Arc Flash PPE – Simplified

Have you ever heard the old John Wooden saying, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”  When I first heard those words I was confused for a brief moment until I quickly realized how profound they were.  It is very much like another saying I’ve heard from parts unknown which is, “It’s not difficult, but it’s complicated.”  When you first hear these words, you tend to give a quizzical look to the person who said them, but then you realize that it is actually a very profound statement that can be applied to many things in life. I think one of them is Arc Flash PPE.

Yes, maybe I need to get out of my cave more, but I completely think this statement applies to PPE.  Arc Flash PPE is not difficult.  You can google a PPE chart and hundreds of pictures will come up explaining it.  There are five arc flash hazard levels and each has its own level of PPE associated with it.  Click here to download the latest PPE Chart.  Again, it’s not difficult.  But it does get complicated when it comes to purchasing and using PPE in your daily work.

To most of my customers the first thought that comes to mind is that it is going to be expensive to purchase and it’s going to be over-complicated to implement.  Purchasing five levels of PPE for every employee can get pricy.  Their faced with buying five levels of PPE and then you have to multiply that by the number of employees and also decide how many of each level the employees receive.  It can literally be tens of thousands of dollars depending on the number of workers that need the gear.

Once you go through the expense of purchasing PPE, you’re faced with the day in and day out decisions of what to where and when.  If a worker is performing a task on an electrical device rated at category 1, he needs a 4 calorie suit, hood, etc.  If he moves over to a category 2 device he needs to change into an 8 calorie suit, hood and so on.  How much time will be wasted everyday changing in and out of PPE?

It’s no wonder so many managers and workers resist the NFPA 70E Arc Flash Standard.  Again, it’s not difficult to understand, but it is complicated to do.  Well we’re here to make the complicated easy.  There is a way to simplify the whole PPE issue that makes it much less expensive and much easier to follow.

The Simplified (2–4) Method

We recommend doing what we call the 2-4 method of protection.  Simply put,  you either work in Level II PPE or Level IV PPE.  Forget about level 0, level 1 and level 3.  By doing this we eliminate 60% of the decision making and 60% of the cost.  I’m all about simplicity, and this is the simplest and most efficient way to do it in my opinion.

Here is how it works.  Make it a policy that all workers who might work on energized electrical equipment work full time in Level II shirts, pants and shoes.  This protects them at level 0, level 1 and level 2 without the need to change clothing.  Obviously they would need to put face, hand and head protection on when they are actually interacting with live electrical equipment, but they don’t have to change or add clothing.

Level II PPE is not cumbersome to work in, and it doesn’t prevent us from performing any task that we couldn’t normally perform.  It doesn’t restrict our field of vision either.  All of our workers at Mitchell & Lindsey, including myself are suited up in Level II PPE whenever we are in the field.  The only disadvantage to a Level II versus a Level I is that Level II can be a little warmer to work in.  But I’ve worked countless hours in Level II gear and it’s not that bad to work in on a full time basis.

In the event that your workers need to work on electrical equipment at level III or level IV they simply put on level IV gear.  Hopefully the number of items in your facility falling under these categories are few and far between comparatively speaking.  And hopefully you can find a way to de-energize those items when working on them is necessary.  In those rare instances that you are working on more hazardous equipment it should be an easy decision to take the time to wear Level IV gear and accept the fact that the little time you spend in this suit is going to be hot and tedious.  But again, in most facilities this is more of a rare occurrence than a daily activity.

Using the 2-4 method is less costly and easier to follow.  I also believe that your workers will be more inclined to accept and follow the standard this way.

In summary, we recommend purchasing level II PPE for all your workers to be in on a full time basis.  We recommend having at least 1 category IV set of PPE that any worker can use as needed.  Depending on the size (literally and figuratively) of your maintenance team you might want to purchase more and with varying sizes for comfort.

This way on a full time basis your workers are protected on the first three levels all day every day, and they can take the time to suit up to the highest levels by wearing a Category IV suit on those rare occasions that call for it.  It’s less pricey.  It’s simple.  It’s more likely to be accepted.  It’s more likely to be followed.  And ultimately this accomplishes what we are all looking for which is a safer working environment.

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