Don’t get complacent when it comes to Arc Flash

For those working in the industrial electrical sector, the risks of Arc Flash incidents have always been better understood than in many other industries. Working with high and low votalges on a daily basis means that knowledge across the sector is noticeably higher compared with similar industries that are also at risk of the danger. However, it appears that there’s a new danger emerging when it comes to Arc Flash, which takes the shape of a false sense of security.

Mark Lant, technical expert at ProGARM, explains how your team can avoid the dangers of complacency.

Technology – is it a friend or a foe?

In recent years there have been huge advances in the technology available to detect circuitry faults. These developments mean that it is now possible to identify a short circuit and automatically trip a switchgear to avoid an Arc Flash incident within just fractions of a second.

While such highly effective safety devices are welcomed developments, these advances also pave the way for increased complacency when it comes to further protection. Understandably, the introduction of such technologies means that some workers could be lulled into thinking Arc Flash risks are now mitigated, and no longer a serious threat.

However, no matter how innovative the technologies, with the ever-present risk of a malfunction, it’s vital that teams are still protected by appropriate PPE to provide potentially life-saving protection in the event of a technology failure.

Last line of defence

Even working around low voltages has the potential to cause an Arc Flash incident which could burn an operative’s skin within fractions of a second, meaning PPE really is the last line of defence for workers. Reaching temperatures of up to 35,000ºF, more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun, the extreme heat can instantly burn unprotected operatives, even when situated five or six metres away from the Arc Flash event. Treatment for those that survive an incident can require years of skin grafts, hospital stays and rehabilitation – they may never recover sufficiently to regain their lifestyle, so it’s safe to say that wearing appropriate PPE is key when it comes to Arc Flash safety.

Know your safety standards

Getting to grips with all the standards and legislation you have to comply with isn’t the most interesting of tasks, but it is crucial. Last year, a new version of IEC 61482-1-1 was published, changing the way Arc Flash garments are tested. ELIM is the new cal/cm2 measurement and it’s the point at which there is 0% second-degree burn probability at that incident energy level. ATPV measures the incident energy level at which there’s a 50% probability of second-degree burns.

Under the new testing, a product could now have a lower ELIM compared with its ATPV rating, despite it being the same garment. This means that, to achieve 8cal ELIM protection, wearers may be required to wear Arc Flash base layers underneath their outer PPE, to increase the layers of Arc Flash protection, or wear a heavier garment to provide the ELIM value if required.

If an organisation has performed a risk assessment and concluded that operatives must wear PPE with an 8cal rating, then it’s important to clarify whether this needs to be 8cal ELIM, or 8cal ATPV, to avoid operatives wearing an insufficient level of protection.

Download ProGARM’s guide explaining the recent changes to the IEC 61482-2 standard here.

Inherent or treated fabrics?

The two phrases regularly used when shopping for appropriate PPE clothing are ‘treated fabric’ and ‘inherent fabric’. To provide the most comprehensive protection, the material used to create the garments should have inherent, rather than treated, fabric to guarantee a long garment life in terms of its protective qualities. Inherent fabric refers to material which has fire retardant properties as part of its natural make-up. In other words, they needn’t undergo a chemical process to become flame-retardant, as the polymers which make up the clothing are inherently so.

Treated fabric, on the other hand, is made from fibres which are not flame retardant by nature but have undergone a chemical process to add a fire-resistance quality to them. The protection given by a treated fabric relies on that treatment not being degraded or worn off in any way during its lifetime. However, washing or long-term use can reduce the protection these safety garments offer, which is why this type of clothing is generally cheaper.

However, it’s not just the fabric that needs to be Arc Flash resistant, to provide the ultimate protection, garments should have every stitch, button, popper, zip and press-stud as flame-resistant to provide enhanced and effective Arc Flash protection as well as durability.

More information on how you can protect your workforce and receive a free consultation can be found here.

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