Hearing protection and arc flashes

While most Pennsylvania workers understand that protection is needed against burns from arc flashes, they may not understand that it is also important to have good hearing protection in the event an arc flash occurs. While the National Fire Protection Association does provide ratings for fire-resistant clothing and protection worn by workers for arc flashes, they do not do the same for hearing protection.

Arc flashes for electrical currents above 480 volts can reach temperatures as hot as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Sound pulses that emanate out when the pulse bursts can be higher than 160 decibels, significant enough to cause serious damage to a person’s hearing and ears.

The NFPA’s 2015 standards require workers to wear hearing protection. They do not, however, provide ratings for the protection worn, meaning that companies that advertise on packages that ear protection meets NFPA standards are making misleading claims. The NFPA guidelines call for ear canal hearing plugs to be worn. While the NFPA does not provide sound exposure limits, areas that are governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration require the decibel exposure to be less than 90 decibels for earplugs. Areas that are not covered by OSHA only require protection down to between 130 and 140 decibels.

People who may be exposed to arc flashes while on the job need to make certain they are well-protected in the event one occurs. Ear protection should not be overlooked. It may be a good idea for workers to look for protection that meets or exceeds OSHA’s standards. A worker who develops severe hearing loss due to exposure to sound waves from arc flashes may be eligible to file a claim for benefits under their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. The assistance of an attorney in gathering the documentation that will be needed to support the claim is often useful.