Safety is a top priority for organizations in the energy, oil, electric, and wind industries. For many professionals, protective workwear is an essential part of the job. With so many available options on the market, however, how do you know which ones are best for your company?
There are two viable choices for workplaces: arc-rated (AR) and flame-resistant (FR) wear. This article will discuss what these garments are, including their differences and benefits.
What Is Arc-Rated Workwear?
Understanding AR requires knowledge about electric arcs — quick but lethal hazards that release massive amounts of deadly energy. Within a fraction of a second, they can reach over 19,000°C, a temperature four times hotter than the sun’s surface. This can cause fatal burns and ignite and vaporize nearby objects.
These are the four classifications of PPE clothing based on arc ratings:
- PPE Level 1: 4 cal/cm2
- PPE Level 2: 8 cal/cm2
- PPE Level 3: 25 cal/cm2
- PPE Level 4: 40 cal/cm2
An arc rating calculates the amount of heat protection a piece of fabric can provide you upon exposure to an electric arc. It uses calories to portray the protective level of clothing. A higher value offers more protection against an electric arc.
In 2012, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) expanded the personal protective equipment (PPE) terminologies for FR clothing. The agency included AR products in the mix to refer to garments that pass arc ratings.
Professionals often use the terms AR and FR interchangeably, but they’re different things. All garments that receive an arc rating are flame-resistant, but not all FR materials have an arc rating.
What Is Flame-Resistant Workwear?
Fabrics that are not flame-resistant will ignite and continue burning after a fire or an explosion, making FR workwear necessary for some industries. Some will even melt and integrate with the user’s body.
FR workwear is any piece of clothing designed to protect you from flames and thermal injury. These garments resist ignition and extinguish themselves. Professionals exposed to explosions, fires, and other thermal incidents should wear these outfits to prevent work-related deaths and injuries.
In most cases, FR garments use heat-resilient materials like Kevlar, Modacrylic, and Nomex. Just as hard hats, glasses, and gloves are essential, FR garments are too. These fabrics include overalls, jackets, coveralls, etc.
What Is the Difference Between AR and FR Products?
AR workwear protects employees from electrical arc flash hazards that may occur in these settings:
- Accidental contact with live electrical systems
- Exposure to conductive dust inside electrical products
- Decay on electrical conduit and wires
- Conductive tools touching electrical units
- Unsafe work practices
The goal of AR clothing is to protect you from these scenarios. Manufacturers design these garments to resist ignition to minimize burns and injuries.
On the other hand, FR workwear should protect you from fire-related dangers such as flash fires, flames, and embers. While FR garments are not entirely “fire-proof,” and will ignite when they come into contact with fire, they will self-extinguish and will stop burning when ignited.
These outfits should reduce the extent of burn injuries. Additionally, not all of them will resist arcs.
Benefits of Wearing AR and FR Garments
AR and FR offer different features, but they have the same goal: to keep employees safe. By investing in the best garments, you can protect your workers from potentially life-threatening accidents. Below are some of the benefits of wearing them.
Boost Chance of Survival
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), arc flashes cause up to 50% of electrical injuries in the workplace. Additionally, 40% of burn fatalities come from explosions and fires.
Without a doubt, these circumstances kill people. Wearing the correct type of protective gear can improve your survival rate during such instances.
The best part about wearing protective garments is that they resist ignition or self-extinguish. This feature should give you enough time to get away from the ignition source and protect yourself, your workmates, and your environment. Once you remove yourself from the heat source, your workwear will not remain on fire.
Does Not Melt
In most cases, any fire that touches clothes will spread quickly and engulf a victim in flames. When this happens, certain clothing types may melt and stick to the skin. If you have your protective gear on you, you won’t have to worry about such circumstances. Your AR or FR workwear will protect your skin at all costs, preventing you from getting second or even third-degree burns.
Provides Thermal Insulation
A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Alert shares that exposure to 65°C water for just two seconds can cause third-degree burns. Imagine, electric arcs can reach 19,000°C, and fires go as high as 9,000°C! Without protective clothing, these temperatures can easily cause harm.
However, high-quality AR and FR wear can regulate the heat that passes through them. This feature is crucial in preventing lethal burns.
Resists Breaking Open
One of the most impressive features of modern safety wear is that they don’t break open even when exposed to extremely high temperatures. Any open area in the fabric would cause further damage to the skin and even aggravate the existing injuries.
Keep Your Workplace Safe
Federal laws require employers to keep their workers safe to the best of their abilities. For some companies, these laws involve providing them with the ideal protective gear. Integrating them with your uniform can be the difference between life and death during accidents.
However, remember that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for safety needs. Different types of protective workwear have different strengths and work best in particular settings. If you need help choosing the best ones for your company, get in touch with our specialists now.
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