What PPE do you need to protect you against a cable strike when breaking ground?

What PPE do you need to protect you against a cable strike when breaking ground?

Nobody plans to hit a cable when doing groundworks, but even when all of the relevant checks have been carried out the risk is always present. What PPE do you need to protect against cable strikes when breaking ground?

The risks and potential injuries from cable strikes

In the HSE’s guidanceAvoiding danger from underground services, stark warnings are given about what can happen to someone if they accidentally hit an underground cable. 

“Injuries are usually caused by the explosive effects of arcing current, and by any associated fire or flames that may result when a live cable is penetrated by a sharp object such as the point of a tool… Typically, injuries are severe – potentially fatal – burns to the hands, face and body; electric shock is possible but less likely.”

Striking an electrical cable with a metal tool – whether a hand or power tool – will most likely result in an arc flash incident. The current arcs through the air looking for the fastest way back to earth, causing an explosive blast. 

As the HSE guidance says, injuries are usually caused by exposure to the arc flash, which means that FR garments aren’t enough to keep your team protected. 

Between 2012 and 2017 the HSE reported 318 injuries and fatalities caused by underground cable strikes. Potential injuries caused by cable strikes include:

  • Internal burns from the arc flash
  • External burns caused by fires ignited by the arc flash, including clothing being set alight
  • Injuries caused by the blast, including those from flying shrapnel, but also impact injuries if people are thrown by the explosion
  • Hearing damage from the sound of the explosion
  • Temporary or permanent damage to eyesight caused by the bright light emitted by the flash

Appropriate PPE to protect against cable strikes

It’s clear that the HSE believes the main risk of injury from cable strikes is from an arc flash. Its guidance even says: “Where electricity cables may be encountered during excavation work, employers should consider whether the work justifies wearing clothing designed to protect against electric arc, or flame-retardant clothing.”

So only wearing FR clothing, even if it complies with the limited flame spread standard ISO14116:2015, will not provide the right amount of protection against cable strikes when breaking ground.

The following video shows the very real danger of breaking ground and striking an underground cable.

In order to get the right protection against arc flash incidents, workers need to be wearing arc-rated clothing for every layer. You can see the devastating effects of wearing an FR, but non-arc flash-rated, fluorescent vest over arc rated clothing in this video

The utilities sector is making progress

We have many clients in the utilities sector which have heeded the words of the HSE and now wear arc flash PPE garments as standard when breaking ground to protect their team against the risk of cable strikes. 

One main contractor employee, Eddie Smith, owes his life to the decision by his employer – Clancy Docwra – to include arc flash PPE as standard. Watch the video to hear Eddie’s story of being caught in an arc flash and how his PPE prevented serious, potentially life-changing or even life-ending, injuries. This video is now used by Clancy Docwra to educate their teams and others on the risks of arc flash incidents, especially when breaking ground, and the importance of not compromising the last line of defence. 

Deciding about the right PPE for breaking ground

Eddie’s story is a stark reminder that FR (fire/flame resistant) PPE isn’t enough to keep people safe from the risks caused by cable strikes. 

Our friendly team are always on hand to advise about the right PPE for your circumstances, so if you need to protect your team from the risks of cable strikes when breaking ground, give us a call on +44 (0) 1482 679600 to discuss your needs.

Make sure that you’re specifying the right PPE for your team.

Read our free guide on the top considerations when choosing Arc Flash clothing & PPE below and make the best choice for you and your team via the link below ⬇.

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