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Layering FR/AR Garments for Protection Against Arc Flash

Arc flash is a dangerous reality for those who work in the electrical industries. Since arc flash incidents cannot be predicted, it’s important that workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times. This whitepaper discusses how a layered system can protect workers while providing comfort and safety.

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What’s the difference between AR & FR?

Arming your crew with the appropriate FR gear is a feat in itself. Navigating the ever-changing sea of standards? Now that’s another beast entirely. Bulwark is here to help you choose the right FR program by ensuring you have a thorough grasp on the standards and what they mean for you—and your crew.

When the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) introduced the term “Arc-Rated” or “AR” in its 2012 revision to NFPA 70E, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The question on every safety manager’s mind was: what’s the difference between AR and FR? According to Bulwark’s Technical Training Manager, Derek Sang, the most basic and important thing to know when it comes to AR and FR is that all arc-rated clothing is flame resistant, but not all flame resistant clothing is arc-rated.

For a piece of clothing to be considered flame resistant, the fabric used to make the garment must withstand ignition and/or rapidly self-extinguish in order to protect the wearer from the dangers of flash fire, arc flash, molten metals and other hazards. In the event of a flash fire or arc flash, the FR PPE worn must resist catching fire, melting, and continuing to burn after the initial flash to act as a barrier between the wearer and the hazard.

The fabric used to create arc-rated clothing is subject to additional tests, above and beyond fabric labeled simply “FR.” Primarily, it is exposed to a series of arc flashes to determine how much energy the fabric is able to block before it would likely cause the wearer to obtain a 2nd degree burn, 50% of the time. The result of this test, expressed in calories, is known as the Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV).

Current standards for arc flash protection, detailed by NFPA 70E, state that all PPE clothing must also be flame resistant to qualify for an arc rating. In other words: all AR clothing is FR, but not all FR clothing is AR. This is because, based on the results of the series of tests outlined above, equipment rated FR may not always provide the adequate level of protection for workers who are at risk of encountering arc flashes. These employees—general industry electricians (70E)— must wear the appropriate level of AR clothing for the hazard, in order to reduce their risk of serious injury or death caused by an arc flash.

Stay Informed

The best defense for you and your team is to stay educated on how you can reduce injury in the case of an arc flash. The Bulwark Protection PPE experts provide a wide range of tools and resources on how to select the right FR and tips on how to properly implement a safety program.

  • OSHA 1910.269
  • Selection, Use, Care and Maintenance of FR Clothing
  • NFPA 70E
  • Arc Rating Calculator
Industry News
Multi-Hazard Protective Clothing

GARMENTS ADDRESS FLASH FIRE, ARC FLASH, CHEMICAL SPLASH & POOR VISIBILITY

Multitasking is everywhere. Not just in the way we live our lives, but also in the products we use every day. Our cellphones now access the internet and double as calculators, GPS systems, cameras and more. Our watches don’t just tell time, but also count our steps, monitor our heart rates and alert us when we have new text messages. So why shouldn’t our protective apparel serve more than one purpose as well?

According to Frost and Sullivan’s North American Industrial Protective Clothing Market Forecast to 2020, apparel with multiple protective functionalities is becoming increasingly popular. This isn’t surprising, considering that many occupations involve more than one hazard — and most people would rather not wear extra layers of protective apparel or change clothes several times throughout the day to address each hazard they might encounter.

DEFINING THE NEED

Protective clothing is only effective if it is worn consistently and correctly. The best way to encourage proper use is to make the protective apparel as comfortable and easy to wear as possible. By reducing the number of different garments and/or layers necessary for proper protection, you can help increase the likelihood that protective workwear won’t be worn improperly, or worse, forgotten or forgone entirely.

In this way, multi-hazard protective apparel is a major step in improving safety. It provides a much more convenient and practical way to address protection against common workplace hazards, helping inspire increased wearer compliance.

