PPE Changes for Arc Flash Continue to Drive Market

by Hugh Hoagland, ArcWear and e-Hazard

Since 1994, Arc flash standards have helped guide PPE development, but the big market drivers were OSHA 1910.269 which moved electric utilities toward arc rated clothing and, in 2000, NFPA 70E which moved all electrical workers toward arc rated clothing. The development of ASTM testing standards gave manufacturers specific goals for protection levels and a means to limit liability and fairly promote their respective competitive advantages. The first IEEE 1584 had three formulas for arc flash calculation, however, the new IEEE 1584 will have 45 formulas for calculating arc flash energy in electrical systems to match arc rated (AR) garments for work. The NEW OSHA 1910.269 and 1926.950-969 have now made the use of AR garments law for electric utilities by April 1, 2015. This growth in understanding of arc flash phenomena has been exponential as has the development of AR PPE options. In 1994, there were approximately 8 fabrics that were commonly called “Arc Flash Protective”. In December of 2014, approximately 60 AR fabrics were tested.

With the updating of NFPA 70E 2015 and the new OSHA standards, the opportunity for arc flash manufacturers has never been greater and the benefit to workers has never been more. The drop in fatalities since 1994 is illustrated below.

Arcflash

The reason for the drop in fatalities can be traced to two primary changes in the U.S. electrical workforce. First, more electrical workers are using voltage-rated gloves for all electrical work. And, second, more electrical workers wear AR daily-wear and use AR suits for high-risk operations. This has led to substantial market growth for AR gear.

The primary drivers of this market growth are as follows. .

  1. Work Practice Standards with PPE Requirements. NFPA 70E drives work procedures with practical requirements on when to wear PPE. This standard is updated every three years with the latest version being 2015. OSHA considers compliance with this standard to meet all OSHA electrical requirements which can be somewhat unclear and less prescriptive.
  2. Effective PPE Standards with Links to Work Practices. ASTM and ANSI standards are cited by NFPA 70E and OSHA so garments and other PPE and tools must also meet standards.
  3. Legislation and Lawsuits Drive Companies to Comply. OSHA citations and many successful lawsuits on electrician incidents have driven companies into compliance.
  4. Union Support of the Work Standards. The IBEW and the Pipefitters Union have both offered training for their workers on NFPA 70E and OSHA Standards.
  5. Moderate Testing Costs and Consulting Support Have Driven Innovation. Innovation in Flash fire fabric pales in comparison to that of arc flash fabric due to the diversity of the arc flash market and differences in testing costs between the two.. Third Party Testing (ISO 17025 accredited) is the norm for arc flash. Because of this, there has been no need for Third Party Certification. This has kept testing costs lower allowing large, medium and small manufacturers to compete, with little to no counterfeit products.
  6. International Interest in Using US Standards or Developing ISO/IEC Standards. New AR standards in IEC are being adopted around the world, driven by the US standards development. China, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and the whole EU are developing or maturing their AR standards making the market larger and level.

Unlike flash fire hazards, arc flash levels can be calculated and posted on equipment. This makes the selection of proper PPE straightforward and almost always totally effective in preventing burns. Flash fire garments are required to meet NFPA 2112 which has one level of protection. These garments must be worn at all times, and depending on the size and nature of the flash fire may be less effective than the arc flash method of matching the garment to the hazard level.

New manufacturers and smaller manufacturers have driven innovation in arc flash protection. These technologies are often adopted by the larger manufacturers. This can be seen from face shields to ear plugs to fall protection, all started by small manufacturers who either made these new products under license for larger manufacturers, or were purchased by the larger manufacturers.

From the research projects, funded by end users, in the past few years opportunities have been identified as potential new arc flash products. Some of the items which are not currently arc rated but used in potential arc conditions are:

  • Respirators/SCBA’s,
  • Earmuff for hearing protection,
  • Hardhats,
  • Hardhat liners,
  • Socks,
  • Non-Leather Shoes,
  • Lighter weight fabrics,
  • Disposable garments for chemical and oil exposures (ASTM F1506 allows rating disposables but FR zipper requirements in NFPA 70E have thwarted efforts to label the garments),
  • Ear protection inserts (one has been tested and marketed).
  • Quick changing clear face shields like those used in welding
  • Gloves for multi-threat protection (cut, arc, chemical and shock).

With so many market opportunities and a strong research and development interest in arc flash, the coming years should be a good time to grow AR opportunities in all markets.

Hugh Hoagland is an associate member of ISEA and Owner of ArcWear and e-Hazard, companies specializing in testing and training on electrical safety. He may be reached at hugh@e-hazard.com.