Electrical Worker Safety: Supplying Headlamps as Critical PPE in Hazardous Environments

By Dave Cozzone, Contributor

Plants and facilities have a duty to protect employees by providing a safe work environment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required for the job. However, despite various PPE options, many companies fail to supply or specify important lighting tools – namely headlamps. Unfortunately, the lack of suitable headlamps can lead to serious, even deadly accidents, in hazardous locations.

As a tool, headlamps are essential when hands-free lighting is required in low-light areas for a wide range of tasks, such as operating and maintaining electrical equipment or assessing its condition. Headlamps are also necessary for safe, efficient personnel movement throughout the plant, particularly in confined or restricted spaces. At sites with flammable gases, vapors, liquids, materials, or dusts on the premises or in the air and when working on electrical equipment, having a headlamp that does not generate a spark is critical.

However, despite meeting OSHA’s definition of PPE, “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses,” headlamps are often not included in corporate budgets for PPE. As a result, workers may be left to purchase their own headlamps from industry supply or hardware stores. Unfortunately, if they overemphasize price and choose products that lack necessary options, the units may be unsafe to use for some tasks, settings, or conditions throughout the plant. This could open the company to potential liability.

To protect personnel in any work environment and to defend against such liability, a growing number of safety officers are including or specifying headlamps in the company budget, as PPE.

“It is safer for facilities to provide suitable headlamps upfront rather than leaving it up to employees to make their own purchases. However, department approval of only intrinsically safe product would handle the issue. Preventing even one serious injury, fire, or explosion would pay for any implementation,” said Scott Colarusso, General Manager and Co-Owner, of a supplier of fire safety equipment that has equipped and trained thousands of firefighters nationwide.

When companies supply intrinsically safe headlamps, which are specifically designed not to be a source of ignition in hazardous zones, this protects workers wherever they need to go in the plant from serious, even potentially lethal accidents. Essentially, everyone is covered, and the chance of mishap eliminated.

“Without safety certified headlamps appropriate for the application, facilities are exposed to potential liability if an incident occurs. By supplying workers with headlamps that are rated for any hazardous environment [that could be encountered in the plant], companies can prevent the problem,” said Colarusso.

Mandating Greater Safety

At worksites, headlamps enhance personnel safety and efficiency since wherever they look the lighting goes with them, leaving their hands free. With multiple beam modes, these devices are designed to be easily operable even when workers wear heavy gloves. Typically, the units are waterproof and chemically resistant, ready for use in rugged surroundings, which may include getting thrown into a truck toolbox or dropped. Still, the devices must provide ample light for a sufficient “burn time” to last an entire work shift without a change of batteries.

Across a range of industries, however, typical headlamps can be a dangerous source of ignition if workers unwittingly enter a hazardous area or are exposed to flammable materials or conditions.

Safety considerations are particularly important considering OSHA’s recently issued standard for work in confined spaces (Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926). The new standard recognizes that such spaces can present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if recognized and addressed prior to entry. It is designed to eliminate potentially deadly hazards by requiring employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in; what hazards could be there; and how those hazards should be made safe (including the use of headlamps, flashlights, and other lighting equipment that carry the proper safety ratings).

Therefore, in settings where the environment is inherently volatile, headlamps should carry the proper certification for various classes, divisions, and groups of materials. When a headlamp is rated for all these options, it essentially means it is certified as safe for use in most hazardous environments.

“Whether for OSHA, Zone 0, or state standards, intrinsically safe products help safety officials ensure that all the bases are covered. So, there is nothing from the lighting that could spark a potential fire or explosion in a work environment,” said John Navarro, a purchasing agent for a wholesale distributor that supplies to various industries including automotive, consumer electronics, oil and gas, and marine. Previously, Navarro was a nationally registered paramedic and certified New Jersey state hazardous material technician.

Offering New Features

Because headlamps can be dropped or bumped in industrial settings, it is also important that the equipment is designed to reliably withstand rough handling.

In response, some manufacturers now make headlamps with durable thermoplastic material designed to withstand drops and rough handling including being thrown into a truck bed. The units not only provide up to 10 hours of light without a battery change but also have superior resistance to common, potentially dangerous, industrial chemicals and solvents.

The latest models also offer anti-static properties and safety features, such as a mechanical locking mechanism that requires a tool to open the battery compartment. This prevents users from inadvertently opening the battery housing in a hazardous environment, which could not only result in electric shock, but also potentially ignition or explosion.

According to Navarro, the motivation for budgeting and supplying intrinsically safe headlamps and lighting as PPE is to prevent potential liability.

“With an intrinsically safe headlamp, you are meeting the standard and enabling employees to work in the safest possible conditions with the most up-to-date equipment,” said Navarro. “Now the technology is at a better price point than it was five years ago. So, it is affordable for corporate safety budgets.”

Many of Navarro’s industrial customers are willing to spend a little more for higher rated, compliant, intrinsically safe headlamps.

“Our customers want to know their plant personnel can safely use their intrinsically safe headlamps anywhere. Safety committees do not want to worry about where personnel may use the units, if it is safe to use under hazardous conditions,” concluded Navarro.

While electrical work carries some inherent risk, facilities seeking to improve safety can do so by providing workers with ultra-safe headlamps that ensure compliance.

So, as the need for worker safety only grows along with stricter regulation, facilities will increasingly make headlamps a mandatory part of any PPE budget or safety program to minimize operational risk and liability. ESW

Dave Cozzone is the VP of Sales for Princeton Tec (www.princetontec.com), a Trenton, NJ-based producer of ETL and UL-approved lighting products and manufacturer of headlamps that meet strict global safety requirements including Classes I, II, III; Divisions 1,2; and Groups A-G.