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Weather the storm
14 September 2022
Northern Powergrid employees need comfortable and superior quality PPE for its employees, particularly those working in potentially hazardous environments and in tough weather conditions. Jonas Andersson highlights the results of the newly issued arc rated workwear that have been put to the test.
UTILITY AND electrical engineering offer challenges to its workers, especially those who have to work daily in changeable weather conditions but with the potential risks of the thermal hazards of electric arc flash.
Northern Powergrid workers had remarked that the traditional wet weather PPE provided was bulky and heavy, often too warm to wear during strenuous work and that it took a long time to re-dry after a shift. When working with live electrical systems there is always a remote risk of a worker being exposed to an incident involving a high temperature arc flash. Such incidents are extremely rare but nevertheless, companies need to protect engineers by procuring Class 2 arc rated protective workwear with flame retardant properties. Garments which are Class 2 arc rated refer to the protection level of European Norm IEC 61482-1-2 (Box test), which stands for: protective clothing against the thermal hazard of an electric arc.
For wearer comfort, garments need to be lightweight – wet or dry – so they can be worn for long shifts. They also need to be robust and durable to not only last, which makes them cost effective but also help the environment because they have a longer wear cycle and need replacing less often. For engineers working at height, PPE should enable free movement, and offer high visibility for safety.
For these roles, the correct balance of protection, ruggedness, comfort and ergonomics is an essential prerequisite for the workers’ PPE.
Northern Powergrid’s PPE Developments
In 2009, Sean Johnson, a safety engineer at Northern Powergrid for 39 years, was part of a project team which analysed the protective characteristics of arc flash safety clothing through a study of the potential risks for operatives working within the network. This study determined what levels of protection were needed for the different roles and risks a frontline utility worker could face.
In 2013 Northern Powergrid clothing sets for the 1,300 strong workforce were distributed which contained a previous generation of GORE-TEX Heat and Flame wet weather garments arc rated Class 2 (Box test). One layer of clothing provided in excess of 8 cal/cm² of protection, two layers would provide in excess of 30 cal/cm² of protection based on both the Arc Thermal Performance Value (APTV) and ELIM Value.
In 2020, Northern Powergrid set about developing new products with GORE, J&K Ross, UK based specialist in PPE, Health & Safety Clothing distribution and Gore’s licenced manufacturing partner MSA Bell Apparel. They explored how new arc rated GORE-TEX PYRAD technology might be adopted by the Northern Powergrid team.
Arc Rated GORE-TEX PYRAD product technology is a multi-norm compliant lightweight flame-resistant fabric which, in case of an arc flash exposure, stops flame propagation by rapidly reacting and forming a stable insulating protective shell of carbonaceous char with the face fabric (without melting or dripping). Its functional protective mechanism reduces the transfer of heat to the wearers skin and blocks the heat flow from the arc flash exposure making it suitable for an end user who requires protection levels to protection levels to IEC 61482-1-2, arc rated to Class 2 (Box test).
Based on arc flash testing according to IEC 61-482-1-1 (open arc test), it offers an incident energy limit value (ELIM) of 42 cal/cm² of protection. Additionally, it is electrostatic dissipative and protects against liquid chemicals. Being significantly lighter than other Arc rated Class 2 fabrics in the market, arc rated GORE-TEX PYRAD® product technology offers a balance of multi-norm protection, comfort and durability.
The Procurement Project Team
Northern Powergrid needed severe weather arc rated jackets, hoods, salopettes and coveralls and assembled a wearer trial team of lines people, jointers and fitters. Working with this team J & K Ross and MSA Bell Apparel listened to feedback and modified designs. GORE-TEX PYRAD fabric technology was supplied in hi-vis orange so workers could be safely seen, identified as Northern Powergrid at distance and had the additional benefit that flying insects wouldn’t be attracted to orange.
Chris Ross explained how he welcomed the introduction of GORE-TEX PYRAD fabric technology to the market: “When it was launched, PYRAD was very much needed in the electrical PPE sector. It’s a brilliant fabric because it’s not stiff or heavy and provides complete comfort and protection.”
MSA Bell Apparel, produced prototypes using GORE-TEX PYRAD fabric, which were fully tested in GORE’s laboratory facilities to ensure they were fit for purpose.
The trial team feedback resulted in design improvements such as a request for a Nelson pocket on the jacket to hold a switching book and changes to the jacket cuffs so gauntlet gloves could easily be put on..
In July 2021, MSA Bell Apparel supplied the new issue kit to J & K Ross for distribution. Industrial laundering company, phs Besafe, supplied unique bar codes to every garment and these were fitted by J & K Ross. The bar-coding system allows phs Besafe to collect garments from depots, professionally clean and then return them back to the individual’s locker.
The winter of 2021/2022 saw the UK – and Northern Powergrid’s operating area - exposed to a series of severe and disruptive storms that provided real life testing for the newly supplied GORE-TEX PYRAD kit.
The multi-protection, multi-norm garments needed to do the following:
- offer Class 2 arc flash rated protective properties to IEC 61482-1-2
- provide flame resistance
- contain antistatic properties: EN 1149-3/-5
- provide protection against rain: EN 343 class 3/3
- dry out overnight and be ready to wear for the next day
- offer breathability so the inside of garments remained dry
- be comfortable to wear so that the garments are worn correctly
- offer high visibility: EN ISO 20471 HI-VIS orange, which would not fade after laundering
- be durable to withstand the daily challenges of the utility worker
Following months of using GORE-TEX PYRAD garments Northern Powergrid’s frontline teams were asked for feedback.
Key findings include:
• Half of the respondents regularly work with a harness and at height; of these workers all stated they felt sufficiently warm while wearing their garments, 58% felt pleasantly dry and 83% found the ergonomic fit of the garment to be very soft and very flexible.
• The entire cohort, 100%, stated that the garments kept them dry.
• When considering the weight of their protective garments 19% found them to be very lightweight, 81% found them to be a comfortable weight.
• When asked how the GORE-TEX PYRAD garment compared to their previous garment when worn in heavy rain, 84% found the new garments better, 16% found they functioned at the same level.
• Participants were asked to state how long their garments take to dry after being exposed to rain all day. 54% stated it took less than six hours, 30% considered it took less than 12 hours, (with 16% of the cohort unsure of the exact drying time.)
One to one interviews were also conducted to gain qualitative insights from the end users.
Commenting on his GORE-TEX PYRAD jacket and salopettes apprentice linesman Callam Hickling, 25, said: “A while ago I worked for 16 hours in the rain and I was bone dry. The kit is dry by the next day for when I needed to next use them.”
Fellow apprentice linesman Bayley Rowlands, 22, noticed the difference in weight between his new kit and his previous issue: “They are really good being waterproof… They are lighter than the old kit as well and I do feel the difference in weight.”
With 47 years of working at Northern Powergrid , Training Engineer David Reed, 63, is well versed to talk about the real hazards of working with live electricity, he explained: “I think the new kit will make a difference to the people coming through now so they can protect their bodies against all risks.”
Safety engineer at Northern Powergrid Sean Johnson concludes, “Our teams work hard and are exposed to the elements and the potential risk of heat, flame and thermal hazards associated with working with live electricity. Health and safety is our top priority and we have worked hard as an organisation to equip them with the durable, multi-norm Class 2 arc protection they deserve so they can remain focused on the task in hand and go home safe and well at the end of their shift.”
Jonas Andersson is sales associate UK at GORE-TEX Professional. For more information, visit goretexprofessional.com and www.northernpowergrid.com