When working around electrical equipment, workers must be protected from arc flash hazards. In most situations, this means head-to-toe protection. Employees need to wear the right gear that will protect their head, face, and neck. But there's a lot to consider when choosing electrical arc flash head protection. This can make it a bit of a challenge.
Options for Arc Flash Head Protection
There are a number of ways to achieve compliance. A full risk assessment will help you determine a path forward. In an environment where shrapnel is a hazard, workers have two options:
- FR balaclava and arc-rated face shield
- "Beekeeper" style
Both options come in a variety of styles and materials, and offer different levels of protection. Remember to choose the option that will best protect employees based on the hazards, environment, and specific application.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these choices.
FR Balaclava and Face Shield
This is a common choice for workers of all industries. OSHA deems this option an acceptable use for protection levels of up to 20 cal/cm2. However, NFPA 70E only recommends the balaclava and face shield combination for up to 12 cal/cm2.
Some workers prefer this option because the face shield is not fully enclosed. The additional airflow makes it more comfortable. It also gives the user more mobility than a fully enclosed hood.
Beekeeper Style Arc Flash Hood
The hood is an ideal solution for optimal arc flash head protection. It’s a fully enclosed system that can be pulled on and off all at once. Worker’s don’t have to worry about finding multiple pieces of equipment to protect them.
But, some employees find these traditional style hoods to be heavy, hot, and uncomfortable.
The benefits of hoods are that they can be used in just about every environment. Hoods can protect workers in situations that require more than 20 cal/cm2 protection.
Problems with Traditional Head Protection
Traditional arc flash head protection certainly does the job for protecting employees. But, often this equipment misses the mark when it comes to comfort and functionality. Some of their features can even create additional hazards like poor visibility and heat stress.
Recent advancements in arc flash technology offer solutions to these problems. Below is a summary of these issues, and suggestions on how to overcome them.
Historically, arc flash face shields have always had a greenish tint to them. The coloring is a result of the dye used to coat the face shield and protect users from infrared light and energy from an arc flash. While such protection is obviously important, the coloring presents hazards of its own.
Color contrast is difficult to see through a green tint. Electrical workers often have to rely on their sense of color when identifying wires and other electrical components. Yellow and white are particularly difficult to distinguish through green.
Traditional green face shields also reduce visibility in low-light work areas. This can be a problem in confined spaces and industrial settings.
New technology has been developed that absorbs dangerous infrared light without needing to use a green dye. This effectively resolves the poor visibility and color contrast issues listed above.
Highly transparent arc flash face shields allow workers to increase their safety and productivity, at the same time. They create a greater range of visibility and light transmission. With this new technology, workers won’t be tempted to raise their face shield visor in order to see better.
Traditional hoods provide little to no ventilation. Bulky, non-breathable equipment can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses. Hard working employees often end up increasing their body temperatures, especially when weighed down with heavy gear and clothing.
If the body cannot cool itself, it can go into heat stress. If not treated immediately, heat stress can lead to a heat stroke. Both illnesses can be highly dangerous.
Using the lightest available fabrics can help reduce problems of overheating. Lightweight materials (that still meet the requirements) can make a big difference. Breathable fabrics enable the body to adequately cool itself. This is especially important in hot working environments.
Innovative solutions are now available to help overcome the problems associated with heat stress during electrical work activities.
Some hoods come with a revolutionary fabric that contains inherently flame-resistant fibers. These lightweight hoods are made with OPF fibers that offer thermal insulation, meaning they don’t allow heat to pass through the garment and reach the skin. This high level of thermal protection results in fabrics that are 50% lighter than other options of the same protective value.
Remember, electrical workers need 360 degree protection. Arc flash head protection is often equipped with a “chin cup” that helps to protect the worker in a vulnerable location. Traditional arc flash head protection features solid, or green-tinted chin cups. This results in the same hazards mentioned in the visibility section above. It’s not very functional for workers when they are doing a job that requires them to look down.
Chin cups on the new face shields are highly transparent. It makes life easier for electrical employees who need to look down at their work. Scratch-resistant coatings are another factor to consider when choosing head protection, as they increase product longevity.
Each of the problems listed above can contribute to worker discomfort. Dark, heavy hoods and face shields are not ideal for optimal work. Uncomfortable equipment can frustrate employees and cause them to cut corners, lose their focus, or forego using their arc flash head protection. It can, in other words, make them reluctant to comply with the rules and regulations.
New, revolutionary hoods exist with additional features that improve comfort and workability.
When workers aren’t in the hazard zone, they can lift the front of the face shield up to easily get some fresh air when needed. They don’t have to pull the entire hood off. Workers simply latch and secure the shield before returning to a hazardous work zone.
The improved hoods also feature ventilation that doubles as auditory ports for improved two-way communication.
Some of the new hoods feature designs that are more streamlined and may include unique details such as knit shoulder gussets. This improved form, fit, and function enables workers to maintain a greater range of motion while working. It’s a lot easier for them to get the job done in equipment that doesn’t restrict their every move, or weigh them down. The added flexibility goes a long way in improving comfort for the employee.
Increasing comfort also increases worker compliance. In turn, this increases the overall safety of electrical workers and entire teams of employees. You really don’t have to sacrifice comfort in order to meet and maintain OSHA compliance.
Benefits of New Technology
It’s important to consider details like comfort and functionality when selecting arc flash head protection. After all, you want your workers to be willing and able to do their jobs while wearing such gear.
Choosing equipment that has the technology to overcome these challenges is highly beneficial. It will protect workers from electrical arc flash hazards, and they’ll be more likely to put it on when they need it most. Avoid the problem of having workers complain about the gear you put them in by providing them with an option that meets their needs and keeps them safe.
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