Arc flash – it sounds serious, and with over 30,000 incidents and 400 fatalities per year*, it’s deadly serious. An arc flash occurs when there is a sudden release of electrical energy through the air that's caused by a fault in an electrical circuit. This leads to a rapid rise in temperature and pressure between electrical conductors, usually causing an explosion known as an arc blast.
A typical arc flash incident can be inconsequential, but those that produce severe arc blasts can be extremely dangerous and damaging to surrounding life and property. Such explosions typically occur without any warning - leading to electrical equipment being destroyed entirely, along with severe injury (or even death) to anyone within several feet of the blast.
Wearing the proper PPE and knowing what you’re up against is a must-have when on the job, especially when you’re working around environments that have the potential for arc flash and blasts. To help you out, we’ve put together a concise explanation of everything you need to know about arc flash.
Here’s a quick look. The massive energy released in an arc flash fault gives off bright, intense light and thermal radiation, with temperatures that can reach or exceed 35,000° Fahrenheit (F) or 19,400° Celsius (C) at the arc terminals. To fully understand that kind of power, look at the following comparisons:
High-voltage arcs can result in an arc blast that instantly heats metal conductors and surrounding objects to vaporizing temperatures, blasting super-heated shrapnel, pressure waves, and expanding plasma outward with extraordinary force.
Sound intense? It is.
The radiant effects of this can be seen on the often ablated and eroded adjacent walls and equipment – as well as on personnel in its path. Blasts can knock workers off their feet, resulting in broken bones or lead to electrocution, as well as cause severe burns, ruptured eardrums, collapsed lungs, and even death.
Though both occur from the same arc fault, it is important to note that an arc flash is different from an arc blast.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to protect employees from electrical hazards, including arc flash, by requiring workers to have head-to-toe protection, including safety helmets, face shields, flame-resistant protection, and hand and ear protection.
To help meet the performance requirements of the OSHA standards for electrical safety, employers also look to NFPA 70E, which is a comprehensive standard that contains detailed information on how to protect workers from arc flashes. Though not an OSHA requirement, NFPA 70E outlines how to comply with OSHA’s electrical safety requirements. This symbiotic relationship between NFPA 70E and OSHA electrical safety standards helps to increase safety in the workplace.
Gloves are a crucial piece of PPE for electrical workers and need to consist of high dielectric and physical strength with flexibility and durability to mitigate the impact of an arc flash. There are two main categories of gloves that protect against arc flash:
To choose the best glove for a job, you need to understand the different arc flash ratings. These ratings are based on Hazard Risk Category (HRC) standards and the Arc Thermal Protective Value (ATPV).
HRC is the safety standard that shows the minimum amount of PPE protection a worker needs based upon the potential exposure to a hazard, ranging from 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest risk. ATPV is the incident energy needed to cause a second-degree burn; this value is provided in calories per centimeter squared (cal/cm²).
Though these ratings may be most important to you, understanding the test method may provide insight into the limitations or overperformance of the final product. Test methods used:
NFPA 70E mentions the ASTM F2675 for arc flash testing of gloves and OSHA 1910.269 addresses protecting employees from flames and electric arcs.
Recent updates to ASTM F2675 helped open the door for more arc flash-resistant gloves. In 2019, all references to ASTM D120 for rubber insulating gloves and ASTM F696 for leather protectors were removed, meaning you no longer need to find arc-rated gloves that are restricted to these types. Testing was opened to all products, even those with extra components (ie: mechanics styles, cut, impact, etc.) to evaluate arc performance.
Test requirements now test the whole glove, while also testing closer to the “in use” exposure point. Also, additional materials that don’t cover the whole glove, such as back-of-hand impact protection, undergo much more scrutiny for performance ratings.
Protecting workers from potential exposure to arc flash starts with a company first acknowledging that an arc flash hazard is present in their environment and assessing its magnitude, then developing an Arc Flash Hazard Program (which includes PPE). You can take your program a step further by building partnerships with equipment suppliers and trusted manufacturers who can help bring innovative and safer technology to the workplace.
Remember, PPE should always be the last defense against injury and should never trump safe procedures.
We’ve got a few arc flash-rated gloves for you to consider from our glove lineup:
Have questions about which arc flash-rated glove may be right for you? Reach out to one of our Safety Solutions Specialists at 1.877.MY ARMOR or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe out there!