Don’t play with fire – Arc Flash safety markings explained

When it comes to industrial safety, all of us understand the importance of wearing a hard hat, protective gloves or steel toe-capped boots. In fact, most employers wouldn’t dream of letting their teams on-site without adequate protection, and workers themselves are more than clued up when it comes to the latest safety requirements. However, the same can’t be said when it comes to the potentially fatal risk posed by Arc Flash – a relatively misunderstood, but extremely common type of electrical explosion facing sectors from utilities to industrial electrical, civil engineering and rail. Mark Lant, technical sales manager at ProGARM, explains just what an Arc Flash is, and what to look for to ensure your workforce is protected from the potentially fatal danger.

What is an Arc Flash?

Most of us in the safety industry are familiar with an arc – an electric luminous bridge formed in a gap between two electrodes – but its severity and danger is often overlooked. An Arc Flash occurs during a fault, or short circuit condition, which passes through an arc gap, and can result in devastating results if the correct equipment isn’t being worn.

Arc Flashes can occur for several reasons, and their frequency is somewhat alarming. From being initiated through accidental contact or equipment that is underrated for the available short circuit current, to contamination or deterioration and corrosion of equipment, these are just a few of the many causes of an arc – making the risks higher than many first think.

An Arc Flash incident has the potential to 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, which is hotter than the surface of the sun, the extreme heat can instantly burn unprotected operatives, evening 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.

What should you look for in PPE?

While many might think flame retardant (FR) PPE can also provide protection in an Arc Flash incident, there are in fact separate safety standards for Arc Flash clothing, which go further than the ones for fire resistance, meaning that the level of protection provided by flame retardant clothing does not match that of Arc Flash resistant PPE. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure your team will be kitted out in Arc Flash PPE, rather than FR PPE.

This is because Arc Flash protective clothing is designed to not only protect you from fire, but from the thermal energy generated by an Arc Flash, which can also cause external and internal burns. In fact, fabric used in Arc resistant garments must meet higher tear resistance and tensile strength than those used for fire-resistant clothing.

What is IEC 61482?

IEC 61482 is a standard that covers PPE against the thermal dangers of an Arc Flash. Within this, the IEC 61482-2 standard covers various aspects of the garment design, and is a requirement for selling garments for Arc Flash PPE within the EU.
While the threads used for the structural seams must be fire-resistant, under IEC 61482, Arc Flash resistant clothing has various standards that separate it from fire-resistant clothing. Each arc-resistant garment must be designed in a way to allow the wearer to quickly remove the item; must always have long sleeves rather than short sleeves; and feature no exposed metal.

Therefore it’s important to look for the IEC 61482-2 symbol on the garments, which indicates that the clothing complies with the requirements outlined under the standard.
For more information on how to keep your team fully protected against the risks of Arc Flash, visit: https://www.progarm.com/arc-flash-protection/

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