By Andrew Linley, Compliance Director, Electrical Safety UK Limited

Arc flash PPE has become the default control measure and within the United States, until recently, was the prescribed control measure. However, within the UK and within Europe, this is not the case and legally (through Regulation 4 and Schedule 1 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 in the UK) the control measure to be implemented must be appropriate to the risk present and the hierarchy of control must be adopted.

Arc flash PPE has become the default control measure and within the United States, until recently, was the prescribed control measure. However, within the UK and within Europe, this is not the case and legally (through Regulation 4 and Schedule 1 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 in the UK) the control measure to be implemented must be appropriate to the risk present and the hierarchy of control must be adopted.

To be able to do this it is necessary to understand the hazard that is present, the level of risk that it presents, whom could be harmed, how this could happen and what the severity of potential outcome could be. To be able to do this it is necessary to quantify the risk level, in the case of arc flash and arc blast, this is done through an arc flash study, allowing the incident energy at points of work to be determined. Based on incident energy values, control measures should be introduced that focus on eliminating the hazard, prioritising collective control measures over protecting the individual and ensuring that safe systems of work exist. It is only where PPE has been determined as providing the most effective level of protection, should it be considered as the primary control measure, for example where incident energy is moderate, there are no other effective control measures to be implemented, the frequency of exposure to arc flash hazard is limited and the number of persons exposed is minimal.

A culture of imposing mandatory Arc Flash PPE has started to evolve in the UK where either person are put in clothing where the ATPV value of that clothing does not offer protection against the incident energy present, or the wearing of full arc flash suits is blanket imposed, putting the wearer at risk through reduced mobility and risk of heat exhaustion for no reason at all.

Arc flash PPE does have a role to play in keeping people safe, however, as with all PPE, it should be considered as a last line of protection, rather than the answer to all of our problems.

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