Is It OK to Share Arc Flash and Electrical PPE?

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Is It OK to Share Arc Flash and Electrical PPE?
Dirty 10 Year Old Arc Flash PPE Kit

Quick Answer- Get each of your employees their own or disinfect and sanitize regularly.

Disclosure: Neither e-Hazard nor ArcWear sells arc flash PPE.  We are a training company and a test lab.

In our last NFPA 70E Train the Trainer class before things were shut down for COVID-19, we had a trainer who asked a question about old arc flash gear.  He had a 10-year-old arc flash suit, and I gave him one from my office to keep his 10-year-old gear to arc test.  I have long felt arc flash gear, if properly cared for, would last a minimum of 10 years. But I wanted to test one to see and wanted to start a project to collect others to do a real study.  As he brought the gear in, he said, “You are gonna want to wash it ’cause it probably stinks.”

This raised another question from the class, “Hey, can you sanitize arc flash gear between wearers?”

I replied, as I always reply, that we recommend giving each worker their own PPE. I say this for several reasons, including fit, hygiene, and responsibility for care and maintenance. I said we knew of companies who use Benzalkonium Chloride wipes, but the wipes containing alcohol could mar the face shield.

After the class, I decided to do a little research.  I was a Biology/Pre-Med major in school and have maintained that interest by reading Science Magazine and Scientific American for years, so I thought this might be a fun project.  

My research on COVID-19 indicates that unless the surface can take a MAJOR dousing and washing with alcohol or a thorough washing with soap and water, there is not easy way to clean it.  Benzalkonium Chloride wipes WILL NOT WORK on viruses. Of all the commonly shared electrical and and voltage-rated PPE, only rubber insulating gloves are easily sanitized between wearers.

Although many companies have implemented shared electrical PPE programs over the years, especially for operators of electrical switch gear, the COVID-19 crisis is putting a spotlight on why this is a bad practice that needs to change – forever!

What does the CDC say about laundering and COVID-19?

The CDC has commented that “current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.”

For clothing, towels, linens and other items:
Wear disposable gloves.
Wash hands with soap and water as soon as you remove the gloves.
Do not shake dirty laundry.
Launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely. This virus is carried in water droplets, detergent action and drying both disable it.
• Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces.

The CDC has also released guidance on disinfecting N95 masks and respirators.  Some of these options will work on other PPE.  Be aware that unless a manufacturer certifies the process you use, it may be less effective or not effective at all.

What does NIH say about laundering and viruses?

While the porous part of PPE is not easily cleaned with wipes, it is effectively cleaned with common detergents (“surfactants” in the NIH posted study). Hard surfaces are easily cleaned with many common cleaning agents.  

Clean, don’t share and keep one another safe. Don’t succumb to fear.

H1N1 is also a coronavirus but was not as deadly from what we currently know but the cleaning is the same according to all the reliable sources we have found.

There is misinformation on the web that normal laundering will not disable the virus. This is not true. Soap and water is the greatest weapon.  Using adequate soap, hot water and drying is key. 

Industrial laundering is also an excellent means to clean an arc flash suit and garments. Check with your industrial launderer to see if they offer this service or if they rent AR suits. 

Most arc flash hoods must be disassembled to launder the fabric.  Be sure the sanitize the shield and hard hat with a >60% alcohol based disinfectant and allow to dry.  Reassemble properly to assure no gaps if hook and loop tape is use in the assembly. Some have found spraying with Lysol does not hurt the shield (this could depend on the manufacturer’s anti-fog and shield material). Soap and water is still best if you have time.

We received a LOT of questions about Lysol Spray®. Note, Lysol® brand spray states that it works on porous and non-porous services if you do the following (if you read the “usage information”):

“To Disinfect:
Surfaces must remain wet for 3 minutes then allow to air dry.
For Norovirus surfaces must remain wet for 10 minutes then allow to air dry
Rinse toys and food contact surfaces with potable water after use.

To Sanitize:
Surfaces must remain wet for 10 seconds then allow to air dry.”

After conversations with Lysol, it appears that the 3 minutes may only work on hard plastic surfaces and is not recommended to put on the face (perhaps due to residue from the spray). We will update this when we have more information.

The N95 mask with hand washing and avoidance of face touching is still the best method to protect from this virus.  Any shared PPE likely has potential of cross contamination from an infected worker.

Our testing shows that as long as the Lysol disinfecting spray dries, it does not hinder flame resistance. But this may not protect from the virus from what we now know based on the EPA and a closer read of the Lysol information.

