The Tools to Safety
Safety | Tools of the Trade
We are continuing to honor National Electrical Safety Month by spotlighting safe tools of the trade!
In our last blog, we covered the National Electrical Code (NEC) and just as the NEC helps prepare you for potential hazards you may see in the field, personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries, such as shock, electrocution, and exposure to arc flashes and arc blasts. Although safe electrical practices can limit accidents at the job site, protective equipment should always be worn in case the unexpected happens.
PPE gear can offer protection from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. It includes items such as hard hats, gloves, and eye protection, among other pieces. A PPE Code of Practice was put in place in 2002 to detail the practical management, issue, and maintenance of such equipment. OSHA also covers PPE in its entirety.
Types of PPE
As mentioned before, there are several types of PPE, and they are broken down into six categories:
- Eye and face protection
- Head protection
- Hand and arm protection
- Body protection
- Hearing protection
- Insulated Tools
Eye and Face Protection
Most construction and industrial jobs require eye and face protection in the form of safety glasses or face shields. If an employee wears prescription lenses, they are required to wear additional eye or face protection over their lenses. Eye protection is required to prevent harmful or even fatal injuries caused by foreign objects, chemical splashes, blunt force, and radiant energy caused by welding or arc flashes.
Hard hats can protect employees from impact and penetration hazards as well as from electrical shock and burn hazards. The PPE Code requires the use of hard hats if any such conditions apply:
- Potential for objects to fall from above and strike them on the head
- Potential to bump head against fixed objects, such as exposed pipes or beams
- Possibility of accidental head contact with electrical hazards
There are three classes of hard hats, although all should offer some protection from falling objects, absorb shock from a blow, have water-resistant properties, and burn slowly.
- Impact and penetration resistance
- Limited voltage protection
- Highest level of electrical hazard protection
- Burn protection
- Impact and penetration protection
- Lightweight comfort
- Impact protection
- No electrical hazard protection
Hand and Arm Protection
Since workers primarily use their hands to deal with parts of the job with a high potential for danger, it’s important to make sure to have proper hand and arm protection on the job site to protect from harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical dangers, cuts, and more. Gloves, finger guards, and arm coverings or elbow-length gloves are just a few options for keeping your limbs safe.
There are certain factors to keep in mind when it comes to choosing gloves. Nature of contact, duration of contact, area requiring protection, grip requirements, thermal protection, size, comfort, and abrasion/resistance requirements should all be considered when choosing protective gloves.
Caring for your protective gloves is very important in maintaining their safety qualities. Practice inspection of the gloves before each use to ensure they are not torn, punctured, or made ineffective in any way. Gloves that are discolored or stiff may also indicate deficiencies caused by excessive use or degradation from chemical exposure.
Arc flashes can happen during electrical work in a fault or short circuit condition, causing serious injuries such as burns and blindness. Bomb-like blasts follow the arc flash, acting as a supersonic shockwave, damaging any equipment, materials, or people nearby. Arc flashes may occur more frequently at low voltages due to the high fault current and can be caused by carelessness or accident, improper tools, or poor installation and work techniques. Electrical safety awareness and training help to prevent these dangerous occurrences; however, it is not always the primary worker’s fault, as static electricity, high voltage cables, or improper preventative maintenance for circuit breakers and switches could result in arc flashes.
Certain precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of harm and arc flashes, such as:
- De-energize equipment and remove personnel
- Study the hazard and use low-risk technology
- Redesign electrical systems and controls
- Improve safety training and risk awareness
- Create and implement a strict safety program
Wearing the proper attire can prevent harm during one of the blasts. Special-made coveralls, vests, jackets, aprons, and full body suits can be worn to reduce static buildup, ground the wearer, or act as a protective barrier.
Protecting yourself from hearing loss is extremely important for those who work in loud areas such as factories and construction sites. Exposure to excessive noise depends on several factors: the decibel level of the environment, duration of exposure to the loud noise, movement between work areas with different noise levels, and whether noise is generated from one or multiple sources.
Hearing protection is very easy to come by, with single-use earplugs sold at almost every major grocery store, pharmacy, and department store. For those looking for more protection, molded earplugs, earmuffs, and headphones are other options.
Insulated Hand Tools
Insulated tools are hand tools electricians use to help protect them from incidents, including arc flashes, arc blasts, and electrocution. They are typically more expensive than regular tools. The process of creating these tools to provide protection can be complex and time-consuming.
When deciding if a tool insulated or not, it is best to look for the international 1,000-volt symbol. Most hand tools also come equipped with a rubber coating over the handle(s). This still does not mean they are insulated. Common knowledge tells us that rubber is not a conductor of electricity. Insulated tools are very thick and have multiple layers of both plastic and rubber. The base layer is made of plastic and typically brighter than the outer rubber layer and offers wear and tear protection. The hard plastic layer prevents hands and fingers from being exposed to the metal. The rubber layer is the outer layer and offers most of the protection from the electricity and offers comfort and grip.
Insulated tools can also be identified by the enlarged finger guards at the top of the handles. The finger guards help prevent your index finger from slipping towards the top of the tool and exposing your hand and fingers to exposed metal.
Personal protective equipment is vital in protecting employees from work-related accidents and creating a safer environment. Before selecting PPE, do a walk-through to help determine all potential workplace hazards to ensure the correct equipment is selected and made uniform. Creating a safe work environment can be achieved by providing proper safety measures, education, and supervision to encourage workers to perform their job safely and responsibly.
If you need safety equipment, swing by your local CES!
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