Every day, industrial workers who work with electricity are at risk of experiencing an arc blast or arc flash, both of which can cause severe burns or even death. Fire resistant (FR) clothing protects workers from these dangers, but it is often bulky and uncomfortable. As a result, many neglect to wear it, which means they are risking their lives should an arc blast/flash occur.

To encourage more workers to comply with fire resistant clothing rules, Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Magazine has come up with a comprehensive FR layering system that is both protective and comfortable. The publication hopes safety managers will take note and encourage their employees to always wear safe clothing.

What is an Arc Blast/Flash?

As explained by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, arc blasts/flashes are explosions caused by “high voltage differences across a gap between conductors.” Temperatures of these blasts have reached as high as 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to The Electricity Forum, a publication focused on the North American electric industry, arc blasts/flashes cause about 5-10 injuries or fatalities every day in the U.S. Throughout North America, more than 2,000 electrical workers end up in burn centers every year as a direct result of an arc blast/flash.

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OHS’s Clothing Layering System

The layering system proposed by OHS involves three layers: base, insulation and weather protection. The focus of the first two layers is breathability rather than thickness. When the material doesn’t cause excessive sweat, cold or discomfort, workers are more likely to keep it on. For proper breathability, the two layers should be made of fire resistant material that is a combination of hydrophobic and hydrophilic materials. OHS recommended avoiding clothing made from a lot of cotton, as cotton can hold in extra moisture and cause a worker to get cold when taking a break.

The final layer is on the outside, and OHS said workers will be more willing to wear it if it looks good. This means safety managers need to consider fashion as well as material. Otherwise, a worker may sacrifice his or her safety by wearing a more visually appealing, non-compliant outer layer. OHS urged safety managers to choose something that is both compliant and helps workers feel good.

Anything that exposes skin places the worker in greater danger. Even more so, a worker may think it’s OK to wear one non-FR layer because he or she is protected by the others, however, that is not the case. A non-FR outer layer can easily ignite. A non-FR under layer can melt to the skin.

OSH’s clothing layering system is designed to discourage dangerous choices. When clothing is fashionable, workers won’t be tempted to wear something else. When it is comfortable and breathable, workers won’t feel tempted to roll up, unbutton, or unzip anything.

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