I won’t go into detail in this blog, but infectious disease experts indicate that there are several other microbial species — viruses, bacteria, and fungi —that can be transferred on shared personal protective equipment (PPE) unless it is thoroughly cleaned before it’s worn by a new user. Different kinds of microbes will survive in clothing and other surfaces (i.e. rubber & leather gloves and face shields) for different amounts of time. and it’s difficult, if not impossible. to know if people are infected with harmful microbes.

So it is always best to play it safe by issuing each individual their own set of electrical PPE to minimize the chance of transferring harmful microbes to other people.

I’ve been in this industry for over two decades, and I have yet to see a shared electrical PPE program that thoroughly cleans each item every time before it’s transferred to a new user. The primary rationale provided for making employees share communal electrical PPE is the cost of the equipment.

Although the upfront cost can appear to be expensive, when you consider the fact that electrical PPE has a long wear life (often 5-10 years or more), the actual “cost per use” is much lower than it appears on the surface. 

In addition, it’s commonly understood that the cost of one serious injury or fatality can pay for the entire cost of a proper electrical PPE program many, many times over. After all, this important life-saving equipment is the last line of defense in protecting against the devastating impact of electrical hazards.

In summary, personal protective equipment is personal for a reason. One of the many recommendations to prevent the spread of potential infections, including COVID-19, is to “keep personal items personal”. This includes avoiding sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing, athletic equipment and, yes, electrical PPE should be on this list too!

Cleaning Shields and Hard Hats

Check with your manufacturer, but soap and water is likely best. Using the NIH guidelines, other things like vinegar, alcohol or other disinfectants could work. But check reliable sources like CDC and NIH or the manufacturer.

Cleaning Garments and Hood Fabrics

Follow the CDC guidelines above for laundering. Or contact your local industrial laundry.

Cleaning Rubber Insulating Gloves (VR Gloves)

Soap and water works as long as you rinse thoroughly.  See manufacturer’s recommendations for types of soap or detergent. 

Isopropyl alcohol wipes are acceptable if they just contain the alcohol.  Always use something that dries quickly.  

DO NOT USE hand sanitizers since they contain emollients to keep hands from drying out and these can be flammable if not completely removed.  

See our more recent article on using hand sanitizers for the hands when using rubber insulating gloves.  You want it to evaporate quickly.  Use a cloth with the alcohol; don’t soak in any solvent.

Need More Info?

For more info of why arc flash PPE should be regularly laundered, see our IEEE PPE study of mining contaminants,  flammability and effects on arc ratings.

Stay safe, and follow the CDC advice.

Holed up in KY,

Hugh Hoagland

Have a question about electrical safety and standards?   

Hugh Hoagland

does research and testing of PPE exposed to electrical arcs and is an arc flash expert. Hugh is a Sr. Consultant at ArcWear and Sr. Partner at e-Hazard. Read more about Hugh.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Rich Gojdics

    Well said Hugh. I’ve heard a few companies already begin to hang onto the misinformation being dispensed about normal washing not effectively dispensing the virus. Thanks for being clear about soap and water being a great weapon to fight Corona. Further, I also agree that the cycle life of these Kits is extended, so maybe it’s time for companies to re-think the concept of community PPE, and begin purchasing individual kits for their electricians. They probably would take better care of them if they’re personally assigned, as a result.

  2. George Cole

    Interesting we just had to deal with the issue of sharing PPE, especially arc flash PPEs regarding COVID-19. Once this crisis is under control I’m sure we’ll be re-evaluating when and how we share PPEs and more than likely, issue each employee with their own set with the exception of the few cases where we have to wear arc flash gear at > 50 cal/cm2 due to the high incident energy level of the equipment. However on the bright side, having to buy all our employees with personal arc flash PPEs may provide us with executive management’s support for installing remote racking equipment, which will remove the employee completely from the hazard, i.e. Elimination.

    Thanks Hugh

    1. Hugh Hoagland

      That is an excellent point George. The suits are pretty easy to wash. Hoods not so much.

  3. Roger Zieg

    Thank you for the information. Excellent points about shared PPE.

  4. Barbara Fitzgeorge

    Great comments and input Hugh. Thanks for sharing.
    Barb Fitzgeorge


    UVGI is a promising method to reach 99,9% of disinfection, can be this technology used to cleaning our Arc Flash PPE? How often?

    1. Hugh Hoagland

      We have looked into this. UV works well but takes time and will not be good for the UV blockers in arc flash shields and it does not go around curves so doesn’t work well on porous services. There are many options but UVGI isn’t a good one most likely.

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