This report provides information on arc-rated clothing intended for protection against electric arcs. It does not address other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) that may be necessary for safe electrical work, including insulated gloves or sleeves, face shields, eye or hearing protection, or specialized tools.
Persons who work around energized lines or electrical equipment are exposed to several hazards, including arc flash. An arc flash is an unexpected, sudden release of heat and light energy produced by electricity traveling through air, usually caused by accidental contact between live conductors. It is an extremely high temperature [up to 35,000°F (19,400°C)] discharge produced by an electrical fault in air.
Electrical arcing gives off thermal radiation (heat) and intense light, which can cause severe burns. Several factors affect the degree of injury, including skin color, area of skin exposed, and type of clothing worn. A burn can become much worse if clothing melts to the skin, or if it continues to burn after ignition.
Although conditions to sustain an arc are more favorable at voltages above 480 volts, there is no safe limit of voltage or current encountered in common power systems below which an arc cannot occur, and arc flash injuries have been reported to occur at voltages as low as 120 volts (UL, Campbell and Dini).
An arc can also cause many of the copper and aluminum components in electrical equipment to melt. These droplets of molten metal can be blasted great distances by the pressure wave created when the surrounding air is heated. Although these droplets harden rapidly, they can still be hot enough to cause serious burns or cause ordinary clothing to catch fire.
It has been estimated that five to ten arc flashes in the United States occur each day, resulting in 7,000 burn injuries each year and 2,000 admissions to burn centers from severe arc flash injuries (UL). Electrical accidents produce more hospital admissions due to arc flash burns than electrical shocks (OSHA, 2014). Hazards from electric arc flash also apply to bystanders or non-essential personnel who may be too close to the arc.
Prior to the selection and use of arc flash personal protective equipment (PPE), a risk assessment should be performed to determine the controls that are needed to perform the job safely. A hierarchy of controls, adopted by NFPA, consists of the following measures ranging from elimination of the hazard to use of PPE:
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls
- Personal protective equipment
Awareness, administrative controls, and PPE are the least preferred methods of control. For example, de-energizing live parts before they are worked on or near by means of lockout procedures can significantly reduce the likelihood of arc flash burn injury by reducing employee exposure to electrical hazards. If the parts cannot be de-energized, other methods of hazard control include isolating live circuits by use of shields, barriers, or insulation. Working safe distances from live circuits and use of PPE are other control measures, but they do not eliminate potential exposure to the hazard.
PPE, including arc-rated clothing, can provide an additional safeguard against the hazards posed by electrical arcs. Arc-rated clothing is designed to resist ignition and to protect against the thermal energy released by the arc. However, it does not offer protection against the physical injury that may occur from an arc blast, a high-pressure sound wave, which can accompany an arc flash.
This report provides information on selecting and using arc-rated clothing. It does not address other types of PPE that may be necessary for safe electrical work, including insulated gloves or sleeves, face shields, footwear, eye or hearing protection, or other electrical protective equipment.
Types and characteristics of electric arc flash protective clothing
Arc-rated clothing is clothing that may ignite when exposed to an electric arc, but burning will stop in the absence of the ignition source. Electric arc protective clothing includes items, such as shirts, pants, coveralls, hoods, jackets, rainwear, and parkas.
Arc flash protective clothing is usually made out of flame-retardant-treated cotton, cotton-synthetic blends, synthetics, or leather. Some synthetics, such as certain types of aramids and benzimidazoles, are inherently flame resistant. Other clothing may be chemically treated for flame resistance.
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International standard ASTM F 1506-18, Standard Performance Specification for Flame Resistant and Electric Arc Rated Protective Clothing Worn by Workers Exposed to Flames and Electric Arcs, is the primary U.S. product safety standard for arc flash protective clothing. The standard provides specifications for testing clothing with an electric arc. Based upon the test results, arc ratings are determined for the clothing based on its resistance to the amount of incident thermal energy to which it is exposed from the arc. The rating assigned is based on the estimated onset of second-degree burns, or formation of holes (breakopen), whichever is lower. No melting of the clothing at any temperature during the test is allowed.
The arc rating is expressed in calories per square centimeter (cal/cm2) or joules per square centimeter (J/cm2). The arc rating is an important parameter to look at when choosing PPE for protection against electric arc flashes. Clothing is available with arc ratings from approximately four to greater than 50 cal/cm2 (16.7 to 209 J/cm2). The arc rating can be found on the clothing label, per the labeling requirements of ASTM F 1506.
Clothing is sometimes referred to as offering PPE Category 1-4 protection. These criteria come from various tables in NFPA 70E® -2018, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, published by the NFPA (see section entitled “Selection of arc flash protective clothing” below).
