By Brian Hall
The following article on arc flash gloves is featured in the July issue of ASSE's Professional Safety Magazine.
No other piece of electrical PPE has likely saved more lives than gloves. Electricians must often place their hands in energized electrical panels or near power lines to get the job done. Because their hands are near shock and arc flash hazards, they are at greater risk for injury than most other parts of the body.
Insulating rubber gloves with leather protectors over the top are tried and true protection in these situations. The primary function of these gloves is to protect the hands and lower arm from electric shock. However, when the rubber gloves are worn with leather protectors, they also protect the hands from the intense heat generated by an arc flash.
Although these gloves provide essential protection from injury, insulating gloves can be unpopular. When I perform my electrical safety training, I always take a quick poll during the insulating glove portion of the class. “By show of hands, how many people like wearing your gloves”? You guessed it, no one raises their hand.
Arc Flash Gloves: Insulating vs Arc-Rated
Insulating gloves are bulky, limit dexterity and hold in one’s body heat causing hands to sweat. Depending on the job, it can be very difficult to perform work in these gloves. Even though electricians fully understand the risk for injury, they may resist using them due to the discomfort.
An alternative is to wear arc-rated gloves. Arc-rated gloves fit, feel and are constructed more like mechanic's gloves. They can come in several varieties from full goatskin leather, to knit with a neoprene coating. These gloves offer far better dexterity and grip than leather over rubber, in some cases they are also meet ANSI standards for cut resistance, making arc-rated gloves a very popular, useful, and sometimes a safer alternative to bulky insulating gloves.
Use the right gloves for the situation
Although arc-rated gloves work great for protecting the hands against the thermal energy created during arc flashes, they do offer no shock hazard protection. Tasks such as troubleshooting inside an energized panel, can require the hands to get near exposed energized parts. This would require the hands be protected from a shock and arc hazard. In this case, wearing the rubber insulating gloves with leather protectors is the only safe course of action.
Arc-rated gloves are a safe option for tasks such as equipment operation or device racking where no shock hazard exists.
It is worth noting that some arc-rated gloves come with warnings concerning moisture. In this case, workers want to ensure the gloves are dry. Moist or wet gloves might cause steam to form when exposed to the tremendous heat generated by an arc flash, resulting in a considerable reduction in protection.
Pay close attention to the Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV)
Some arc-rated gloves offer higher levels of protection than others. Because arc-rated gloves look very much like cut resistant or other common work gloves, be sure to verify that they meet ASTM F2675-13 Standards. This is the test method used to validate their arc rating. Getting the gloves mixed-up could have a dangerous consequence.
Keeping it simple saves lives
As an electrical maintenance supervisor in a nuclear power plant, my most important responsibility was protecting the wellbeing of my electricians as well as the public. The nuclear industry taught me that complicated processes lead to dangerous errors. So how can we make it simple and easy for our electrical workers to select a glove that will allow them to get the job done safely?
Safety & Health Managers need to start with performing a shock and arc flash risk assessment for the electrical maintenance tasks in their facility. This will determine the tasks that are free from shock hazards, but still present the opportunity to receive an injury due to an arc flash. The outcome of the assessments will verify when arc-rated gloves are permissible in the electrical safety policy. Then qualified electrical workers should be trained to this new standard.
Safety & Health Managers should make it clear to their staff that any time that they are performing electrical work they should never proceed in the face of uncertainty. In other words, stop and ask if they are unsure of which glove to use.
Finally, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Use the rubber gloves with the leather protector if there is any question.