Arc Flash PPE 101: Q&A with National Safety Apparel

  1. For anyone who may not know, what exactly is arc flash PPE and what kinds of items does it include?

An arc flash is an explosion due to an arcing fault which releases massive amounts of pressure. Sounds can exceed 160 dB, molten metal and shrapnel can be expelled at speeds exceed 700 mph, and temperatures can exceed 30,000°F (hotter than the surface of the sun!). Electrical workers in all different scenarios can be at risk of an arc flash hazard. With such a catastrophic hazard, PPE or personal protective equipment is extremely important. Arc Flash PPE typically consists of some sort of full body suit like a coverall and head protection like a hood that is meant to protect the wearer from the thermal energy of an arc flash.

  1. PPE CAT ratings go from 1 through 4. What do those numbers mean? Are there specific hazards that call for specific PPE CAT rating numbers?

CAT (formerly known as HRC) is short for PPE category. These category levels provide a guide for determining the level of protection required for workers facing arc flash hazards. These guidelines can be found in NFPA 70E, the standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace or determined through a third-party arc flash assessment. Each CAT level is determined by a combination of the tasks being performed, equipment involved, and hazard risk that goes along with that job. CAT 1 requires PPE of at least 4 cal/cm2; CAT 2 is a minimum of 8 cal/cm2; CAT 3 a minimum of 25 cal/cm2; and CAT 4 a minimum of 40 cal/cm2 PPE. For example, panel boards or other equipment rated at 240 volts or below only need CAT 1 PPE, but 600-volt class motor control centers require PPE CAT 4. These details can all be found in the latest edition of NFPA 70E under article 130.

  1. Arc flash PPE includes non-clothing items, like arc flash blankets. What materials are these blankets composed of? How are they used in the workplace?

Arc flash suppression blankets are used to help protect both workers and other equipment from the hazards of an arc flash. Many times, they are made up of many fabric layers and include fibers like Kevlar, to help with impact from molten metal and shrapnel.

  1. National Safety Apparel offers some arc flash kits that include different combinations of apparel and accessories, like FR coveralls with gloves and a balaclava, or one with a lift front hood that comes with or without gloves. Why combine items into kits? Are they designed for workers who do particular tasks?

NFPA 70E requires head to toe, 360-degree protection – an arc flash kit is all about convenience. Arc flash kits serve as a one-stop shop to hold all the PPE needed to perform a task. Most kits include your garments (this could be a coat and bibs, coverall, etc.), head protection (either a full hood or a face shield/balaclava combination), and even hand protection, such as rubber insulated gloves and leather protectors. No two jobs are the same, so NSA offers kits that are completely customizable to your specific job and task needs.

  1. National Safety Apparel is certified to ISO 9001 with design, which allows the company to customize any of its FR or arc flash protective clothing options to meet specific hazards and comfort needs. What is that process like? And what kinds of comfort needs are addressed?

Customization is our specialty at National Safety Apparel. Different jobs and tasks often require unique or custom solutions. This can be as simple as the addition of a company logo and reflective trim for enhanced visibility, or complex as a whole new design and color scheme. Our in-house design team makes it easy for us to engineer custom solutions to meet a wide variety of needs. Our multiple U.S. factories allow for rapid prototyping and quick responses to changing industry requirements.

  1. How does arc flash protection differ from flash fire protection?

A flash fire is a combustion of a vapor cloud resulting from the escape of a flammable material, which then reaches an ignition source. While arc flashes are hazards of those working on and around electrical equipment, flash fires are commonly found in oil & gas, labs, and other facilities with combustible substances. Although not as hot as an arc flash, flash fires are also fast moving and extremely intense, typically lasting for 3 seconds or less, and can range from 1000°F to 2000°F! As you can imagine, with these different hazards, PPE will also differ and requires different testing and standard requirements through NFPA 2112.

  1. What kinds of fabrics, treatments, or technologies does National Safety Apparel use to make its FR work shirts, work pants, hoodies, and FR outerwear flame resistant?

At NSA we offer a wide variety of solutions. Our products utilize a high-quality proprietary fabric as well as fabric from industry recognized brands such as WESTEX by Milliken, DuPont Nomex, and GORE-TEX PYRAD. Both our DRIFIRE and TECGEN brands feature products that utilize proprietary fabrics. DRIFIRE is known for inherently flame-resistant fabrics that offer superior moisture wicking and dry rates. Our TECGEN SELECT work shirts utilize OPF/Carbon-based fibers for high performance and protection.

  1. National Safety Apparel has a line of FR clothing especially for women, including coveralls, shirts, pants, and even bras. What went into the design and development of FR clothing for women?

With functional garments, fit is extremely important. Our line of HauteWork garments, as well as our other women’s products, were designed by women for women. HauteWork was started by petroleum engineer Jaime Glas who had firsthand experience of receiving men’s garments that were oversized and uncomfortable. This led her to start her own brand of FR coveralls, shirts, and pants that were catered to the female figure. ESW

National Safety Apparel is a fourth generation, family-owned business that is proud to manufacture in the U.S. and serve the toughest members of the workforce with six FR clothing brands and three safety brands (www.thinknsa.com).