Flash fire vs. electric arc protective clothing
It is important not to confuse protective clothing designed for use against flash fires with clothing that has been designed for use against electric arcs.
Flame-resistant clothing intended for flash fires is only interchangeable with arc-rated clothing if the manufacturer supplies a label or certification information that the clothing is also compliant with NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. Substitution of a flame-resistant garment should not be considered for a NFPA 70E garment without certification information to allow such substitution. Evidence to show that the garments are compliant with the relevant standards is required.
OSHA requirements for selection of electric arc protective clothing
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides requirements that address the use of PPE of any type, not just body protection. These general requirements for use of all PPE are listed in OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1910.132 and are part of the OSHA General Industry PPE Standards.
OSHA’s general requirements state that before using any PPE, the employer must conduct a hazard assessment, for all job tasks, to determine what hazards are present. Based upon the results, the employer must select the appropriate PPE, ensure that it fits properly, provide training to employees on how to use it, ensure that employees wear it, and communicate the results of the hazard assessment to affected employees. In addition, the employer must prepare a written certification verifying that the required hazard assessments have been completed.
See Engineering and Safety (E&S) Occupational Safety Report OS-12-39, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Hazard Assessments,and Client Handout CH-50-188, Personal Protective Equipment Hazard Assessment, for additional information. (available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S — sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings).
The standard regulating electric power generation, transmission, and distribution, 29 CFR 1910.269 - Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, covers electric arc flash. Specifically, paragraph (l)(8) of § 1910.269(I)(8) addresses protecting employees from flames and electric arcs. This paragraph requires employers to:
(1) Assess the workplace for flame and electric-arc hazards (paragraph (l)(8)(i));
(2) estimate the available heat energy from electric arcs to which employees would be exposed (paragraph (l)(8)(ii));
(3) ensure that employees wear clothing that will not melt, or ignite and continue to burn, when exposed to flames or the estimated heat energy (paragraph (l)(8)(iii)); and
(4) ensure that employees wear flame-resistant clothing 1 and protective clothing and other protective equipment that has an arc rating greater than or equal to the available heat energy under certain conditions (paragraphs (l)(8)(iv) and (l)(8)(v)).
Appendix E of the standard contains information to help employers estimate available heat energy as required by § 1910.269(l)(8)(ii), select protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating suitable for the available heat energy as required by § 1910.269(l)(8)(v), and ensure that employees do not wear flammable clothing that could lead to burn injury as addressed by §§ 1910.269(l)(8)(iii) and (l)(8)(iv).
The standards regulating construction of electric power transmission and distribution lines, OSHA Subpart V - Electric Power Transmission and Distribution, cover electric arc flash. Specifically, paragraph 29 CFR 1926.960(g) addresses protecting employees from flames and electric arcs. This paragraph requires employers to:
(1) Assess the workplace for flame and electric-arc hazards (paragraph (g)(1));
(2) estimate the available heat energy from electric arcs to which employees would be exposed (paragraph (g)(2));
(3) ensure that employees wear clothing that will not melt, or ignite and continue to burn, when exposed to flames or the estimated heat energy (paragraph (g)(3)); and
(4) ensure that employees wear flame-resistant clothing and protective clothing and other protective equipment that has an arc rating greater than or equal to the available heat energy under certain conditions (paragraphs (g)(4) and (g)(5)).
Appendix E of the standard contains information to help employers estimate available heat energy as required by § 1926.960(g)(2), select protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating suitable for the available heat energy as required by § 1926.960(g)(5), and ensure that employees do not wear flammable clothing that could lead to burn injury as addressed by §§ 1926.960(g)(3) and (g)(4).
Subpart S of the OSHA general industry regulations, which covers electrical safety, was written prior to the time when flame-resistant clothing was widely available and does not require flame-resistant clothing. Instead, employers must take other steps to protect employees, such as using barriers or insulated tools. There is a 2006 compliance interpretation, which states that use of flame-resistant clothing as supplemental protection in case the primary safeguard fails, might qualify the person for advantageous treatment in any enforcement action.
Hazard analysis and PPE selection
While the OSHA regulations do not reference NFPA 70E, this national consensus standard provides detailed guidance on the selection and use of PPE for protection against electric arc flashes. However, OSHA has stated that NFPA 70E can be used by OSHA and employers as a guide in making hazard analyses and selecting control measures.
Arc flash risk assessment
Similar to the OSHA requirement to conduct a hazard assessment for the selection of PPE, NFPA 70E includes a requirement to conduct an arc flash risk assessment to assess the hazards and necessary controls, including the use of PPE, to perform the job safely. One component of the risk assessment is an incident energy analysis.
