Since childhood Hugh Hoagland has had a passion for things that burn. From fireworks to the flame-throwers he used to burn brush at a farm where he worked.
Today, his wife says Hugh has the best “boy” job in the world.
That’s because as the founder of ArcWear, Hugh gets to play with fire – literally. So far in his career, he’s tested over 150,000 electric arcs – more than anyone else in the world.
We recently talked to Hugh about ArcWear, arc flashes, and the best PPE for people who work with three-phase equipment.
Here’s what he had to say:
1. Can you tell us about how you came to start ArcWear? What services do you offer?
H: At ArcWear, we do arc flash evaluation and testing for ASTM F1506 and flash fire testing using the NFPA 2112 standard. We also test, certify, and research arc flash protective garments including product certification for the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI).
2. What is an arc flash? What causes them?
H: It’s an electrical explosion. Arc flash occurs when energy from an electric line jumps through the air, due to accidental or intentional shorting of the line. It could be a quarter of an inch, or even be a foot to the ground or another phase.
We experience low-energy arcs every day. The spark you see when you flick on a light, the glow of a neon light, or even carpet static are all good examples of arcs. They’re just arc flashes with low energy.
The most dangerous type of arc flash occurs in three-phase equipment. Any industrial machine is three-phase equipment, like a conveyor belt motor or a AC unit. Most industrial processes use three-phase equipment. For comparison, a light bulb is one-phase because it emits such a low amount of energy.
The main causes of arc flashes are human error or equipment failure due to poor design, lack of maintenance, or dust inside the electrical equipment.
Flashes are usually instantaneous and tend to put themselves out in low voltage. Or, they’re stopped by protection devices on the equipment, upstream.
“Lightning is nature’s arc flash.”
3. What do you look for in protective equipment? How do you test it?
H: Workers should look for PPE that meets the correct standards based on the garment. Selecting PPE that meets the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E requirements is important. A qualified electrical engineer or other company can do a good job in this type of assessment. Or, with the proper training, people can do this in-house.
“An arc flash test mannequin.”
4. What professionals are most at risk of injury from electric arc and flash fires?
H: People most at risk for electric arc exposures are maintenance people, electricians, mechanical workers or operating industrial equipment. Anyone exposed to high-energy equipment using more than 208 volts are at risk. Flash exposures are usually from petrochemicals or combustible dust exposures.
5. How can these professionals protect themselves from injury in the event of a flash fire?
H: De-energizing the circuit is the simplest and most effective prevention. Beyond that, using meters and insulated tools to make sure they’re not causing the arc with their tools.
Following proper lockout/tagout procedures for working with equipment without electrical power. All of these steps are critical steps to avoiding arc flash.
6. What should organizations know about caring for and/or maintaining their protective gear?
H: They want to inspect it on a regular basis. If it’s launderable, wash it regularly. If it’s had a hydocarbon exposure – oil or grease – clean it or replace it.
To protect themselves, workers should wear their protective equipment all the time. I’ve done 160 accident investigations – and unfortunately, the most common problem is from people not wearing the equipment.
There are certain places you should wear PPE anywhere in the plant. An electrical maintenance person should be in electric PPE all the time – be it an arc-rated glove, shirt and pants, face shield, hardhat, or a flash suit. The amount of PPE worn by the worker should be based on the severity of the hazard, and the risk of the job.
7. What should organizations look for when purchasing protective garments and equipment for their crews?
H: We’re trying to get more and more people to wear gloves because the hands are one of the most affected areas in an arc flash.
Electrical workers should wear rubber-insulating gloves with a leather protective when working on equipment with a shock potential. But oftentimes, workers opt not to wear gloves when they’re working with small parts, which can be problematic.
We’re recommending that people move to flame-resistant, arc rated gloves – operators, electricians, or anyone working with 200 volts or higher three-phase equipment when there is no shock hazard but where there is still the risk of an arc flash hazard, like when operating equipment.
Note: Workers who are exposed to arc flashes without the appropriate equipment could face second and third degree burns.
8. How often should these garments/equipment be tested and/or replaced?
H: There’s no ongoing testing for arc-rated gloves or equipment. By law, voltage-rated gloves have to be tested every six months. Keep in mind that arc protection should not be used when it’s worn or heavily soiled – it should either be replaced or laundered.
9. How has PPE evolved since you began your career?
H: I’ve been in this business for 22 years. When I was starting out, there were four fabrics; we tested forty last month. There are hundreds of materials on the market now.
[These materials] are more comfortable, durable, cut-resistant, and lighter weight. There are so many more features and uses than I ever dreamed.
I kept thinking this business would go away after five years. But, we now have 20 employers and 20 contractors involved. We also do training through our company e-hazard, where contractors offer electrical safety training, explain how to use equipment, and educate workers about rules and standards.
10. What are the most exciting innovations you’re following in PPE?
H: There are lots of different things out now. What’s really interesting is the growth of arc-rated gloves.
Right now, the gloves that go on top of the rubber insulators for shock have to be a certain thickness of leather. We’re trying to develop performance standards for gloves that will allow them to be cut-resistant, puncture-resistant, chemical-resistant, abrasion-resistant, flexible, and lighter in weight.
For 10 years we’ve been working on changing the standard that requires leather gloves – which can become really slick when wet and can’t be washed – to allow for more high-performance materials to be used.
11. Any final thoughts on purchasing safety equipment?
H: The most important thing is to pick the right stuff – from a reputable company. There are a lot of poor companies that are jumping into this market right now that don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t just buy the cheapest thing. Check the standard; check the testing reports (which, the company is required to give you). The best companies make them easily accessible to users.
Looking for more arc flash knowledge?
Watch ‘The No-BS Approach to Arc Flash’ now!