One of the most misunderstood parts of our job as thermographers is safety. Thermographers shouldn’t really be at risk of electrocution as we should not be touching any of the equipment we’re inspecting. We are at risk of arc-flash though. Most of the arc-flash safety standards are written from the point of the electrical worker working on live electrical equipment, not from a non-contact inspection. Where does that leave us? Wearing rubber-insulating gloves with leather protectors would make it almost impossible to operate our image systems.
There are gloves on the market that will work better for thermographers. They are constructed out of Nomex and Indura, and are more appropriate for the needs of a thermographer. This provides the arc-flash protection we need while having the dexterity required to operate the imaging systems. Gloves are discussed in the NFPA-70E as being acceptable. However, most safety managers do not list them as approved for use by the thermographer.
I’m talking from the stand point of conducting an inspection where the thermographer maintains a “hands off” or “no contact” work method (i.e. never breaking the plane of the enclosure). This eliminates the opportunity for an electrical shock; the only hazard the thermographer is exposed to is an arc-flash. In that regard, following the guidelines pertaining to the clothing, headgear, eye protection, and hearing protection is appropriate. Most facilities have conducted an arc-flash potential survey, and have labeled the equipment according to those recommendations.
However, what if there has been no survey conducted or the equipment has not been labeled? After all, these labels recommend what level of protection we are to wear to access the equipment. Do we use our judgment and past experience with similar equipment that has been rated? Plus, wear PPE according to our experience? The recommended minimum would be to wear Arc-Flash PPE Category 2 (table 130.7(C)(15)(c)(2018 NFPA-70E).
It is highly recommended a copy of the latest version of the NFPA-70E be on hand, understood as it pertains to the safety of the thermographer and the escorts that work with us.
Stay safe, thermographers!