Due to the significant advantages multi-hazard protective clothing offers, a variety of garments have been developed to address some of the most common hazard combinations in today’s work environments.

FLASH FIRE AND ARC FLASH

While a variety of industries face both flash fire and arc flash, employees working in utilities or oil and gas may be particularly likely to need protection against these two hazards. As a result, there is a need for multi-hazard protective apparel that meets the unique demands of those industries.

To address this need, flame-resistant (FR) clothing manufacturers have begun developing garments that meet the requirements of both NFPA 2112, the Standard on Flame-Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire, and NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Various multi-hazard protection options are even available to meet the specific requirements for each of the NFPA 70E personal protective equipment (PPE) categories. As an added bonus, some of these multi-hazard garments provide protection against small molten metal splatter as well.

CHEMICAL SPLASH AND THERMAL HAZARDS

In many environments where thermal hazards such as arc flash or flash fire are present, there is also a risk of chemical splash. This combination of hazards may be a concern for those working in laboratories, food processing, machinery and transportation, agriculture, or anywhere else flammable substances or liquid chemicals are present.

Fortunately, recent clothing innovations combining chemical-splash protective technology with FR fabric have made simultaneous protection against these hazards significantly more comfortable and convenient. You can now purchase lab coats that offer lightweight, breathable protection against both thermal hazards and inadvertent chemical splash — and other products aren’t far away.

POOR VISIBILITY AND THERMAL HAZARDS

It is not uncommon to find thermal hazards in work environments where there is also poor visibility, resulting in a need for both FR and high-visibility protection. Even if it is worn over FR clothing, non-FR high-visibility clothing can ignite, continue to burn and even melt when exposed to heat and flame, endangering the wearer. But choosing to forego high-visibility clothing can be just as dangerous.

To solve this problem, FR clothing manufacturers developed high-visibility FR clothing that meets the requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories as well as NFPA 70E and NFPA 2112. Now available in a variety of styles of vests, T-shirts and beyond, high-visibility FR clothing is a safety game-changer for workers in industries ranging from electrical utilities to oil and gas.

A FINAL NOTE

While multi-hazard protection can be the perfect solution in many work environments, it is not right for everyone. When selecting workwear, safety should always be the top priority. To evaluate the best protective clothing options for your workplace, begin by thoroughly assessing all potential hazards and consulting the applicable safety standards. From there, other factors such as comfort, long-term cost-effectiveness and style preferences should be taken into account.

If multi-hazard protection sounds like the right choice for you, remember that it is not all garments are created equal. In addition to providing combined protection against relevant hazards, the multi-hazard protection products you choose should be able to meet the demands of your work environment. For the best on-the-job performance and longest wear life, look for garments that are built for durability and made from high-quality, low-shrinkage fabrics. When it comes to comfort, you’ll want to find products that support ease of movement, fit properly, offer good breathability and help manage moisture. Since many of these factors are subjective, you may wish to work with a manufacturer that offers wear trials so you can test out your options before making a purchase.

Multi-hazard protection is already making a significant difference in safety, and these innovations are only the beginning. As work environments continue to evolve and the workwear industry shapes itself in response, new and better ways of protecting workers will continue to unfold.

Ask An Expert
What is a Hazard Risk Assessment?

AR, FR, ATPV, OSHA. The list goes on and on. If there’s one thing that’s true about FR safety, it’s that there are a lot of terms to memorize. It’s not always easy to keep the various words and acronyms straight, but when it comes to building and implementing an effective safety program, knowing your FR vocabulary is important. Here, our FR experts have compiled the most important of those terms in a handy alphabetized glossary so you can create a culture of compliance.

Arc Flash
An arc flash is a type of electrical explosion where temperatures can reach or exceed 35,000 °F. The Arc Flash hazard affects all who work in and around energized electrical equipment. This can include general industry electricians, maintenance workers and operators, as well as our electric utilities, including transmission, distribution, generation and metering.

