while the cam buckles provide easy two-finger adjustment.
Leather insulators under all metal hardware offer additional protection for the worker.
“Advances in lanyard design include a specially-woven, energy-absorbing inner core that smoothly expands to reduce fall-arrest force,” Eckel said. “For added safety, a warning flag provides visual proof that a lanyard has been involved in a fall and must be removed from service.”