Why one size of PPE does not fit all
Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as arc rated FR clothing, is a critically important part of every electrical safety program. It should be used as the last line of defense, meaning it helps protect when all other preventative measures have failed. In fact, the hierarchy of controls puts eliminating the hazard as the most effective way to protect workers. However, in many cases engineering can reduce but not eliminate the hazard. Energized work poses an arc flash risk, and there’s really no such thing as a “small” arc if you are the person standing in front of it. Virtually all arcs pose an ignition risk to flammable clothing.
Since FR clothing is not meant to be used as a primary protection method, it’s fallacy to believe that one size of PPE fits all types of employees. A successful safety program will address each situation independently and treat individuals in the safety program uniquely depending on their job function and exposure to a hazard. Being safe is just as much about the employees themselves and employees buying in to the program to make safety a priority and not something their company tells them they have to think about.
If it’s determined that PPE is needed, companies need to address what type of PPE is best and offers the most protection. For electricians, choosing rubber gloves and PPE based on the proper size and voltage ratings can prevent accidents by permitting the worker the proper dexterity needed to perform electrical tasks.
To make a program easy and more manageable, some companies may only want to buy XL PPE. However, this fails to recognize that workers come in many shapes and sizes. For example, if sleeves are too long, electricians may roll their sleeves up and expose his or her wrists and hands to injury. Sleeves need to be worn buttoned and tight-fitting on the arm.
Likewise, wearing garments that are either underrated or too bulky can put electricians in harm’s way. Many safety managers say they need PPE Category 2 protection but this level of protection is rather broad. Wearing minimum PPE Category 2 apparel when the incident energies can exceed 20 or 30 cal/cm2 could cause severe third degree burns that may lead to infection or death, if the electrician survives the initial incident. At the other extreme, using a PPE Category 4 suit and hood when a PPE Category 2 is recommended could make movement and visibility unnecessarily difficult for the electrician. This may end up creating a dangerous situation rather than protecting against one.
Clearly, the one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for workers needing PPE. Choosing garments that are the right sizes for each worker ensures that protective clothing is worn properly and will provide the optimum amount of safety.
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