Recent Innovations in Arc Flash-Protective Apparel for Cleanrooms
Maintaining a cleanroom involves navigating a unique set of challenges that can test the mettle of even experienced facility managers. That has a lot to do with the difficulty of minimizing airborne pollutants in a manner compliant with industry regulations.
Contaminants can come from seemingly everywhere—shoes, cosmetics, wedding rings, mold on marker pens, and multitude of other sources that are easily overlooked. Even sudden hand gestures, which create potentially disruptive air currents, may lead to disaster.
Cleanroom personnel must be continuously alert to various threats to their physical safety. Among the most dangerous of these is the phenomenon known as the arc flash, an extremely powerful electrical discharge that can easily cause lethal injury to unprotected individuals.
The need to manage these diverse hazards—those that harm sensitive materials as well as those that jeopardize the health of workers—means that cleanroom personnel must wear highly specialized apparel. Such clothing must be designed with non-linting fabric that will not contaminate the cleanroom; for certain workers, it must also provide adequate protection against arc flashes and similar perils, while simultaneously offering a comfortable solution for team members.
This is a tall order, yet the cleanroom flame resistant (FR) line of products created by respected industrial fabrics manufacturers—and sold and rented by trusted cleanroom specialists Prudential Cleanroom Services—fulfills these requirements.
Arc Flashes: The basics
An arc flash is produced when an electric current is permitted to flow through ionized air between conductors, resulting in a low-impedance phase-to-phase or phase-to-ground fault. Due to the property of negative resistance, the temperature of the arc increases very rapidly, until the heat damages a piece of the equipment maintaining the arc (e.g., the conductors) and breaks the circuit.
Arc flashes can reach 35,000 F and their intense light is capable of severely damaging the human eye. What’s more, all this happens in a fraction of a second, giving bystanders no time to take defensive action. Arc flashes usually result from human error or equipment malfunction. Although not all of these incidents cause significant damage to persons or property, the threat of the arc flash should never be underestimated.
Arc flashes and OSHA regulations
The danger posed by arc flashes has been formally recognized by workplace regulators. There are multiple rules and regulations enforced at the national level to protect employees against the threat of arc flashes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made it clear that workplace managers have an obligation to ensure that employees use protective clothing that can shield them from electric arc flashes:
OSHA § 1910.269(l)(8)(iii) – “The employer shall ensure that each employee who is exposed to hazards from flames or electric arcs does not wear clothing that could melt onto his or her skin or that could ignite and continue to burn…” This section generally prohibits the wearing of fabrics composed of acetate, nylon, rayon, polyester, and polypropylene.
OSHA § 1910.335(a)(1)(v) – “Employees shall wear protective equipment for the eyes or face wherever there is danger of injury to the eyes or face from electric arcs or flashes.”
Further guidance about the role of arc flash-resistant protective clothing can be found under OSHA regulation 1910.269.
Cleanroom flame resistant fabrics can protect against arc flashes
What kind of workplace apparel can cleanroom managers rely on to protect their employees and ensure OSHA compliance? As we have seen, this type of clothing must fulfill numerous requirements.
Fortunately, flame resistant apparel passes the test. These durable, nonlinting, tear-resistant products include an assortment of OSHA-compliant hoods, coveralls and boots. They have been designed to meet the demands of the modern cleanroom and offer various safety benefits, such as the following:
- Flame retardance – Nomex® filaments provide a high degree of resistance to flame.
- Static dissipation – This prevents static from triggering arc flashes and other potentially harmful events.
Compliance with ASTM F1506 arc flash standard – This specification is recognized by OSHA as contributing to the fulfillment of regulation § 1910.269.
- Comfortable – reusable FR garments provide cleanroom workers with OSHAcompliant apparel that protects them against arc flashes without sacrificing their comfort or unnecessarily restricting their movement. Cleanroom team members have enough to think about while on the job, so in addition to safety and compliance, comfort is a top priority.