Two fundamental parameters are derived from the incident energy analysis — the arc flash protection boundary (AFPB) and the incident thermal energy to which a worker could be exposed. The level of PPE required to perform a specific task is based upon these two parameters.
- Arc flash protection boundary — The arc flash protection boundary (AFPB) is similar in concept to the “regulated area” found in many OSHA chemical-specific standards, which is defined by airborne concentrations above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for the specific chemical. Enter the regulated area, and PPE for that specific chemical must be worn. Cross the AFPB, and arc flash protective clothing is needed. NPFA 70E defines the AFPB as the distance at which a second-degree burn is likely to occur. The AFPB can be calculated using various methods described in NFPA 70E.
- Incident energy — The arc flash risk assessment includes an incident energy analysis, which determines the amount of thermal energy each worker could be exposed to if an arc occurred. The thermal energy received by the worker’s face and chest, while performing the specific job, is calculated in calories per square centimeter. If the hands or other parts of the body are placed closer to the possible source of an arc, then the incident thermal energy for these body parts is greater.
There are various methods outlined in NFPA 70E which can be used to conduct the incident energy analysis. For example, IEEE 1584, Guide for Performing Arc-Flash Hazard Calculations, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is one approach that can be used. An arc flash risk assessment involves a review of the power distribution and electrical equipment that is located at the site. Because the analysis can be complex, it must be performed by experienced, qualified personnel. It should be modified whenever there is a change in the configuration of the electrical equipment and reviewed at least once every five years even if there are no known changes.
Selection of arc flash protective clothing
NFPA 70E defines two primary ways to select arc flash PPE. One method is used if an incident energy analysis was conducted, and the other uses tables contained within NFPA 70E which classify tasks into PPE categories. A third, simplified method can be used for industrial facilities.
Selection based on incident energy analysis
If an incident energy analysis was conducted, the incident energy, which was calculated from the analysis, is used to select the appropriate PPE. If the incident energy is above 1.2 cal/cm2 (5 J/cm2), then arc-rated clothing must be worn — this is considered the threshold value for a second-degree burn. Arc-rated clothing with an arc rating equal to or higher than the calculated thermal incident energy is chosen. NFPA 70E, Table 130.5(G), provides guidance on how to select arc-rated clothing and other PPE based on the calculated incident energy.
Selection based on NFPA tables
If an incident energy analysis was not conducted, there is a simplified way to choose PPE using two tables contained in NFPA 70E.
- Table 130.7(C)(15)(a) lists various electrical equipment using alternating current (AC) at various voltages and currents, such as panelboards, switchboards, motor control centers, motor starters, switchgears, and other equipment. Table 130.7(C)(15)(b) lists various electrical equipment using direct current (DC) at various voltages and currents. For each equipment listing, the tables assign an Arc-Flash PPE Category ranging from 1 to 4 and an Arc-Flash Boundary. A rating of 1 represents the lowest hazard, and a rating of 4 represents the highest hazard.
- Table 130.7(C)(15)(c) lists the PPE required for each arc-flash PPE category. The table includes the minimum arc rating in cal/cm2 required for the protective clothing, the types of clothing required (shirt, pants, coveralls, etc.), as well as other PPE needed (e.g., hard hats, safety goggles, leather work shoes, gloves, and hearing protection) and whether this PPE must be arc rated.
If the table method is used, all of the tables, as well as the entire NFPA 70E standard, can be viewed online as a read-only document for free.
All of the tables in NFPA 70E are based upon certain assumptions and have numerous footnotes that must be read to ensure that the PPE selected is appropriate for the task. For this reason, the incident energy analysis method for selecting PPE is job-specific and preferred over the simplified table method. If the table method is used, reference must be made to the actual tables and notes in 70E.
“Informative Annex H: Guidance on Selection of Protective Clothing and Other Personal Protective Equipment” of NFPA 70E offers a simplified approach to PPE selection for industrial facilities with large and varying electrical systems. The majority of electrical tasks performed in such industrial facilities falls into arc-flash PPE categories 1 or 2. Workers who perform these tasks should be adequately protected if they wear everyday work clothing consisting of long-sleeve shirts and pants, or coveralls, all of which have a minimum arc rating of 8 cal/cm2 (33.47 J/cm2). For workers conducting tasks requiring arc-flash PPE Categories 3 or 4, a full arc flash suit should suffice. This might consist of arc-rated long-sleeve shirts, pants, coveralls, jacket, hood, full arc flash suit covering all parts of the body, etc. so that the total protection afforded by the system of clothing selected has a minimum arc rating of 40 cal/cm2 (167.36 J/cm2).
