What kind of PPE program should you implement?

Westex by Milliken

By Scott Francis, Midwest Regional Market Manager for Westex by Milliken
Wednesday, 27 February, 2019

What kind of PPE program should you implement?

The broad selection of available PPE can make it difficult to create or update a PPE program within a business, particularly within the electrical industry.

Taking into the account the major elements of a risk assessment is important when choosing between task-based and daily wear PPE programs. However, daily wear makes a compelling case for achieving the highest level of protection and compliance.

Given the regulatory atmosphere surrounding today’s safety conversations, taking steps towards hazard mitigation is now more important than ever. For the electrical industry, this includes taking into account the potential life-threatening effects of arc flash hazards. NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace defines arc flash hazard as “a source of possible injury or damage to health associated with the release of energy caused by an electric arc”. While often a brief incident, the electric arc can cause potentially catastrophic burns to anyone in the vicinity.

Recently updated in 2018, NFPA 70E continues to be the guiding standard for electrical safety. The latest edition points to PPE usage as a matter of compliance, where employers and employees share a measure of responsibility in specifying and utilising PPE day in and day out on the job.

It also provides the framework for creating a compliant environment, of which PPE plays a vital role in accomplishing. In meeting this standard, a formalised PPE program should be established. Employers and workers have the option to incorporate two overarching types of PPE programs — task-based or daily wear. As the name suggests, task-based PPE is put on when performing a specific task, while daily wear PPE is worn throughout the day while on the job. Both programs offer the necessary protection; however, for lower energy Category 1 and 2 type tasks, daily wear, especially in light of the new emphasis on human error in Article 110, is a compelling means to achieve maximum compliance.

Task-based wear program defined

Task-based programs, as the name implies, encourage workers to don the appropriate PPE when beginning a task, and then remove it once the task is completed. In theory, this process would provide the necessary protection based on the task at hand without needing to wear said PPE all day long. It is important to note, though, that arc flash protection is directly linked to whether the task-based PPE is worn and worn correctly.

Task-based programs are less expensive than daily wear programs when comparing upfront PPE investment. Yet, there are a number of cost-related elements to consider when evaluating a task-based program. According to NFPA 70E, workers must wear natural fibre clothing underneath the PPE, which can be an additional upfront cost to insure workers are not wearing synthetic clothing with the task-based PPE. There is also a time cost, as a worker must take time out of their day to appropriately outfit themselves.

Daily wear program defined

Daily wear clothing is usually meant to operate as a single-layer garment, depending on the category level of protection needed, which provides protection throughout the day. The user does not need to take an extra step prior to completing hazardous work, as self-extinguishing and insulating fabric properties are built directly into the garment. Daily wear PPE garments deliver guaranteed protection for the life of the garment, when made with a reputable AR/FR fabric and when properly maintained.

Daily wear — proper AR/FR clothing is worn at all times during work hours.

Daily wear PPE garments require few additional steps to provide full body arc flash Category 1 and Category 2 protection, including adding necessary PPE for head, face, hands or feet. Additional body PPE layering may be required based on arc-rating requirements for specific higher energy electrical tasks falling in Category 3 or Category 4. Efficiency is greatly improved when wearing daily wear for Category 1 and Category 2 protection, and a worker can better focus on the task at hand when he or she is not expected to divert attention to finding and donning protective clothing. Aside from streamlining a worker’s day, daily wear can enhance on-the-job focus simply by eliminating an extra step.

The underlying problem of a task-based program

From the efficiency argument to the hassle and expense of delays, task-based programs are subject to numerous factors that can hinder overall effectiveness.

With both daily wear and task-based programs, it is important to make sure your AR/FR clothing provides the required level of protection against any hazards identified by the risk assessment. In many cases, the level of protection can be the same across the two types of programs, but the consistency of program use varies greatly. The consistency argument highlights a task-based program’s greatest pitfall: is a worker going to put on the appropriate PPE at the appropriate time?

The 2018 edition of NFPA 70E specifically directs workers and employers to address and account for human error when conducting a risk assessment. There are four categories of human error precursors — task demands, work environment, individual capabilities and human nature — all of which contribute to elevated risks when approaching electrical work. Many of these error precursors can be substantially lessened with a daily wear program and may be exacerbated by a task-based program because of the need for employees to take an extra step to achieve the same level of protection. Thus, since workers are more likely to be wearing their AR/FR clothing, daily wear programs greatly reduce the likelihood of burn injury occurrence and severity of burn injury a worker may encounter in the event an arc flash occurs from one of these precursors.

Taking a long-term view on safety and risk helps make the case for implementing a daily wear program and greatly reduces the initial cost argument. Daily wear prioritises worker safety and morale while also meeting and exceeding industry requirements.

Top image: Task-based wear — proper AR/FR clothing is put on to perform a specific task.

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