By Jayden Mark
Electrical hazard (EH) boots and shoes are designed to protect you from electrocution. While EH boots don’t guarantee that you are totally safe from an electric shock, they provide secondary protection by isolating the wearer, thereby preventing the flow of electricity to ground when electrical contact is made with the body.
What is an Electrical Hazard Safety Rating?
Safety boots with an EH rating have been tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). This means that the boots have been tested to withstand 18,000 volts at 60 Hertz for 1 minute without leakage.
The EH rating for safety boots only applies to dry conditions. Dielectric shoes should be used for protection from electrocution if your boots are exposed to water. You should also be aware that EH footwear are not rated for static dissipation (conductive footwear). If you work in an environment where static discharge is a problem, you should look for ESD shoes.
How Do You know if Your Boots are EH Rated?
You will be able to distinguish EH boots and shoes from other types of safety gear by the ASTM-F2412 rating. While the boots may have other safety ratings for dangers like impact resistance, only shoes that have been tested for electrical resistance will qualify as EH boots.
Who Needs to Wear EH Boots?
Anyone working in an environment where they may be exposed to electrocution should wear EH boots. The OSHA regulations for EH footwear are quite simple: anyone working with live wires or possible electricity should wear EH boots.
Typical professions requiring electrical hazard protective gear would include:
OSHA Standards for Protection from Electrocution
According to OSHA, EH boots are considered secondary protection. There are many regulations that employers and workers need to adhere to when ensuring worker safety with regards to electrical hazards:
If you work in an industry where exposure to electrocution is possible, it would be advisable to familiarize yourself with the regulations specific to your job.
What is an Electrical Hazard?
According to national statistics, over 400 people are electrocuted in the US each year. Around 4,000 non-fatal injuries occur every year as a result of electrical hazards. This begs the question: what exactly are electrical hazards.
An electrical hazard can be defined as any danger caused by electrical wiring or damaged equipment. While this includes an electric shock or electrocution, there are many other dangers that can be associated with electricity, these include:
An electrical hazard can be caused by any of the following incidents:
Of all the examples given above, only one applies directly to the use of EH boots. This would be electrocution when not using the correct PPE. Even then, EH boots are not the only type of PPE that protects you from electrocution. The boots only protect you from electrocution resulting from contact with the ground through your feet.
If any part of your body (other than your feet) make contact with the ground, or any conductor connected to ground, you may be electrocuted even when wearing EH boots. This would include touching ground or neutral wires, as both are connected to the ground. If the circuit is protected by a ground fault interrupter (GFCI), the circuit will trip, preventing an electrocution. However, in many industrial and power distribution settings, this is not the case, as theses circuits will not be protected by GFCI.
It is, therefore, vitally important that people working with electricity understand the dangers involved and always implement safe working practices. This would include using all the requisite PPE for electrical safety.
In order to gain a full understanding of electrical safety, we need to discuss electrocution in greater detail.
What is Electrocution?
Electricity flows through a conductor like metal or water. Weak conductors, like plastic, rubber, or wood, do not conduct electricity. These substances are known as insulators. Rubber and plastic are commonly used to prevent the flow of electricity and ensure that we are safe when using electric appliances or handling electric wires.
Electricity has a natural tendency to flow directly to ground along the shortest route. This means that any electric circuit connected to ground through a conductor will direct the flow of electricity to ground.
Since water is a conductor, and our bodies consist of 80% water, we will conduct electricity to ground if exposed to a live circuit. When the voltage and amperage is sufficient, this will result in electrocution, causing burns, electric shock, and possible death.
It is important to understand the relationship between voltage and amperage when considering electrical safety.
Although water is a relatively strong electrical conductor, it is not as good as metal. This means that a low potential difference (volts) will not be sufficient to cause an electrical circuit in the body. The industrial standard for electrical safety is 30V. Consequently, any circuit less than 30V can considered safe. You can touch low voltage wires without being electrocuted.
The exception to this rule would be if you are wearing any metal object like jewelry. Since metal is a strong conductor, contact to with body and an electric current, combined with a metal object can cause burns or shocks, regardless of the voltage.
A common example would be when working on a car with a 12V electric circuit. Ordinarily, you can touch uninsulated car wiring and not feel anything. However, if you simultaneously touch a metal surface, you may feel a slight tingling or even a mild electric shock.
Regardless of the voltage, the amperage also needs to be high enough to cause an electric shock. At a low amperage, the current is too weak to cause any harm, except in some circumstances, like people with a severe heart condition. As a guide to safe amperage, we can conclude the following effects on our bodies through electrical contact:
Given the severe dangers associated with electrical hazards, safety in the workplace is paramount. While EH boots are an essential part of electrical safety PPE, these are considered secondary safety measures.
It is important to wear EH safety boots if you are at risk of electrocution. However, the boots do not guarantee your safety. You need to be aware of the safety requirements for the industry in which you work.
Any exposure to an electric circuit greater than 30V and 17 mA can be fatal. Wearing EH boots may save your life in these circumstances. Using insulated tools is another safety precaution that has saved many lives. In the end, you need to be aware of all the dangers involved. Wear the correct PPE and observe all safety precautions.