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EVs and Arc Flash: The Role of FR Clothing

Jun 16, 2023

By Cintas | Aug 09, 2023

Have you noticed an increase in customers calling for electric vehicles? The rise of advanced lithium-ion batteries has led to a significant uptick in the mass production of electric vehicles (EVs), semi-articulated EVs, cranes and buses. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s annual Global Electric Vehicle Outlook reports that more than 10 million electric cars were sold worldwide in 2022 and that sales are expected to grow by another 35% this year to reach 14 million. But with increased demand and rapidly changing EV technology comes the need for safety professionals to standardize work rules. Workers who assemble, use and maintain EVs face four distinct hazards from them: electrical, chemical, mechanical and thermal (from battery fires).

If your team works on EVs, it’s time to take a good look at what they’re wearing. Traditional coveralls, work pants and shirts are well-suited for work on traditional vehicles, where thick fabrics provide adequate protection against grease, mild chemicals and warm surfaces. But this workwear isn’t up to the task when it comes to giving the wearer protection against the threat of arc flash from lithium-ion batteries.

Electrical hazards from EV batteries come from two sources: electrical shock when the voltage exceeds 50V, and electric arc flash. Most EV batteries operate above 50V, and wearing flame resistant clothing can help prevent serious electrical shock, burns and possibly fatal injuries.

According to OSHA, “an arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. The results are often violent and when a human is in close proximity to the arc flash, serious injury and even death can occur.” DC arc flash – the kind generated by EV batteries – is relatively new and less research is available to assess the risk, but one study indicates more energy is generated in DC arcs than in Alternating Current (AC) arcs. [1] While engineers can calculate arc flash energies and thereby assess the risk, EV battery data is carefully guarded by intellectual property clauses these days, making risk assessment of DC arc flash more difficult. However, many support the idea of EV battery manufacturers providing key data that will allow engineers to use existing tools to calculate the DC arc flash energies. Currently, arc flash energies can vary drastically between engineers depending on the assumptions made.

The governing and regulations of arc flash risk and subsequent protection requirements are maintained in National Fire Protection Associations Standard 70E. OSHA is the governing body that enforces these regulations. OSHA’s regulatory enforcement for arc flash includes everything from selecting protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating suitable for the available heat energy, to ensuring employees do not wear flammable clothing that could lead to injury. According to the NFPA, the estimated total cost of an arc flash injury in 2014 was $23 million. With the evolving growth of EVs, these regulations and potential costs may become a greater concern for companies like yours.

Partnering with Cintas can help you easily implement a more advanced managed workwear program that offers innovative protection for your employees who work on EVs. Cintas offers an exclusive line of FRC from Carhartt®, trusted and known worldwide for its craftsmanship and durability. The FeatherWeight collection includes work shirts, coveralls, pants and cargo pants that couple high levels of protection with unsurpassed comfort and breathability. Benefits include lightweight, fade-resistant fabric and moisture wicking properties to keep the wearer cool. Plus, thoughtful details like chest pockets and various tool and utility pockets help the workday run smoother, and leg zippers allow for easy removal and application over heavy work boots. Most importantly, this workwear provides additional protection for working on EVs, plus includes laundry and weekly delivery service.

As you look to both improve your protective workwear for employees working on EVs and align with the requirements of governing organizations, Cintas can simplify the process with one-stop shopping. Our comprehensive products include head and hand protection like face shields, and rubber gloves to handle battery acids, all chosen by you and delivered when you need them.

For more information, review our free whitepaper or contact a local Cintas representative today.

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