At Bulwark, we save lives by being the relentless protectors of those who power our world. With that purpose comes a solemn pledge to never stop educating. Right now that means taking a new look at NFPA® 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
As the world’s leading authority on FR apparel, education, and training, Bulwark is here to make 70E, 70 Easy.
Challenge 1: The bare minimum mindset.
Say an employer has outfitted their employees with arc-rated clothing for them to wear when doing energized work. Technically, this task-based approach can keep you compliant. But the real question is this: Are your employees safe? The simple answer is no. Here’s why:
It’s what we call a bare minimum mindset. Doing the bare minimum can become a huge barrier to compliance because you’re not creating a consistent safety culture. Instead, you’re asking the worker to make safety the exception by stopping what they’re doing and remembering to don their arc-rated clothing. And that can be a big, annoying ask.
That same mindset can come out of the the standard itself, and how it might be interpreted. NFPA 70E defines energized tasks as voltage testing, trouble shooting, and verifying. That definition is great but can make it seem that all other tasks outside of those are more routine and “not all that dangerous,” which is absolutely not accurate.
”A daily wear program minimizes the asks and the wiggle-room.”
Challenge 2: The unintended chain of unsafe events.
The assumption that if you provide PPE your employees will wear it when the task at hand calls for it can lead to what we call the “unintended chain of unsafe events.”
That task-based approach requires that that employee change into arc-rated clothing. That takes time. Which when under pressure to get the job done, can lead to workers trying to save time: Cut corners, take short cuts, find workarounds.
“Sneak, cheat, step, repeat. Seen it too many times.”
And the chain goes on: When other workers and new employees see the behavior and pick up on it, the next thing you know, what’s unsafe becomes the norm.
And boom, bad behaviors lead to compliance issues and other outcomes that we don’t want.
“Continuous wear equals continuous compliance.”
Challenge 3: Excuses, overconfidence, and complacency.
When arc-rated apparel isn’t a daily, mandatory “must wear,” employees have more opportunities to use common excuses like:
- “I just forgot.”
- “I didn’t know.”
- “It doesn’t fit right”
- “It’s not comfortable”
- “It takes too much time.”
Far worse, it can foster a false feeling of fearlessness and confidence, like:
- "It won't happen to me.”
- “I could do this task in my sleep.”
- “I’ve worked my entire career without an incident.”
There’s actually a science to this excuse making: it’s called the Normalization of Deviance, which means when people routinely perform repetitive yet dangerous tasks, it’s very easy to become desensitized to potential hazards.
By committing to an official, company-wide, arc-rated daily wear policy, you are effectively choosing the normalization of smarter, safer, cultural best practices and waving good-bye to excuses and complacency.
Challenge 4: knowing when to make the daily wear decision.
You never want to oversimplify the task-based or daily-wear decision, but we’re here to make 70E, 70 Easy, so let’s break it down.
First, let’s talk frequency. A task-based program is often used when workers are not frequently doing energized work, meaning:
- Electricians wear “normal” clothes to work – made with natural, non-melting fibers.
- They carry a kit containing all the PPE needed for energized work.
- When they need to perform that work, they put the gear from the kit on over their normal clothes to safely complete the task in compliance with NFPA 70E.
When energized work is a large part of workers’ day, a daily-wear program is typically a safer and more efficient way of protecting workers:
- Workers are outfitted in appropriate arc-rated clothing all day every day.
- No changing required at the start or finish of energized work.
- No risk of wearing fuel (AKA Cotton in an Arc Flash).
- Minimized risk of ignition.
"So, if it’s a matter of frequency, what number of energized tasks makes you choose the daily-wear option?”
Let’s run the numbers. Say you employ 10 electricians. And each electrician does an average of 10 energized tasks a day.
That’s 100 energized tasks a day. Which means 3,000 energized tasks per month.
Which means 30,000 opportunities a year for them not to have the correct protection on when they need it.
And then there’s the cost in time, to you the employer.
Simple math shows it can really add up. Let’s take the same scenarios and say you employ 10 electricians:
- Those 10 electricians accomplish 10 energized tasks per day. That’s 10 stoppages per electrician to change in and then out of their arc rated coverall per day.
- Estimate it takes 5 minutes to put on your coverall.
- Another 5 minutes to take it off.
- That’s 100 minutes per day, per employee. Or…
- That’s is approximately 1,000 minutes per day, times 30 days, makes 30,000 minutes a month your employees spend getting in and out of their arc rated coveralls.
- That’s 500+ hours a month changing in and out of coveralls.
For 10 employees, even at a very modest pay rate of $20 dollars an hour, it could cost you $10,000 a month.
So, the numbers, as they say, really do say it all.
So, let’s recap the four reasons to choose a daily-wear program:
- Minimizes the cost of daily tasks.
- Minimizes the number of decisions.
- Provides a baseline of protection.
- Lowers the risk of wasting company time and resources.
Where to look in 70E for guidance.
Though all NFPA 70E is important, the first chapter contains the bulk of information regarding PPE for arc flash evaluation and protection. Specifically:
- Chapter 1 Safety-Related Work Practices
- ARTICLE 130 - Work Involving Electrical Hazards
- 130.5 Arc Flash Risk Assessment thru 130.7 Personal and Other Protective Equipment
These are bare minimum standards, and we can always exceed those. But they drive home the point of choosing a daily wear program… Think of it this way:
Donning a daily wear arc-rated shirt and pants is like wearing your seat belt – it’s better to have it on and not need it than the alternative of needing it and not having it.
It always gives you peace of mind that at least your employees will not be further injured due to clothing ignition.
What to wear and how to wear it.
Those who fall under the scope of NFPA70E power our economy and are often under intense pressure to keep the widgets flowing.
So for them we need to keep the knowledge flowing.
Here’s what head-to-toe protection looks like:
- Hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, and arc-rated face shield must be worn
- Fully buttoned-up
- Fully tucked-in
- Sleeves rolled down
- Proper gloves must be worn
Those are simple rules, but as with all PPE, the better the garment feels, fits, and works with the worker, the more likely they are to wear it right.
Think about it: Every time your employees open a panel, any number of potential complications can arise. And they’re already adding complexity by wearing the required hard hat and face shield, balaclava, eye and ear protection, rubber gloves and leathers.
So the fit, feel, and functionality of their arc-rated apparel can’t be a distraction.
They need fabric that flexes, stretches, and moves with them.
And a garment that feels good to wear. Not a burden.
And they need moisture management and smart design.
With Bulwark FR, you can trust you’ll have the right gear, in the right moment, to keep your team cool, comfortable, and compliant.
We’re committed to leading and clarifying every aspect of safety in the energy sector. From flame resistant and arc rated clothing, to NFPA 70E, to 1910.269, to ANSI 107 (for high visibility), to NFPA 2112 and 2113 for flash fires and combustible dust.
It’s that very spirit of partnership that’s core to our purpose of saving lives, and that we pledge to put to work for you. Relentlessly. Any time you need.
For now, we hope we’ve made 70E a bit more 70 easy.