Arc Flash and FR Clothing

What is an Arc Flash?

NFPA 70E defines an arc flash as the sudden release of unexpected heat and light energy produced by electricity passing through the air, similar to lightning.  Simply put, an arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. The results are often violent and when a human is near the arc flash, serious injury and even death can occur.

Arc flash can be caused by many things including:

  • Dust
  • Dropping tools
  • Accidental touching
  • Condensation
  • Material failure
  • Corrosion
  • Faulty Installation

Arc flash is extremely dangerous because the temperature at the arc point can exceed 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is four times the surface temperature of the sun.  Additional results from an arc flash can include severe burns where non-FR clothing burns into skin, rapidly spreading fire, flying molten metal, extreme blast pressure and sound blasts up to 140 dB.

Arc Flash Protection – PPE

Personnel who are directly exposed to an arc flash and/or arc blast may experience extreme injuries, burns, blindness, shock, hearing loss or even death.  Therefore, it is extremely important to protect workers from arc flash and flash fire hazards on the job.  There are different types of arc flash PPE available, but head-to-toe protection is a must.

  • Head  When working with electricity, it is important to wear a hard hat to protect your head from potential hazards.
  • Face  A face shield will help protect your face from the intense heat and light that is produced by an arc flash.
  • Hearing  Hearing protection is important when working with electricity because the loud noise produced by an arc flash can damage your hearing.
  • Hands  Gloves help protect your hands from the heat and electrical current produced by an arc flash.
  • Foot  Wearing closed-toe shoes will help protect your feet from the heat and electrical current produced by an arc flash.
  • Limbs  Covering as much of your body as possible is important. 

Flame Resistant Clothing

It is recommended that workers in applications where arc flash could be present wear arc-rated flame resistant (FR) clothing for additional protection.  Wearing FR properly is key – wearing improperly could be just as dangerous as not wearing flame resistant clothing at all.  We recommend following these general guidelines to ensure that the FR clothing you are wearing is protecting you as much as possible.

  • FR Clothing Should be Fully Buttoned Up  FR clothing can only protect the skin that it is covering, so it is important to zip or button your shirts and coveralls completely.  To ensure that your neck and chest are not exposed, consider a lightweight base layer for additional protection.
  • FR Sleeves are Rolled Down  It’s common to roll up our sleeves when in hot or dirty environment, but in applications where an arc flash or flash fire is a possibility, it is important to keep your sleeves rolled down.  Bare forearms won’t be protected during an arc flash or flash fire, leaving you exposed to serious injury.
  • FR Clothing Fit  The overall fit of your FR clothing is very important – not baggy, but also not overly fitted. The layer of air in between your skin and clothing adds insulation and protection in the event of an arc flash or flash fire, so it’s important that clothing doesn’t sit too close to the body. Maintaining a comfortable range of motion while working should be easy—if you feel restricted, your clothing is probably too tight.
  • FR Shirts Tucked into Pants  To prevent arc flash and flash fires from traveling under arc rated clothing and reaching your skin, it’s important to keep shirts tucked into pants. Even if your skin isn’t visible when your shirt is untucked, the gap in protection is enough to make you vulnerable to serious injury. Both the NFPA 2113 and NFPA 70E standards require that your AR / FR clothing cover potentially exposed areas as completely as possible, shirt and coverall sleeves be fastened at wrists and that the shirt be tucked into pants.

It is the employer’s responsibility to safeguard their employees.  Conduct an arc flash hazard analysis to identify the necessary PPE. Ensure staff are trained to know when they should wear the appropriate PPE, when working in areas with potential electrical hazards.  IFO Group can help conduct an arc flash hazard analysis and implement a training program to ensure employees are aware of the potential hazards and understand what PPE to wear while performing work that could trigger an arc flash.  Contact us at or at +1-832-403-2135 to request a free consultation today.

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