Layering of clothing
The required level of protection can be achieved by using a single arc-rated layer of clothing with the needed arc rating, such as an arc flash suit, or by using multiple layers or arc-rated clothing, such as a combination of coveralls, shirt, and pants. Although untreated cotton fiber will not melt, it will burn, and clothing made of untreated cotton that has not met the criteria of ASTM F 1506 should not be used to increase the arc rating of the clothing combination for electric arc flash protection.
Undergarments and socks worn next to the skin must be made of non-meltable materials but can be flammable if arc-rated clothing is layered so that the arc-rated layer next to the undergarments will not break open. However, they must not be made out of synthetics, such as polyester or nylon, which could melt. Alternatively, undergarments made of arc-rated materials can be worn.
The total protection afforded by layering of arc-rated clothing is not strictly additive, and it must be determined by testing the multilayers in the configuration in which they will be worn. As a result, the manufacturer of the clothing should be contacted for guidance on selection of clothing, which will be worn in layers. Additional guidance is provided in “Informative Annex M: Layering of Protective Clothing and Total System Arc Rating” of NFPA 70E.
Need for other PPE
It is important to remember that based on the job task, other arc-rated personal protective equipment, such as arc-rated face shields or arc flash suit hoods, arc-rated hard hat liners, etc., might be needed to protect the worker’s head, face, neck, and chin, as well as rubber gloves with leather protectors and leather shoes. Hair or beard nets must be arc rated.
For guidance on the selection of other PPE, refer to the various tables in NFPA 70E, such as Tables 130.5(G), 130.7(C)(15)(c), and Annex H.
PPE requirements — labeling of electrical equipment
Once the incident energy for the electrical equipment has been determined by conducting an incident energy analysis or the level of PPE required has been determined from the NFPA tables, the electrical equipment should be labeled. Article 110.16 of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, requires that electrical equipment that is in other than dwelling units, and is likely to require examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance while energized, shall be field or factory marked to warn qualified persons of potential electric arc flash hazards. The marking shall meet the requirements in 110.21(B) and shall be located so as to be clearly visible to qualified persons before examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance of the equipment.” [Section 110.21(B) of NFPA 70 contains requirements regarding the color, size, etc., for field-applied hazard markings], NFPA 70 then refers to NFPA 70E for the specific requirements for such marking.
Article 130.5(H) of NFPA 70E details the equipment labeling requirements. Labels must contain all of the following:
(1) Nominal system voltage
(2) Arc flash boundary
(3) One of the following:
- Either the available incident energy and the corresponding working distance, or the arc flash PPE category determined from the NFPA tables
- Minimum arc rating of clothing
- Site-specific level of PPE
Documentation should be available to substantiate the information displayed on the label. For example, the documentation may show that the labeling was based on the results of an incident energy analysis or the use of NFPA tables. In addition, the protective clothing and PPE worn by the workers can be checked to see that it conforms to the label requirements.
Once the appropriate arc-rated clothing has been selected, it is important that the PPE be worn properly to maintain its intended level of protection. Flammable items must not be worn over arc-rated PPE, nor should the clothing be allowed to become contaminated with flammable or combustible liquids. Coveralls should be fully closed and not worn open, and shirts should be worn with the collars and sleeves fastened — sleeves should not be rolled up.
Flammable or meltable items should not be worn under arc-rated clothing. However, as previously described, there is an exception for non-meltable, flammable undergarments that are worn next to an arc-rated layer that will not break open.
Proper clothing fit promotes comfort and use. If the clothing is too tight or too large, movement can be affected. Tight clothing can be more susceptible to tearing, and loose clothing might allow entry of chemicals into exposed areas or be caught in moving machinery. A variety of sizes should be offered to employees, especially to promote fit for women and men with smaller body sizes. Clothing can be evaluated by having employees simulate the use of the clothing for various tasks to see which size promotes functionality, comfort, and protection. Performing certain exercises, such as kneeling, squatting, partially climbing a ladder, extending the arms, reaching overhead, etc., will help evaluate the fit of the clothing. Check with the manufacturer for guidance on choosing the correct size.