Arc-Rated (AR) Protective Clothing
Arc-rated protective clothing protects from arc flash and electric arc hazards. AR garments are measured in cal/cm². The total AR clothing system must meet or exceed required arc protection levels. Remember, all AR is FR, but not all FR is AR.

Breakopen
Breakopen is the formation of holes in the fabric during arc rating testing. This is the point of failure of FR protective garments.

EBT
Energy Break-Open Threshold is an alternative measure to ATPV when that measure cannot be used due to breakopen.

Flash Fire
A rapid moving flame front that can be caused by a diffuse fuel, such as dust, gas, or the vapors of an ignitable liquid, without the production of damaging pressure. Flash fire is the primary hazard in the Oil & Gas industry, which includes exploration, drilling, field services and refining.

Hazard Risk Assessment
The first step in the creation of any PPE program is the Hazard Assessment. Federal regulations require employers to assess the workplace to determine if hazards that require the use of personal protective equipment are present or are likely to be present. These include impacts, combustible dust, fire/heat, and chemical hazards, among others.

HRC (Hazard Risk Category)
Hazard risk categories are defined by NFPA® 70E and assigned based on risk associated with electrical safety and arc flash. HRC levels determine the appropriate ATPV of flame-resistant clothing for a given task.

PPE Category
Replaces HRC in 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, the “0” category was eliminated in NFPA 70E 2015. The minimum ATPV’s for PPE Category 1 through 4 are the same as they were for HRC, and the new PPE table only specifies PPE for work within the arc flash boundary.

CAT 2
HRC 2 rated garments have an arc rating between 8 cal/cm² and 25 cal/cm² and are often referred to as “daily wear.”

CAT 3
HRC 3 rated garments have an arc rating between 25 cal/cm² and 40 cal/cm².

CAT 4
HRC 4 rated garments have an arc rating equal or greater than 40 cal/cm². These high ratings are achieved with a layered FR system. Download our FR Layering Fact Sheet to learn the do’s and don’ts of layering for FR.

Inherently Flame Resistant
Inherently flame resistant fabrics are engineered to be flame-resistant at the fiber level, and do not require any additional finishing.

NFPA®
The National Fire Protection Association is an agency whose task it is to promote and improve fire protection and prevention. They publish National Fire Codes.

NFPA® 2112
Refers to NFPA’s “Standard on Flame Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire.” NFPA® 2112 is the “go-to” industry consensus standard that addresses flash fire. It defines the testing methods and performance requirements for flame-resistant fabrics for this hazard.

NFPA® 70E
The “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” NFPA® 70E is meant to protect those working around potential arc flash hazards. Note that NFPA® 70E applies only to general industry electrical safety, not to electric utility workers.

OSHA

Founded by the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) mission is to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Their general duty clause ensures a safe workplace for all employees and is the basis for all industry consensus standards. OSHA determines regulations and standards related to personal protective equipment.

OSHA 1910.269

The regulation states that power utilities make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy to which their employee would be exposed, and that employees exposed to hazards from electric arcs wear AR clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.

ANSI

Founded in 1918, The American National Standards Institute coordinates and develops voluntary standards for products, services, and systems. The organization’s goals include performance consistency and product safety. It is the U.S. member body to ISO and IEC.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Personal protective equipment is specialized safety gear worn by an employee for protection against a hazard. Flame resistant/arc rated garments are a form of personal protective clothing worn against thermal hazards.

Moisture Wicking

Moisture wicking fabrics pull moisture (sweat) away from the body and dry quickly, keeping the wearer cooler, dryer, and more comfortable. Bulwark iQ Series® FR Comfort Knits and Wovens are among the best moisture wicking FR garments available.

Breathability

Breathability refers to how well a fabric allows air to be transmitted through the material. The more air that passes through, the cooler the wearer stays. Bulwark iQ Series® Endurance Collection is the first of its kind to offer high level FR protection in a material that is extremely breathable and durable.

