Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC A Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Law Firm

How hearing protectors improve arc flash safety

Electrical workers in Maryland are at risk of hearing loss from arc flashes. They could better ensure their safety by understanding what an arc flash is and following the recommendations for personal protective equipment in the National Fire Protection Association's Standard for Electrical Safety.

An arc flash is a very dangerous electrical event that occurs when two conductors produce an uncontrolled current. An event that is produced with a current higher than 480 volts can create an extreme heat of up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, propel shrapnel at more than 700 mph and create an impulse sound of more than 160 decibels.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines the permissible exposure limit for noise in an eight-hour period as 90 decibel A-weighting. However, there is no standard for permissible exposure to impact or impulse noise in the industry. Despite this, many jurisdictions restrict impulse noise to 137 to 140 decibels for a blast or explosion, which can be achieved with hearing protectors that fit properly.

According to the NFPA 70E standard, personal protective equipment is required to shield workers' hearing. They must wear inserted ear plugs, and ear muffs do not meet the hazard requirements. However, the standard does not approve certain hearing protectors for compliance, and the ear plugs do not require arc flash ratings to comply because they do not protect against burns. No flame-resistant designation is required either, but some workers may like to use Howard Leight ear plugs because they meet the flame-resistance requirements. In-the-ear personal protective equipment can provide acceptable protection for the explosive 160-decibel sound that an arc blast may create if they fit well and are inserted correctly.

Workers who suffer hearing loss because of an arc flash or blast while they are on the job might be awarded workers' compensation benefits. If their injuries mean that they are disabled, they could receive temporary or permanent disability benefits to replace the income that they are losing while they are unable to return to work.

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