Anyone who works with electricity knows that you have to dress the part. The elements at work are extremely dangerous – it’s not just electrocution that is a worry. Electrical current can cause explosions and start fires. Every electrician knows that flame resistant clothing is a must.
Flame resistant clothing does not protect workers from electrocution, but what it does do is protect workers from being engulfed in flames. There’s quite a bit to know about this clothing, so let’s take a look at the most important facts you need to know about FR clothing.
Flame Resistant Categories
The NFPA has four Flame Resistant (FR) hazardous risk category levels, based on the energy delivering capability of the electrical equipment being worked on. If there is an explosion, or an arc fault of a certain level, certain amounts of heat are delivered at certain distances.
- Category 1: This provides a minimum arc rating of 4 cal/cm2, and typically consists of an FR shirt and FR pants or FR coveralls.
- Category 2: This provides a minimum arc rating of 8 cal/cm2, and as 1 or 2 layers, typically consists of cotton underwear plus an FR shirt and FR pants.
- Category 3: This provides a minimum arc rating of 25 cal/cm2, and as 2 or 3 layers, typically consists of cotton underwear plus an FR shirt and FR pants, plus FR coveralls over top; or cotton underwear plus two sets of FR coveralls.
- Category 4: This provides a minimum arc rating of 40 cal/cm2, and consists of 3 or more layers that includes cotton underwear, FR shirt and FR pants, and a multilayer flash suit.
Choosing the correct category is important, and you must always err on the safe side – if you are facing an arc rating of 24 cal/cm2, you’ll want to opt for Category 3 protection instead Category 2.
Types of Flame Resistant Clothing
When you’re checking out FR clothing, you’ll run into plenty of different types.
Flame resistant clothing is made of material that is tough and durable, and while it will ignite when exposed to flame, it is self-extinguishing. It is inherently designed to resist flames and embers. This means it will not continue to burn, and the flames will not spread throughout the garment.
Flame retardant clothing is generally made of cotton and cotton-blend materials – materials that are not designed to resist flames and embers. However, these are chemically treated and coated to imbue flame-resistant qualities.
Arc rated clothing protects workers from electrical arc flash hazards and is designed to resist ignition in the first place. It is the highest resistance of all FR clothing, and is recommend as the equipment of choice for any electrical worker. It’s expensive and bulky, but it’s worth it.
Maintenance of Flame Resistant Clothing
Taking care of your FR clothing does require some specific maintenance – you can’t wash and dry it like you would just any clothing. Some companies might hire a cleaning service that specializes in washing and maintaining FR clothing, or you might have to take it home to do it yourself.
- DO read the label and follow the instructions to the exact wording.
- DON’T use bleach, as it can reduce the level of flame resistance in the material.
- DO inspect your FR clothing for holes, stretching, or other visible defects on a regular basis.
- DO NOT use starches, peroxides, or other chemicals in the cleaning process.
- DO wash in small loads
- DO NOT use fabric softener
- DO remove from dryer while damp or line-dry to reduce potential shrinkage
Manufacturers generally provide replacement schedules for their FR clothing. Even if you are maintaining it at a high level, the flame resistance can fade. This is especially likely with flame retardant clothing, where the chemical coating may dissipate after a certain amount of washes. Even if it looks fine, follow the manufacturers recommendations.
Aside from FR clothing, high voltage gloves are an important piece of PPE for working with electrical equipment. These are rubber insulating gloves that help to prevent getting shocked if you suddenly become part of a circuit. The rubber gloves should be worn as part of a three-glove system. The first layer should be liners that provide warmth and comfort, or that act as moisture wicks to keep hands dry. The second piece is the high-voltage glove itself. Finally, leather protectors should be worn over the rubber gloves to prevent cutting the rubber material and affecting its capabilities.
High-voltage gloves have different classifications than flame resistant clothing. These classifications spell out the maximum rating of each type – it never hurts to have a higher Class when you are working with lower voltage:
- Class 00 — Maximum use voltage of 500 volts AC/proof tested to 2,500 volts AC and 10,000 volts DC
- Class 0 — Maximum use voltage of 1,000 volts AC/proof tested to 5,000 volts AC and 20,000 volts DC
- Class 1 — Maximum use voltage of 7,500 volts AC/proof tested to 10,000 volts AC and 40,000 volts DC
- Class 2 — Maximum use voltage of 17,000 volts AC/proof tested to 20,000 volts AC and 50,000 volts DC
- Class 3 — Maximum use voltage of 26,500 volts AC/proof tested to 30,000 volts AC and 60,000 volts DC
- Class 4 — Maximum use voltage of 36,000 volts AC/proof tested to 40,000 volts AC and 70,000 volts DC
There is also the question of whether they are resistant to ozone or not – gloves labelled as Type I are not resistant to ozone, while Type II gloves are.
Just like FR clothing, high voltage gloves need special care and maintenance. They should be inspected for tears, holes, ozone cuts, and other issues before every use. They should also be inspected for swelling that can stem from chemical contamination, specifically exposure to petroleum products. Keeping them in specially-designed glove bags, in a dry and climate-controlled place, is the best option.
High-voltage gloves also need to be tested before being put into service, and then periodically, to make sure they retain their electrical resistance. They must be tested before first issue, and then every six months afterwards to ensure the insulation is as it should be. You can find your nearest testing lab here.
Working with electricity requires a fair amount of effort to ensure that you are safe from harm, but it needs to be done. It’s safety that you should never skimp on, and that you should never ignore – electrical accidents in 2015 claimed 134 lives, with 82 of those being from the construction industry. So talk with our team at PowerPak to find the right FR clothing and high-voltage equipment to outfit your team, and make sure they get home safe at night!
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