Clothing should be inspected daily before each use for the presence of flammable or combustible solvents, grease, or other contamination that could compromise the flame resistance of the garment, as well as for cuts, tears, holes, fraying or other worn areas, seams which are coming apart, missing buttons or closures, integrity of any repairs, or other signs of wear or alterations to the clothing that indicate the integrity and level of protection of the garment may have been compromised. The clothing must also be inspected to ensure that cleaning and repairs/alterations to the garment, if any, have not changed the fit of the clothing. Defective clothing should be replaced or repaired as instructed by the manufacturer. Some simple repairs might be able to be made by the user, but other repairs might require the services of trained personnel or return of the garment to the manufacturer. Repairs must be made with the same arc-rated material used to manufacture the clothing. Under no circumstances should unauthorized users attempt a repair that is not recommended by the manufacturer.
Training should be provided to workers who are required to use arc flash PPE. The training should be comprehensive, understandable, and repeated as necessary. This training should include, at a minimum:
- When it is necessary to wear PPE
- What PPE is required
- How to properly don and remove the PPE, adjust the fit, and properly wear the PPE
- Limitations of the PPE
- Proper care, maintenance, and storage
- How to inspect and recognize the useful life of the PPE to know when it must be replaced. Employees must be trained on how to safely dispose of contaminated PPE, which cannot be decontaminated in accordance with applicable federal, state and local regulations.
- General requirements of OSHA's PPE and arc flash standards
OSHA requires the employer to ensure that each employee demonstrate an understanding of the training and the ability to wear the PPE correctly before being allowed to perform any task that requires the use of the PPE. If the employee cannot demonstrate this knowledge, then the employee must be retrained. In addition, retraining must occur whenever changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete or if new PPE is introduced that was not covered by the training. If it is apparent that the employee has not retained the training, or the PPE is used incorrectly, then the employee must be retrained. The OSHA construction industry regulations for training, 29 CFR 1926.21, are not as specific as the general industry PPE training requirements contained in 29 CFR 1910.132, but the latter should be followed to ensure that employees understand the need for PPE and its proper use.
Care and maintenance
Arc-flash PPE should be stored in a clean, dry location to prevent contamination with flammable or combustible materials that could compromise the level of protection afforded by the clothing.
Care must be taken to follow the decontamination and laundering instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure that the PPE maintains its integrity. Some clothing cannot be washed with bleach, and use of starch and softeners may not be recommended. Some clothing might need to be dry-cleaned if contaminated with grease or certain solvents. Flame resistance of chemically treated garments can decrease with the number of washings, and failure to remove grease and solvents from inherently flame-resistant or chemically treated PPE could compromise its protective properties.
There are two standards that provide guidance on industrial and home laundering of flame-resistant PPE, i.e., ASTM F 1449-08 (2015), Standard Guide for Industrial Laundering of Flame, Thermal, and Arc Resistant Clothing and ASTM F 2757-09 (2016), Standard Guide for Home Laundering Care and Maintenance of Flame, Thermal and Arc Resistant Clothing, respectively. However, if the protective clothing is not provided with instructions on care from the manufacturer, it should not be used. Recommendations regarding the service life of the garment provided by the manufacturer must be followed, and the clothing must be discarded under the stated conditions, if applicable (e.g., number of washings).
Under no circumstances should dirty clothing be outsourced to an industrial laundry without informing the laundry of the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning. The practice of allowing employees to take PPE home to launder should also be discouraged, since this increases the chance that contamination from the workplace may be brought home.
See Engineering and Safety (E&S) Occupational Safety Report OS-30-10, Electrical Safety, and Client Handouts CH-50-239, Electrical Burns, and CH-50-195, Electric Arc Flash Protective Clothing Checklist, for additional information. (available on the Risk Solutions Partners page under E&S — sign in or register here to view E&S’s risk management offerings).
- American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International. Standard Guide for Home Laundering Care and Maintenance of Flame, Thermal and Arc Resistant Clothing. ASTM F 2757-09 (2016). West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2016.
- Standard Guide for Industrial Laundering of Flame, Thermal, and Arc Resistant Clothing. ASTM F 1449-08 (2015). West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2015.
- Standard Performance Specification for Flame Resistant and Electric Arc Rated Protective Clothing Worn by Workers Exposed to Flames and Electric Arcs. ASTM F 1506-18. West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2018.
- Burkhart, Elizabeth F. “The Danger of Arc Flash.” Fire Engineering 162 (July 2009): 102-103.
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- Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Common Electrical Hazards in the Workplace Including Arc Flash (PowerPoint presentation). Washington, DC: 2014. 17 September 2018. https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy07/sh-16615-07/electrical_hazards2.ppt.
- Directive Number CPL 02-01-050, 29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart I, Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry. Washington, DC: Department of Labor, 2011. 17 September 2018. https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/cpl-02-01-050.
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Copyright © 2018, ISO Services, Inc.
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LC FEB 2019-145