Watch Your Head: Why Hard Hats Are a Must Have for Electrical Work
By: Jason Bischoff
When working on electrical equipment, workers are exposed to a wide variety of dangers. From the extreme heat, deafening sound, and immense pressure that occur during an arc flash to deadly exposure to voltage that come from a shock hazard, one slip could result in serious injury or even death. Protecting your workers isn’t only a responsibility, it’s a duty, and there are many ways to make it happen.
Protecting Your Head
As we’ve discussed over the past few months, there are multiple steps you can take to protect workers—ranging from elimination of hazards to the use of personal protective equipment including arc flash suits, electrical gloves and face shields. Today, we would like to look at one of the less-heralded parts of an arc flash kit: The Hard Hat.
A hard hat is a critical part of an arc flash kit, playing a vital role in protecting a worker’s head in the unfortunate event an arc flash occurs. Durable, reliable and built to provide reasonable comfort for workers, this piece of equipment is an unsung hero when worn.
Knowing this, while an arc flash suits and face shields are designed to reduce the likelihood a worker suffers severe burns, the hard hat protects a worker’s head from falling objects on the worksite but also from impact if a worker is thrown to the ground or across the room after an arc flash incident.
Understanding the Pressure and Force of an Arc Flash
There are many causes of arc flash incidents. Whether it’s from a dropped tool, corrosion, condensation, or human error, these incidents occur 5-10 times per day and result in over 600 fatalities and 30,000 injuries a year.
An arc flash begins when the electricity exits its intended path and begins traveling through the air toward a grounded area. When this happens, air surrounding the arc flash is ionized. Ionization reduces the resistance between the arc and the ground, further facilitating the path of electricity and intensifying the heat, pressure, and intensity.
Extreme Temperatures, Rapidly Expanding Metal
In the event of an arc flash or arc blast, workers are exposed to temperatures that can reach as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the source of the arc—four times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Additionally, as temperature at the source of the arc greatly exceeds both the melting and boiling points of every known element, everything that is used to build a breaker, box, or any other piece of equipment could vaporize in a matter of seconds. When this happens, elements expand, with copper expanding at 67,000-to-1 when it turns from solid to vapor.
Outward Force: Why You’ll Be Glad You Had a Hard Hat
When this expansion happens, workers are exposed to massive pressure waves exceeding hundreds of pounds per square foot that could propel a 170-pound person standing 2 feet away from the arc source with acceleration of approximately 330 feet per second squared. This is where the hard hat comes into the equation.
Much of an arc flash kit is focused on a workers’ front—the part exposed to the bright flash and extreme temperatures, but if a worker is thrown off a ladder or across the room, the hard hat provides important protection.
Hard Hats: A Critical Part of Your Arc Flash PPE
As discussed in our blog on the PPE tables, the hard hat is a necessary part when working in a CAT 1, 2, 3, or 4 environment as defined by NFPA 70E. Further, with the duty on the employer to supply PPE that can protect workers from potential head injury from “impacts, falling or flying objects, or electrical shock,” having well maintained and compliant head protection is a necessity.
Hard hat regulations are guided by OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910.135 for general industry and 29 CFR 1926.100 for construction, hard hat regulations are guided by the ANSI Z89.1-1997, ANSI Z89.1-2003 and ANSI Z89.1-2009 standards. Following the 1997 standard establishing the new categories (Class G, Class C, and Class E), the 2003 standard made revisions to harmonize the standard with others and the 2009 update introduced new testing and marking procedures.
Enespro PPE: Providing Your Last Line of Defense
As we said above, hard hats are the unsung heroes of the much larger PPE world, but in the unfortunate event an arc flash occurs, you’ll be glad you have the protection. At Enespro, we have designed a complete line of arc flash hoods and OptiShield™ face shields, each equipped with USA made V-Gard® brand Hard Hats made by MSA—a leader in protective headwear for over 100 years. In addition, the OptiShieldTM Vented Lift-Front option allows workers to quickly access fresh air when they step outside of the flash boundary area while leaving their Hard Hats on.
Whether you need CAT 2 protection in the form of our 12 CAL or 20 CAL OptiShield™ Grey face shields designed for optimal visibility and protection, our breathable and lightweight 40 CAL Enespro AirLite™ hood for CAT 4 work, or you need a complete arc flash kits in 8, 12, 20 and 40 CAL, we can help. We also offer voltage rated rubber gloves in Class 00, 0 and 2 with leather protectors. We invite you to learn more about protecting your workers by reading our resources page and check out our products to learn more.
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