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Arc flash gear and Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has created some new challenges for all of us. One of the more complicated problems for electrical workers maybe how to stay safe from the dual hazards of arc flash and virus contraction.

Face Coverings inside the arc flash boundary

Many employers are requiring employees to wear N-95 respirators or surgical masks (face masks) to protect them from airborne particles and liquid which could lead to the spread of the virus. However, any well-trained electrical worker will tell you that any fabric or material that could ignite or melt cannot be worn inside of an arc flash boundary as either an inner or outer layer. Finding a balance between virus protection and not increasing arc flash hazards with a face covering may prove to be difficult. Here are a few suggestions.

Arc Flash Gear

Because arc flash protection such as face shields, balaclavas, and arc flash suit hoods inherently isolate the worker's face, mouth, and nose from the environment this may be an adequate way to prevent the airborne transmission of the virus.

Surgical Masks

If wearing a surgical mask as an underlayer be sure that it is made of a 100% natural fiber such as cotton. Meltable fibers such as acetate, nylon, polyester are not permitted as an underlayer once inside of the arc flash boundary. See NFPA 70E 130.7(C)(9)(c) for additional guidance. Be sure the underlayer is completely covered by the arc-rated balaclava, hood, or shield.

ASTM 1506 Compliant Masks

Some arc-rated clothing manufacturers are in the process of producing face coverings made from arc rated materials. Contact your vendor to see if these are available if needed. Other manufacturers are offering instructions on how to make arc-rated face coverings using materials from AR shirts and pants. See Tyndale https://tyndaleusa.com/blog/2020/04/10/diy-fr-face-masks-sew-and-no-sew/


Respirators such as N-95 mask do not have an arc rating (ATPV). Although NFPA 70E restricts the use of clothing and apparel that is not arc-rated inside of the arc flash boundary it does make an exception for the use of equipment such as respirators.

See the information note and exception No. 2 to 130.7(C)(12) which states: “Where the work to be performed inside the arc flash boundary exposes the worker to multiple hazards, such as airborne contaminants, and the risk assessment identifies that the level of protection is adequate to address the arc flash hazard, non–arc-rated PPE shall be permitted.”

Keep in mind that this exception requires the employer or employee to perform a risk assessment prior to entering the arc flash boundary with a respirator. See NFPA 70E Informative Annex F for guidance on performing risk assessments.

Proper disinfecting of Clothing

Arc rated clothing should be laundered as described in the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, this information is listed on the label sewn inside of the garment. Avoid spray-on disinfectants and other chemical cleaning agents as they could affect the arc rating of the clothing and could damage shield materials. Washing and drying with warm soap and water are going to be the safest method and would be in accordance with CDC guidelines. This includes rubber insulating gloves. Consult your vendor for additional information.

Do not share

If you share your arc flash gear with someone who is contagious you could contract the disease. In these difficult times, it is suggested that each employee has their own set of gear and it is regularly laundered in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

We want to know

What are you doing at your place of employment to stay safe from arc flash hazards and Covid-19? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Want additional information on this subject as well as all NFPA 70E electrical safety guidelines? Attend one of our training sessions. We now offer live web-based training as well as traditional in-person training performed at your facility using approved social distancing guidelines.

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