Q: Should we worry about beards in relation to arc flash? At our company, we think hair generally protects the body against extremes. Do you know of any evidence to the contrary?
A: Here is what we know: Human hair is protein fiber. It will burn when exposed to a flame but stop burning when the heat source is removed. Human hair does not melt; it becomes a fragile ash that turns to powder when crushed. This property is known as self-extinguishing. Hair is pretty much like cotton – it burns away. As such, it is not a hazard related to arc flash and actually provides some protection. OSHA does not address exposed hair any differently than the exposed body. It is up to the employer to decide if exposed hair increases employee risk as it pertains to arc flash hazards. If you were to analyze it from a practical perspective, you likely would agree with most of the safety experts we asked about it; they indicated that hair has a heat-insulating property and will not increase a burn hazard to the face provided workers abide by the appropriate arc flash standards of protection established by OSHA. However, there is an issue with some grooming products that may change the hair’s natural resistance to burning, which could be a problem for those lineworkers who use them.