Multi-Hazard Protection for Welders & Metal Fabricators

Randall Fisher, Black Stallion Industries

welding fabricatorsA significant trend that continues to guide the design of safety garments and gloves is the need for multi-hazard protection. Safety managers and other safety professionals are challenged more than ever with protecting workers in multi-hazard environments. To meet the need, they are requesting personal protective equipment (PPE) that offers protection from several threats and that are compliant and/or certified to multiple industry standards. Moreover, their expectation is that these garments, gloves and other apparel will still provide an acceptable level of dexterity, comfort and performance—while offering protection from multiple hazards.

While safety is the top priority, the use of multi-hazard, protective apparel can also be a budget consideration. One multi-hazard protection glove can take the place of two or three gloves that each offer only limited protection. Workers are able to move through different projects, crossing diverse applications, without having to change out their gloves or other garments— potentially saving both time and money.

The multi-hazard protection trend has even permeated niche categories, including welding and metal working. Welders often work in hazardous environments where protection beyond flame resistance is recommended or even required. Today, specialty welding gear is available that not only protects against heat, flame and sparks, but also meets the safety standards typically required for work in the Oil & Gas, Construction, Transportation, General Industrial and Electrical Utility industries.

Standard Flame, Spark & Spatter Resistance

Standard welding jackets are constructed of either naturally heat- and flame-resistant leather (cowhide, pigskin, etc.) or flame-resistant treated cotton or other treated textiles (or a combination of leather and treated fabric). They are designed to provide adequate protection from the heat, sparks and light spatter associated with typical welding tasks.

Treated cotton is made flame-resistant by the application of flame-retardant chemicals. For most welding apparel, flame resistance is tested to ASTM F1506 criteria using Test Method D6413 (Vertical Test). The purpose of this test is to determine whether a fabric will continue to burn after the source of ignition is removed. A 12in sample of fabric is suspended in an enclosed chamber and secured on three sides. The bottom edge of the sample is exposed to a controlled methane flame for 12 seconds.

To pass the test:

  • Sample must self-extinguish within two seconds of having the controlled flame removed
  • Sample must have a char length of less than 6in (length of fabric destroyed by flame)
  • Sample must not melt or drip (observed & recorded during testing)

This flammability test applies to an initial sample and after 25 washes or dry-cleaning. This is a simple, clear and precise pass-and-fail standard to check the performance of flame-resistant work garments. For a basic welding jacket, the fabric simply needs to pass the vertical test, as noted above.

Flame, Spark, Spatter Resistance & Flash Fire Protection (NFPA 2112)

NFPA 2112 is the standard for flame-resistant clothing for protection of industrial personnel against short-duration thermal exposures from fire. The standard protects workers from flash-fire exposure and injury by specifying performance requirements and test methods for flame-resistant fabric and garments.

Testing under NFPA 2112 goes beyond vertical test D6413 and requires the following:

  • Flame-resistant garment must achieve a 50% or less predicted body burn
  • Flame-resistant garment must defy melting, dripping or after-flame burning
  • Flame-resistant garment must have appropriate labeling in an easy-to-see location
  • Flame-resistant garment must meet each of the NFPA 2112 requirements and tests and be third-party certified

There are welding jackets now available that offer extra protection designed specifically for welders who may be subjected to short-duration thermal exposures from fire hazards. The jackets are typically associated with Oil & Gas, Utility and Industrial applications.

Flame, Spark, Spatter Resistance & Arc Flash Protection (NFPA 70E)

welding fabricatorsAs the U.S. economy grows, plant operations are experiencing greater overall energy use, higher system voltage and higher available fault current. This increases the risk of exposure to shock and arc-flash hazards. Arc flash incidents can cause severe injury or death, and also disrupt business, damage equipment, create legal liability, increase insurance premiums, damage a company’s reputation and result in regulatory fines.

Originally developed at OSHA’s request, NFPA 70E standards help companies and employees avoid workplace injuries and fatalities due to shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast, and assists in complying with OSHA 1910 Subpart S and OSHA 1926 Subpart K.

