In the wake of updates to NFPA 70E, consensus standards continue to reinforce the importance of protecting your workforce through a systematic approach to risk assessment. Utilizing the hierarchy of risk controls, employers work to foster an environment prioritizing safety and wellness, with AR (arc-rated)/FR (flame resistant) personal protective equipment (PPE) serving as the final layer of defense in combating arc flash hazard.
The developments in NFPA 70E point to PPE usage as a matter of compliance, whereby employers and employees share a measure of responsibility in specifying and utilizing PPE day in and day out on the job. The protection value is undisputed—wearing appropriate PPE in the face of an arc flash oftentimes can make the difference between life-altering hospitalizations and walking away from an incident. AR/FR protective apparel incorporates self-extinguishing and insulating fabric properties so that, after an arc flash incident, total body burn injury is significantly mitigated.
AR/FR PPE has two primary roles in mitigating burn injury: to self-extinguish in order to significantly reduce the time in the thermal exposure, and to insulate and help protect against high percentages of second- and third-degree body burns. By mitigating body burn injuries, the probability of burn injury survival is increased substantially.
A New Era of PPE
PPE has been a part of industrial safety protocols for years, but in many respects, the PPE of 20 years ago bears little resemblance to the PPE of today. Backed by innovation in textile manufacturing, AR/FR fabrics are helping to promote a ‘want-to-wear’ PPE experience—ushering in an era of less cumbersome, more relevant protective wear. These advancements help to create a user-driven experience with emphasis on style, comfort and color:
• By accounting for fit and styling, PPE garments can meet the wearer where they are—tailored to men or women, and boasting the styling of street-wear clothing. Offering a variety of styles and fits allow for workers to select what is best for their task or lifestyle.
• Blended fabrics are providing multi-hazard protection without sacrificing comfort, thanks to breakthroughs in engineered textile technologies. These blends are able to wick moisture, stretch and bend with workers on the move, and provide comfort and mobility akin to street clothing. Branded innovative blends are helping to do away with the constricted feel of stiff work clothing.
• Finally, improvement in color processes enhance company branding and corporate image opportunities for all types of AR/FR fabrics. With these process advancements, AR/FR fabrics can offer a range of color options that meet performance standards, withstand laundering needs, and provide aesthetic appeal to those who wear PPE.
The important thing to remember is that these advances in engineered AR/FR fabrics exceed protection standards with guaranteed flame resistance while conforming to the looks of non-FR clothing. The developments also help support a trending conversation centered around task-based versus daily wear PPE.
Minimizing Human Error
At its core, task-based programs are structured around specific job functions and look to specify appropriate PPE in accordance with said function. Arc flash protection is directly linked to whether PPE is worn and worn correctly. Workers don the appropriate gear prior to beginning a specific task and once completed, are able to remove the PPE.
By contrast, daily wear PPE garments are worn throughout the workday and require few additional steps to provide full arc flash protection. The garments are arc-rated and flame resistant, and would provide protection in the event a worker encounters an arc flash hazard.
In terms of practicality, task-based PPE may seem like the best approach; yet in application, task-based poses a number of problems. First and foremost, task-based PPE is heavily dependent upon the worker’s ability to analyze risks and make accurate judgment calls. Accurate risk assessments must be made at all times in order for the worker to be protected, and the unfortunate reality is that workers may make incorrect risk assessments or become desensitized to risks in their profession. In the latest edition of NFPA 70E (2018), human error is now referenced as part of the risk assessment procedure, as detailed in Article 110.1 (H)(2). Human error precursors such as stress, assumptions and complacency can lead to inconsistent task-based PPE use, and we know that task-based PPE only offers protection when it is worn and worn correctly.
Daily wear PPE garments deliver consistent and guaranteed protection with each wear for the life of the garment, when made with a reputable AR/FR fabric and when properly maintained. Protection in the form of shirts, pants, outerwear and more all can be classified as daily wear AR/FR clothing, and can protect workers from many hazards they come into contact with on the job. There is usually no additional step in terms of ‘donning’ protective clothing, in many instances. The need for proper body PPE risk assessment is also diminished greatly because a worker is always wearing daily wear PPE. Of course, additional PPE may be required for head, face, hands, or feet, and body PPE layering may be required based on arc-rating requirements for specific higher energy electrical tasks.
Advancements in AR/FR fabric are allowing for easier adoption of daily wear, and the consensus standard conversations surrounding PPE further support the move to a daily wear program. While the investment may be greater initially, in the long run, the consistent protection offered by daily wear PPE reduces catastrophic burn injury risk and makes advocating for daily wear programs powerfully relevant.
Another factor to consider in adopting a daily wear PPE program is the potential for increased efficiencies. Task-based programs feature bulky PPE—usually items that are not worn for longer than absolutely necessary. In every hazardous situation throughout a worker’s day, a worker must analyze a risk, determine if PPE is necessary, correctly put on said PPE, complete a task, then remove and store the task-based PPE. Multiply that process throughout the day, and a worker’s ability to complete his or her role in a timely—and safe—manner becomes more time-intensive and arduous.
Daily wear can streamline this process tremendously. While hazard assessments will always be part of the job, daily wear can help eliminate donning and removing PPE throughout the day, as many daily wear items are appropriately rated for typical arc flash hazards. Even if the situation requires additional protection, those enhanced PPE items can be layered directly over the daily wear, and usually are not as bulky and cumbersome. Industry-required protection is worn throughout the day, with little to no impact on the worker’s ability to complete their job.
Harnessing the power of technological developments and improved on-site efficiencies, the case for daily wear is greatly strengthened in an age where worker safety and morale are all increasingly paramount. Workers are able to utilize industry-proven protection in ways that mirror current clothing trends—diminishing the bulky, uncomfortable protection pieces of the past. They also are able to see increased efficiencies on the job through a more streamlined PPE approach, which can lead to greater productivity and greatly-reduced risk assessment error.
Implementing a daily wear PPE program can provide your company’s workforce with a renewed safety purpose, enhanced image and improved morale for the benefit of the entire organization.
Scott Francis is the Midwest regional market manager for Westex by Milliken, a supplier of flame-resistant fabric. Involved in the safety industry since 1991, he has extensive experience with protective apparel fabrics and apparel programs. He participates in a number of industry organizations and frequently addresses trade associations regarding relevant safety topics.