Proper protection is critical when working where there is a risk of a thermal hazard. Whether an electric arc flash or a hydrocarbon flash fire, you need to know that your FR clothing and rain gear will protect you. Unfortunately, there were over 126 electrical-related fatalities and 98 oil & gas workers killed in 2020 alone.
As a worker in these industries, you must always prepare for the worst possible situation. Unfortunately, getting burned is only one of the threats you may face. Occasionally, an arc flash or flash fire can result in severe injuries, such as external and internal burns.
Here’s how flash fire protection can keep you safe and how it differs from more common fire protection.
FLASH FIRE PROTECTION OR FLAME RESISTANT PROTECTION?
Before you purchase anything that is flame resistant, you need to know if it’s appropriate for your job.
Flame-resistant garments are essential for anyone working in the utility or oil & gas industries or any other industry that can generate fire. For example, working with chemicals or even someone doing DIY jobs around the house could make good use of some level of fire protection.
However, not all flame-resistant equipment is suitable for all heat-related dangers. How much protection your garments offer you depends on the arc rating of the clothing.
Arc rating is the amount of energy needed to cause a second-degree burn on human tissue. This goes for bursts of energy from electrical arcs and flash fires. A higher arc rating offers more protection. A flash fire rating indicates the predicted amount of burn injury a worker could receive if exposed to a 3-second hydrocarbon flash fire. The lower the percentage, the more protection is offered.
Some retailers list their items as “flame-resistant” even when they can also handle flash fire protection. However, not all fire retardant clothing has the same capabilities.
Why You Should Know The Difference
Don’t be mistaken in thinking that flame-resistant gear is all you need. Accidents happen, and they can result in extensive damage to both property and your person.
Concerning FR rain gear, there are only two measures of FR performance. ASTM F1891-19 and ASTM F2733-21 are the only standards that should be considered. Do not be misled by flame-resistant claims when the standard referenced is ASTM D6413. This is a vertical flame test that only evaluates a material’s ability to self-extinguish after the flame source has been removed. As long as a flame source is present, the material can and will burn. This does not translate into protection in real-world industrial hazards.
Most notable is an arc flash, which hits like a bolt of lightning. An arc flash releases heat and energy caused by an electrical fault. It results from a flowing current traveling somewhere it shouldn’t go that you weren’t prepared for.
You may be prepared for regular electrical shocks, but an arc flash only happens in systems over 120 volts or higher. At voltage currents of 500 V, you can expect to receive some deep burns and need a visit to the emergency room.
An arc flashing rating on clothing applies to flash fires and arc flashes. It’ll protect you either way, as both situations deal with a significant transfer of energy in a very short instant of time.
In comparison, flame retardant equipment prevents the start of or slows the growth of a fire. However, it doesn’t stop the transfer of energy or keep you safe from burns.
Flame-Resistant Clothing Standards
Currently, flame resistance is seen as a generic term regarding personal protective equipment. However, it’s a catch-all term that means your clothing has a reduced chance of catching fire and exacerbating burn injuries.
The guidelines regarding flame-resistant clothing were changed in 2012 by the NFPA. With the new NFPA 70E guidelines, all flame-resistant clothing must be tested against the arc rating. As previously stated, all arc-rated clothing is flame-resistant, but not all have an arc rating.
According to OSHA, clothing made from 100% cotton or wool is acceptable depending on its thickness and whether or not it can ignite and burn. Workers are prohibited from wearing anything that can increase the extent of an injury. That is because it can melt onto the workers’ skin or because it can burn, both of which add to the extent of the injury.
The OSHA rule, 1910.269, prohibits clothing materials made with synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester.
Flash Fire Standards
Modern flame-resistant standards go more into depth about arc flash or flash fire protection. For example, NFPA 2112 is one of the clothing standards for protection against industrial fire hazards. NFPA 70E is another clothing standard that specifically covers significant electrical hazards.
In regards to flash fire standards, the purpose of your clothing should be to minimize the severity of burns caused by them. It should also minimize how much of your body is affected by the sudden transfer of energy. In a best-case scenario, your FR gear should prevent any third-degree burns.
Arc standards exist to protect workers who deal with energized electrical lines. Protective clothing must reduce the potential of a burn injury from sudden arc flashes. Temperatures caused by these flashes can reach as high as 4000°C.
The assigned arc rating represents how effective they are at doing so. The rating is how much heat energy your clothing can withstand. Up to any given rating, a worker has a 50 percent lower chance of developing a second-degree burn or worse.
The Best Gear To Have For Your Job
If you work for a utility company or similar, you’ll need flash fire protection that can handle all kinds of weather conditions.
NASCO’s ArcWear line provides utility workers with FR rain gear that keeps them safe from electric arc flashes and sheltered from the rain. It’s designed by linemen, for linemen.
You can have hooded jackets with a non-conductive zipper front and fall protection access. The bib trouser also increases visibility, protects from flash fire and arc flashes, and is made of breathable materials.
These products are available in high-visibility colors, with reflective trim, or are available in dark colors to hide the dirt and grime of these harsh industrial workplaces.
Avoid The Burn From Thermal Hazards
Someone who works around sparks and potential fires can get away with wearing standard fire-retardant garments. However, the danger from arc flashes and flash fires has less to do with fire and more to do with severe thermal burns. Therefore, utilizing flash fire protection and arc-rated gear is the only way to stay safe when the worst happens.
NASCO has all the protective outerwear you could need, whether you work in gas and electric utilities or the oil industries. We’re ISO 9001:2015 registered and aim to provide the highest quality products. Check out our stock online, and contact us with any questions.