Q: What are the retest requirements for arc flash PPE?
A: This is a question we get a lot, and we hear it from both manufacturers and end users. Read on to learn when arc testing should be repeated.
In the U.S., there is currently no requirement to retest for arc ratings in ASTM F1506, ASTM F1891, or NFPA 70E. Arc testing (ASTM F1959) is considered a ‘design test’ and only needs to be repeated upon a change in the material. Some markets have different requirements; for example, in the EU when CE marking with a notified body and in Brazil or South Africa, arc testing must be repeated every 5 years. It is possible that a 5-year rule could be implemented in the U.S., as the topic is currently under consideration of the ASTM F1506 Task Group.
In the U.S., manufacturers declare themselves compliant to the relevant standards. There is no requirement for third-party testing or certification for arc flash PPE at this point (though SEI, a subsidiary of ASTM does offer Third Party Certification). There are material retest requirements for the small-scale methods, like vertical flame and strength testing, and it is up to the manufacturers to see that the requirements are met. There will naturally be some variation in material from lot to lot, and these small-scale methods can help to meet standard requirements and also offer quality control checks.
There are some written requirements in ASTM F1506 and NFPA 70E for finished garments, but there is no requirement to arc test finished garments. This is not the case in other markets–the EU, South Africa, and Brazil require garment level testing. While IEC 61482-1-1 “open arc test”, IEC 61482-1-2 “box arc test”, and IEC 61482-2 “arc garment specification” do not require retesting for arc flash, the notified bodies that we work with will require this due to the EU PPE Directive and their ISO 17065 certification requirements.
Gloves are arc tested using the ASTM F2675 standard. Glove design can be complex, and the design is always arc rated as the worst case scenario. Gloves are scouted on both the front and the back, and the side with lower performance is arc rated. There is currently no specification around arc rated gloves in the U.S.–only a test method. That will change soon as a work item is complete at ASTM, but it is expected that the same rules as clothing will apply. If the materials used in glove construction change, a retest should be performed. We’ve also been asked about gloves that have previously been tested, but design with additional layers are proposed. For example, if you’ve arc rated a glove and you want to create a new winter wear design with an additional insulation layer, you’d want to retest as the rating would likely be much higher.
Faceshield testing must be performed to ASTM F2178 as an assembly with the hard hat that is sold with the product. Placement on the hardhat can change the geometry and distance from an arc, and this can result in a different arc rating. Retesting is necessary if the assembly changes, the window changes or in the case of a hood, if the fabric part of the system changes.
Are there requirements to retest arc flash suits as an end user? Read this post from our partner, e-Hazard, to learn about the requirements once the product leaves the shelves, but the short answer is, “No, because arc testing is destructive testing.”