The standard requires that an employer document the incident energy exposure of a worker, when it has been determined that the worker will be performing tasks within a designated flash-protection boundary. NFPA 70E bases incident energy exposure levels on the working distance of the employee’s face and chest areas from a prospective arc source for the specific task to be performed. Flame Resistant Clothing and Personal Protective Equipment must be used by the employee, and an adequate level of protection based upon the incident energy exposure associated with the specific task must be worn (expressed as calories per centimeter squared).

NFPA 70E includes four PPE categories. Each category has a minimum arc rating for protective clothing:

  • PPE CAT 1 = 4 cal/cm²
  • PPE CAT 2 = 8 cal/cm²
  • PPE CAT 3 = 25 cal/cm²
  • PPE CAT 4 = 40 cal/cm²

There are welding jackets available today designed to protect against the heat, sparks and light spatter associated with welding and meet NFPA 70E standards. To meet the strict 70E standards, welding jackets require specific design modifications, including the elimination of any metal exposure, in addition to more protective treated fabrics.

In addition to inherent heat resistance, leather has natural insulation properties. Welding gloves can be designed and constructed to offer the protection (and dexterity) needed for most welding applications, while providing up to PPE Cat 3 protection from arc flash hazards.

Steve Hwang, President of Black Stallion®, a welding and safety glove and apparel manufacturer and wholesaler, says that the market for NFPA 70E compliant welding gear continues to grow.  “As a market innovator, we’ve had an arc flash protective welding jacket available for a number of years,” noted Hwang.  “However, in the last two years, we’ve introduced an updated welding jacket that is both NFPA 2112- and NFPA 70E-compliant, as well as a new TIG welding glove that offers PPE Cat 3 arc flash protection.”

Flame, Spark, Spatter Resistance & High Visibility Protection (ANSI 107)

The American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories (ANSI/ISEA 107-2015) is a standard established by American National Standards Institute, Inc.  Construction, maintenance, utility, emergency responders, airport ramp personnel and many categories of off-road workers are routinely exposed to potential injury hazards from their low visibility while on the job. This standard provides guidelines for the selection and use of high-visibility safety apparel such as shirts, rainwear, outerwear, safety vests, headwear and other high-visibility accessories to improve worker visibility during the day, in low-light conditions and at night.

Creating affordable fabrics that meet ANSI 107 high-visibility standards and that pass the Vertical Test Method D6413 under ASTM F1506, and that can hold up to the sparks and light spatter faced by welders has proven difficult. However, an online search will reveal one or two manufacturers who offer ANSI 107-compliant welding jackets. This adds a much needed safety element to welders working in and around highly trafficked sites.

Flame, Spark, Spatter Resistance & Cut Protection (ANSI 105)

The American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association (ANSI/ISEA) 105-2016 “American National Standard for Hand Protection Classification” defines performance levels for cut resistance, as well as blunt object puncture resistance, hypodermic needle puncture resistance and abrasion resistance. The standard provides guidance on the test methods used as well as pass/fail criteria, so that workers can determine what hand protection products may meet their needs.

Cut-resistant welding gloves entered the market a few years ago and the category continues to grow, with more styles available from more manufacturers each year. Cut-resistant welding gloves feature standard welding glove design with the addition of a cut-resistant liner. These para-aramid liners have outstanding strength-to-weight ratios and high tenacity, making it difficult for them to be cut or frayed. Many of these liners include steel and/or fiberglass fibers.

“Black Stallion® introduced a comprehensive line of cut-resistant welding gloves at Fabtech a couple of years ago,” said Hwang. “These gloves allow welders and fabricators to safely move from a welding project to sheet metal handling, grinding and other potential cut hazard scenarios.”

Flame, Spark, Spatter Resistance & Multi-Hazard Protection

The idea of multi-hazard protection welding garments and gloves is not limited to flame resistance and one additional level of protection. In fact, the trend appears to be to maximize protection values by including several levels of protection to new welding gear designs.

Black Stallion® offers a high-performance welding jacket that is flame-, heat-, spark- and spatter-resistant; ANSI 107 Class 3-certified for high visibility; offers PPE Cat 2 arc flash protection; and is ANSI Cut Level A2. It provides welders with an unprecedented level of protection from multiple workplace threats.

The need for multi-hazard protection is already changing the design and manufacturing of welding jackets, gloves and other flame-resistant apparel. As work environments continue to evolve, manufacturers will respond with even more innovative designs that meet new demands and improve the safety of welders. WMHS