“Power generation and distribution, maintenance industries, and electrical contractors don’t always realise how important it is to wear the right protective garments,” says Deane Nothard, BBF Safety Group’s marketing manager. “An arc flash is extremely dangerous and can affect people as far as seven metres away from the blast.” Bearing this in mind, what does the correct ARC personal protective equipment (PPE) entail?

An arc flash is the sudden release of electrical energy through the air when a high-voltage gap exists and there is a breakdown between conductors. This release of energy comes in the form of an explosion that creates intense heat, force, noise, and light.

Temperatures as high as 20 000 °C have been recorded during arc flashes; it is this intense heat and the accompanying flames that can cause fatal burns. The risk of this happening, however, is greatly reduced by using the correct PPE. “The shorter the person’s exposure to the resultant flame, the better the chances of survival and of less severe injuries, which is why the garments must have the ability to self-extinguish as quickly as possible,” Nothard explains.

“Whilst power generation and distribution workers who predominantly wear Category 4 arc PPE understand and adhere to wearing the correct arc PPE, there is a lack of adherence in the lighter applications, including maintenance and electrical contractors, where there is less awareness of the dangers and regulations surrounding arc flash protection,” he continues. “PPE is the last line of defence against an arc flash and serious consideration needs to be given to selecting the correct PPE.”

The standard for arc-rated garments is that they can self-extinguish within two seconds once the exposure to a flame has been removed. While this is normally measured in laboratory conditions on an unused garment, Bova – a BBF Safety Group brand – wanted to emulate these tests with laundering scenarios that are closer to real life situations.

“We did comparative testing through an independent laboratory with treated versus inherent flame resistant (FR) materials subjected to a detergent with stain remover; the results were frightening,” says Nothard. “The treated garments failed to self-extinguish within a reasonable time after as few as 15 washes, while our inherent FR material was still compliant well within the two-second self-extinguish criteria.”

The bigger concern is that the treated fabrics showed no noticeable deterioration before their failure. Because the fabric still appears to be in good condition, wearers may believe they are protected against potential burns when, in fact, their FR treated garments have already lost their protective abilities. When it comes to safety, quality and reliability cannot be compromised, adds Nothard: “We are firm advocates for using inherent FR materials for this category because the FR abilities do not wash or wear away.”

Bova launched its range of arc flash protection garments in January last year.

Bova’s arc flash range incorporates Beier’s I-ARC fabric: an innovative solution in thermal protection fabrics that was developed in collaboration between the Beier Group and Lenzing, a global leader in inherently FR fibres. As part of its economic and social responsibility, Bova’s arc garments are already locally manufactured and the brand has undertaken to increase its local development of the fabrics further.

“We are investing substantially to localise our I-ARC material, a project that is quite far along and has yielded very positive results,” says Nothard. In another forward-thinking move, Lenzing FR fibres are made of botanic materials that come from sustainably-managed forestry projects, ensuring that the Bova arc range is sourced through environmentally-friendly channels.

But these green credentials and Bova’s localisation plan certainly do not compromise on the quality of the range; the fabrics offer strong abrasion resistance and low shrinkage. “The range has been designed to provide the best balance between inherent protection against the hazards of an arc flash, and lightweight, comfortable, and durable garments,” Nothard explains. The Bova arc range also offers a wonderful weight-to-protection ratio. For example, Bova’s Category 2 garments utilise fabric weighing just 215 g/m2 – almost 100 g lighter than several other offerings with a similar arc thermal performance value rating.

Furthermore, the hydrophilic (water absorbing) and hydrophobic (water resistant) fibres of Lenzing’s blended materials create an evaporative cooling effect. “This definitely sets our products apart from some of the other options available in this category and is particularly important
in our warmer African climates,” Nothard enthuses. This comfort element is crucial because if employees are uncomfortable, they will be less productive and may even avoid wearing the required PPE altogether. He says that the company also intends to continue its drive towards education, training, and the enlightenment of wearers on the dangers of arc flashes and the selection of the correct PPE for all applications.

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