Safety Updates
The ABC’s of PPE

Building a PPE program that meets all safety requirements and meets your personal needs is no easy task. You must select the right garments based on the unique hazards of your industry, in addition to important factors like comfort, durability and laundering. But even the best PPE program in the world is ineffective without the proper implementation and training. Below, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step process for designing, implementing and maintaining your PPE program.

Hazard Assessment
The first step in the creation of any PPE program is the Hazard Assessment. Federal regulations require employers to assess the workplace to determine if hazards that require the use of personal protective equipment are present or are likely to be present. Using the Hazard Assessment Checklist, you will conduct a walk-through survey of the workplace to identify potential hazards. These include impacts, combustible dust, fire/heat, and chemical hazards, among others. When conducting your assessment, be sure to consider workplace, procedural, and environmental hazards.

Selecting the Right PPE
Once you’ve established the need for PPE, it’s time to determine the degree of protection required based on your particular hazards. We do this by matching the hazard to the regulations, which inform what, if any, PPE is required. Industry consensus standards may be used to guide selection decisions, and the best way to cite these standards is by industry. For the main industries Bulwark serves, the hazards and standards are as follows:

Oil & Gas, which includes exploration, drilling, field services, refinement, and chemical, faces the known hazard of flash fire, a rapidly moving flame front that expands through diffuse fuel without creating blast pressure.

NFPA® 2112 and NFPA® 2113 are the “go-to” industry consensus standards that address flash fire. NFPA® 2113 focuses on how organizations and employers—as well as individual wearers—should choose the correct garment based on certain criteria.

Electric Utility workers, including those working in the transmission, distribution, generation, and metering of power utilities, are exposed to hazards associated with electrical energy, primarily electrical arcs or arc flashes.

General Industry: Wherever workers may be exposed to hazards associated with electrical energy, employers must make sure they are protected. This includes electricians, maintenance workers, and operators.

NFPA 70E® requires AR (or arc-rated) clothing for any potential exposure above 1.2 cal/cm2, which equals the onset of a second-degree burn. The level of protection must be based on the task at hand, and most general industry tasks will require CAT2 or higher. It’s necessary to carefully consider the actual risk associated with a job and to match the protection category accordingly.
NOTE: NFPA 70E® applies only to general industry electrical safety. To address specific circumstances for utility, OSHA published 1910.269 & 1926.960, which state that power utilities are required to wear arc-rated clothing which matches the potential threat as determined by a proper hazard analysis.

Training
Employers implementing a PPE program are required by OSHA 1910.132(f)(1) and all industry consensus standards to provide training to each employee. According to OSHA, each employee who is required to wear PPE should at least know when it is necessary, what exactly is necessary, the do’s and don’ts of proper wear, what its limitations are, and how to properly care for it.

NFPA® 2112 A.5.1.1 offers specific requirements about the information employers must provide to their employees.

Maintenance
Proper care and maintenance of FR/AR clothing is essential to the effectiveness of your PPE program. While most industry standards recommend following the instructions provided by compliant garment manufacturers, some standards offer specific guidance, and there are a few basic rules that apply across all relevant standards.

1. Do not use any kind of bleach or peroxide

2. Do not use any additive that could build up and impede FR performance

3. Wash FR/AR garments separately

4. Turn FR/AR garments inside out to help color retention and preserve appearance

5. Use liquid detergent for best results

6. Avoid the hottest temperature to reduce the impact of shrinkage

7. For tough stains, apply liquid detergent or stain remover and soak garment

8. For even tougher stains, Bulwark® FR garments can be dry cleaned

9. Tumble dry on low setting and do not over dry

10. Rewash garments with lingering odor

11. Never use DEET or any other flammable substances on FR/AR clothing.

12. Any repairs must be made with fabric and findings that match the protection level of the original garment.

 

More specific regulations about PPE maintenance are defined in NFPA® 2113 and NFPA 70E®.

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