It has been out since 2011, but there is still much confusion about the implications of AS4836 (AS/NZS4836:2011) on the entire electrical industry. The largest changes from a safety perspective, and in particular that of personal protection, come in the area of Arc Flash protection.

For many years, the biggest killer in the electrical industry was thought to be electrocution. Overseas research has proved this to not be the case, with burns from Arc Flash incidents proving to be responsible for far more deaths. The lessons learned have been heeded, and AS4836:2011 contains many Arc Flash protection measures, a first for any Australian Standard.

Arc Flash may still be a somewhat new topic here is Australia, but it has been well known overseas for almost 25 years. The Europeans and Americans both have standards specifically addressing the issue of Arc Flash. While such a standard being developed locally has been discussed in Australia, it appears to be on the back burner with no real sense of progress. The temporary solution has been to learn from the American Standard, and use the bare bones of it, and Arc Flash Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) knowledge in AS4836:2011.

What is Arc Flash?

An arc flash or fault happens when electric current flows through air gaps between conductors – essentially, it is a short circuit. Arc flashes often occur when racking in a breaker, performing switching, Insulation failure, and accidents caused by touching a test probe to the wrong surface or slipped (non-insulated) tools. In its most basic form, an arc is made up of four elements; Thermal Energy (heat), Acoustical Energy (sound), Pressure Wave and Debris. Each of these elements can cause serious injury or death to a person.

How does AS/NZS 4836:2011 address it?

AS4836:2011, for the first time, specifies Arc Flash PPE that must be used in certain situations. The Arc Flash PPE specified is of American Standards rating (NFPA 70-E). The American standard classifies garments by a rating known as cal/cm2. This is calories, per square centimetre. Calorie is a measure of energy (or heat), required to heat 1L of water by 1°C. As you can quickly work out, the higher a cal/cm2 rating a garment will have, the more heat and energy it can protect the wearer from. AS4836:2011 specifies certain cal/cm2 (or simply ‘cal’) ratings certain pieces of PPE are now required to have. Quite obviously, higher risk tasks, require higher rating pieces of PPE.

What do you need to know?

The table below is based on table 9.1 from AS4836:2011 and shows the new Arc Flash requirements for PPE in clear, easy to understand format. Products to suit all of the below requirements are readily available from reputable safety companies such as Extreme Safety.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Requirements to AS/NZS 4836:2011 Clarification
Eye protection No metal, complying with AS/NZS1337 and selected in accordance with AS/NZS 1336. Heat resistant, no metal
Face shield Certified to 10cam/cm2 Tested to 10cal
Arc Flash suit and hood Certified to 40cal/cm2 Tested to 40cal
Insulating gloves AS2225 or Equivalent, rated to appropriate voltage, air tested before use. IEC, ASTM and EN gloves acceptable
Flame-resistant (FR) gloves Gloves made from leather or other non-melting heat-resistance material Complying with AS/NZS2161.4
Protective Clothing Flame-resistant, full body clothing with no metal. Cotton not suitable. Must be FR rated and tested fabric.

NB: This table applies when working on, or near live-parts, as is discussed in the scope of the standard.

When do I need to implement these changes?

Yesterday! The standard was released in May 2011, and while there is a period of lenience generally afforded to companies in complying with new standards, this has well and truly lapsed. Get your staff in the right gear as soon as possible. A burns ward is not a nice place, and I know I wouldn’t like to be arguing in a courtroom why I hadn’t followed a standard that is almost 5 years old.

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