Is It Time to Suit Up With Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

March 9, 2012
NFPA 70E Standards Define How Much Protection Each Worker Needs to Wear
About Author
Aaron Hand is Managing Editor of Control Design and Industrial Networking. He joined Putman Media recently after almost 20 years covering high-tech industries, including semiconductor, photovoltaics and related manufacturing technologies. He has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington, and an M.S. in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.NFPA 70E standards define the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for a given hazard classification. Figuring out the hazard level, however, can be difficult to do, so manufacturers are sometimes at a loss as to just how much protection each worker needs to wear.

"One of the things that our customers have tried to do is to put the workers in as much PPE as possible so they can be safe," says Wayne Tompkins, global marketing manager for Rockwell Automation. "But when an electrician has been doing the job for 20 years, and for the first 19 years he did it with just gloves and safety glasses and now he's being told he has to wear a whole arc suit, he has a hard time accepting that."

Just as having to shut down the power to equipment can be a big productivity hit, having to put on all the clothing and gear necessary to protect against the high heat of arc flashes is also seen as a productivity loss. "If we can allow technicians to get at the controls of the machine, which tends to be low-voltage equipment, access without the need for protective gear, we can make their tasks easier to complete," says Chris Lovendahl, sales manager for Concep Machines. "In this way, we reduce the need for protective gear and that does not reduce their productivity; they do not need the time to suit up."

It's not just the time it takes to don the PPE gear that hurts productivity, notes Jack Chopper, senior electrical engineer at Filamatic. It's also the fact that PPE can make it difficult to get the job done. "You can't feel things, you can't hold tools, you can't maneuver like you could otherwise," he says. "The equipment is so cumbersome, it's hard to troubleshoot with all that equipment on."

By introducing solutions that let workers perform jobs remotely, with doors closed, machine and MCC builders also remove the need for protective gear, either increasing productivity or reducing the chance of sustained injuries.