When do I need to wear flame-resistant coveralls?
While engineering and administrative controls should always be your first line of defense against workplace hazards, PPE is an essential part of keeping workers safe. And when there’s a risk of flame or fire, flame-resistant (FR) PPE is the only option (see 5 Key Things to Know About Flame Resistant Clothing to learn more).
Flame-resistant coveralls are a category of safety coveralls made of materials that can self-extinguish when the ignition source is removed. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not always clear when that type of protective equipment is necessary. So, let's take a moment to clear that up.
When FR Coveralls Are Required
FR coveralls are designed to protect workers from two key hazards: flash fires and electric arc flashes.
In essence, then, any workplace where these hazards may be a risk to employees requires the use of fire-resistant coveralls and other gear. Industries and jobs where flash fires and electric arc flashes are common include:
- Industrial electrician
- Road workers
- Energy testing technicians
- Industries that create combustible materials as a product or by-product
- Workplaces and job sites where flammable gases/vapors or combustible dust might be present
To determine when your workers must wear FR coveralls, conduct a hazard assessment. This may include making reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy of any electric arc hazard to which an employee could be exposed and bringing in an expert to analyze the situation.
Standards to Follow
In accordance with OSHA standards, employees must wear FR clothing, including coveralls, in the following conditions:
- Exposure to contact with energized circuit parts operating at more than 600 volts
- There is the risk of an electric arc that could ignite flammable material in the work area and, in turn, the worker’s clothing
- Molten metal or electric arcs from faulted conductors in the work area could ignite the worker’s clothing
- The incident heat energy estimate exceeds 2.0 cal/cm2
Once you understand the conditions your employees are facing, you can make an educated decision about the level of protection necessary. The NFPA identified four hazard rating categories, which specify the level of arc flash protection clothing one must wear to protect against the identified hazards.
Hazard Risk Category
Minimum Required Arc Rating
FR shirt and FR pants or FR coveralls (1 layer)
Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants (1 or 2 layers)
Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants plus FR coveralls, or Cotton underwear plus two FR coveralls (2 or 3 layers)
Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants plus multilayer flash suit (3 or more layers)
Don't Take Any Chances
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s best to be over-prepared than under-prepared. It only takes one spark to turn a regular workday into an emergency. So, if you even suspect that there’s a risk of a flash fire or electric arc flash, donning FR coveralls that meet the minimum arc rating is essential.
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