Electrical PPE: 5 Tips for a Successful Wear Trial 

Electrical PPE: 5 Tips for a Successful Wear Trial 

Many safety professionals are starting to realize that if they upgrade their programs to the new generation of products, wearer acceptance can increase dramatically.

It is very encouraging to see how much electric arc flash safety has advanced over the past 20 years. The NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace has been updated several times since it first put a major spotlight on the arc flash hazard in the 2000 edition. Over the years, thousands of electrical contractors, utilities and commercial & industrial companies have implemented programs to protect workers from arc flash hazards, and the injury statistics prove it is working. However, there is still a long way to go, and many workers continue to complain about having to wear electrical PPE because they think it will negatively impact their ability to perform important electrical tasks. Fortunately, many manufacturers have improved the comfort, performance and functionality of PPE to help take this concern off the table. However, the majority of electrical PPE on the market today is still from an earlier generation of products that are notoriously heavy, hot, uncomfortable and often obstruct visibility. It is also difficult to put on and take off and it is very restrictive, so it slows workers down.

Many safety professionals are starting to realize that if they upgrade their programs to the new generation of products, wearer acceptance can increase dramatically and people will more routinely wear it when it is required. This will not only help companies stay in compliance, but it will also better protect workers so they can go home in the same condition they came to work. At the end of the day, this is the top priority for safety professionals. As companies look to upgrade their PPE to the new generation of products, it is important to fully evaluate additional options to compare to your existing gear before making a purchase. The idea of upgrading your PPE is important for several reasons. One good reason is that electrical PPE can last five years or more, so these products will be with you and your employees for many years. In fact, we routinely see products that are more than 10 years old in tool rooms all over the country (these should be upgraded immediately). Your purchase decisions will have a long-term influence on wearer comfort and safety policy conformity.  Therefore, it is crucial to do your homework and “try before you buy” with a wear trial evaluation. By following these five simple tips, you can help ensure you will select the best option for your specific needs and get buy-in from your team. The 5 steps for a successful electrical PPE where trial are as follows:

Ask and you shall receive. Many suppliers of electrical PPE will recommend brands based on what other companies have bought and/or what they currently carry in their line. These may or may not be the best solution for your specific program. You should do you own research and specify the brands you would like to trial and/or go directly to the PPE manufacturer. If the PPE manufacturer is confident, their product will add value to your program, they will usually agree to a no obligation wear trial.

The squeaky wheel should get the gear. The employees that complain the most about wearing electrical PPE will usually give straightforward and candid feedback about the enhancements (or lack thereof) of the electrical PPE options you provide for the trial as compared to their current gear. We highly recommend you select these workers to take the lead on the wear trial.

Put it through the wringer. It is important to have the wear trial participant(s) wear the PPE multiple times in several diverse settings. Once again, they will have these products for several years, so this should not be a “one and done” type situation. In addition to evaluating the comfort, visibility and mobility while they are wearing it, they should also consider a storage system and ease of transporting the goods. It is important to replicate as many real-life scenarios as possible to get the best overview of future performance.

Take good notes. The manufacturer of the PPE should have simple but comprehensive wear trial evaluation forms with questions that will lead to non-biased results of all the relevant criteria that will be important to all wearers. It is important to have this questionnaire filled out after every use so it can be summarized at the end of the trial.

Wrap-up meeting with all stakeholders. At the conclusion of the trial, it is important to have a wrap-up meeting with all stakeholders. This includes not only the wear trial participants, but also safety leadership, purchasing, the PPE manufacturer and the distributor/service provider. At this meeting, a summary of all the wear trial results can be discussed in detail and the overall winner of the trial can be announced. In addition to being a very pragmatic way of selecting the brand of electrical PPE, these meetings often reveal opportunities for innovation to further improve the performance/features of PPE in the future.

A comprehensive wear trial is very helpful when evaluating new electrical PPE options that can help solve the pain points that often result in PPE not being worn properly (or being left in the bag and not worn at all). Fortunately, there are multiple brands of PPE available today, and some manufacturers have invested in meaningful innovations to solve problems to improve the PPE wearer experience and help make electrical workers safer. In addition, the insights gained from conducting detailed wear trials can lead to new solutions to solve additional challenges and problems.

We have been fortunate to attend the IEEE IAS Electrical Safety Workshop for more than 20 years. It is the best event we are aware of for electrical safety education, and the people in attendance are all open to sharing best practices to make a positive difference in electrical safety. This impressive group of professionals has been instrumental in advancing electrical safety over the years. One of the standard questions we ask many of the electrical safety consultants that conduct safety assessments and training all over the U.S. is “what percentage of workers are wearing the proper electrical PPE when it’s required?” The good news is that the estimates have steadily increased since the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, the current estimated range of about 40 to 50 percent suggests that much more work needs to be done. There are multiple reasons for this, but one common theme is the poor reputation electrical PPE has in the eyes of the electrical workers. If workers view wearing electrical PPE as a painful experience, they may not wear it, or wear it properly (especially when no one is looking). Since the technology has advanced so much within the past five years, companies should make it a priority to evaluate the new products that are available, even if their current PPE is not worn out. The negative opinion workers have towards electrical PPE will quickly start to vanish as they gain more experience with the new advanced options that are available today. The overall investment in electrical PPE is relatively small when you consider the fact that it will last for several years and, more importantly, result in safer workers that can go home to their families in the same condition they were in when they came to work.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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