When it comes down to selection of PPE, one of the most important criteria is “comfort & lightweight”.
Especially when the consequences of a non-used PPE can result in severe injury or death, the only proper PPE is the PPE that is worn and ideally loved by the users.
An electrical arc flash is definitely such a high risk scenario. For this reason, the risk assessment for the specific workplace is key. With more detailed technical evaluation done in the last few years, many utility companies have decided that they need a protection upgrade from class 1 to class 2 (IEC 61482 box test) or even higher.
Surprisingly the protection was often upgraded for the jackets only, while the trousers stayed at class 1 protection- despite the risk evaluation would require a class 2 protection. When discussing this gap there are multiple official explanations: “the arc typically hits the upper body”, “there is some overlap of jacket and trousers”, “the trousers have pockets with additional material, giving higher protection anyhow” and others.
Off the records, the truth is different: “you can put off your jacket easily when you are not in a risk situation- but you don’t undress your pants on the street. People don’t accept uncomfortable and too warm multilayer trousers”.
So sometimes there is an accepted and tolerated risk to expose workers to a threat with garments that may not protect them in the worst case.
To extinguish the gap between best protection and comfort & wearer acceptance, Gore has developed the PYRAD technology. Expanding from our core of laminates for rainwear application, we have created a lightweight, single layer Gore PYRAD® fabric for the everyday workwear use. Garments made from this single of Gore PYRAD® fabric easily protect against class 2 arc exposure and have an ATPV rating of > 35.
We claim this to be the lightest weight and most comfortable single layer arc protective fabric on the market- suitable for everyday use also in warm condition or heavy workload.
I decided to challenge this positioning about comfort and give it a personal try. I´m not familiar with electrical working but I have a good sense of comfort check in mountaineering and other sport activities. So the plan for the challenge was an extended alpine tour in a GORE PYRAD arc rated workwear trousers:
Climb Germany´s highest mountain Zugspitze and continue with the alpine climbing traverse (up to grade UIAA 3) of the 8 km famous ridge “Jubiläumsgrat” in one push as a nice daytrip. Guidebooks calculate 7-8 h for the Zugspitze (via Höllental & Ferrata) and 6-10 h for the ridge from Zugspitze to Alpspitze.
The ridge is extremely exposed with hundreds of meters steep terrain on both sides of the sometimes only 40 cm wide ridge- it requires extended mental focus and concentration as there is no option for mistakes- similar as for an electrical worker who needs stay focused on his job. No-one wants to create a blackout in a city or industrial plant with an arc because of being distracted by discomfort.
The ascent of Zugspitze on the other hand (at least if you do it in 4 h as we did) gives you some sweat and physical effort- also as a worker who needs to carry heavy equipment and work hard.
The overall time for the main trip was 8,5 h bottom up + traverse to Alpspitze (followed by an epic, not measured time for the 1900 m descent). Temperature was 14 ° C at 4 o clock in the morning, wet conditions (no issue for the PYRAD pants) through the tunnel system of the Höllental, between 20-28 °C during the day and significant sun exposure.
My conclusion after an overall 3178 m uphill and 27 km overall distance:
- Hivis arc rated trousers are not very common in alpine environment and give you many surprised comments along the climb
- The overall comfort was pretty good given the conditions and the workload. Comfort was even better than with my normal polycotton workwear trousers which feel much more sweaty.
Of course a modern, ultra-lightweight, high stretch Gore wear running trousers is more comfortable- no doubt. Gore PYRAD® technology is great and a significant step towards comfort in PPE, but it can´t do miracles. Stay realistic! However the Gore PYRAD® trousers were comfortable and “fast” enough to pass by all the other climbers that took the first cable-car up in the morning to save the 2200 m Zugspitze climb. Great gear for such a protective garment indeed!
- If you decide for the proper sizing, choose a not too tight fit. The inner side of the fabric may stick a little bit to the skin when you are sweating a lot and the fit is too tight (as my trousers was) – just as a too tight jeans will stick.
Gore arc rated PYRAD garments for allday use (in contrast to PYRAD rainwear for bad & cold weather) are commercial available at #BSD in Dresden, #Iturri and #vanHeurck (they even integrate stretch panels into the garments).