Shining a Light on Overlooked PPE

Intrinsically safe headlamps improve worker safety in hazardous environments

Shining a Light on Overlooked PPE

 Headlamps are essential when hands-free lighting is required for tasks in low-light areas.

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Utilities and contractors have a duty to protect employees and provide a safe work environment, but many fail to supply or specify all the proper personal protective equipment — namely headlamps. 

The lack of suitable headlamps can lead to serious — even deadly — accidents in hazardous locations. 

As a tool, headlamps are essential when hands-free lighting is required for tasks in low-light areas. This can include operating/maintaining machinery and assessing its condition, or servicing pipes, manholes or other infrastructure. Headlamps are also necessary for safe, efficient personnel movement, particularly in confined or restricted spaces. 

In many situations, having a headlamp that does not generate a spark is critical. This is particularly important whenever flammable gases, vapors, liquids or off-gassing is present.

Despite meeting OSHA’s definition of PPE, “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses,” headlamps are often not included in budgets for PPE. As a result, workers may be left to purchase their own, and if they overemphasize price and choose products that lack necessary options, the units may be unsafe for some tasks, settings or conditions. This could open the utility to potential liability.

To protect personnel in any work environment and to defend against such liability, a growing number of safety officers are including or specifying headlamps in the budget, as PPE.

“It is safer to provide suitable headlamps upfront rather than leaving it up to employees to make their own purchases. However, department approval of only intrinsically safe product would handle the issue. Preventing even one serious injury, fire or explosion would pay for any implementation,” says Scott Colarusso, general manager and co-owner of All Hands Fire Equipment & Training in Neptune City, New Jersey.

When contractors and utilities supply intrinsically safe headlamps, which are specifically designed not to be a source of ignition in hazardous zones, workers are protected wherever they need to go from serious, even potentially lethal accidents. Essentially, everyone is covered and the chance of mishap eliminated.

“Without safety certified headlamps appropriate for the application, utilities are exposed to potential liability if an incident occurs. By supplying workers with headlamps that are rated for any hazardous environment that could be encountered, utilities can prevent the problem,” Colarusso says.

Mandating greater safety

Headlamps enhance safety and efficiency by leaving workers’ hands free. It’s important to choose devices that are designed to be easily operable even when workers need to wear heavy gloves. Typically, the units are waterproof and chemically resistant, ready for use in rugged surroundings, which may include getting thrown into a truck toolbox or dropped, and providing sufficient “burn time” to last an entire work shift without a change of batteries.

For sewer and pipeline workers, however, typical headlamps can be a dangerous source of ignition if workers unwittingly enter a hazardous area or are exposed to flammable materials or conditions. 

Safety considerations are particularly important considering OSHA’s recently issued standard for construction work in confined spaces (Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926). The new standard recognizes that such spaces can present physical and atmospheric hazards that can be avoided if recognized and addressed prior to entry. It is designed to eliminate potentially deadly hazards by requiring employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards could be there and how those hazards should be made safe (including the use of headlamps, flashlights and other lighting equipment that carry the proper safety ratings).

Therefore, in inherently volatile settings, headlamps should carry the proper certification for various classes, divisions and groups of materials. One example that meets these requirements is the intrinsically safe Vizz II headlamp by Princeton TEC, a producer of ETL- and UL-approved lighting products.

In response to the new OSHA standards, some manufacturers now make headlamps with durable thermoplastic material designed to withstand drops and rough handling and have superior resistance to common, potentially dangerous chemicals and solvents utilized by utilities. 

The latest models also offer anti-static properties and safety features, such as a locking mechanism that requires a tool to open the battery compartment. This prevents users from inadvertently opening the battery housing in a hazardous environment, which could not only result in electric shock, but also potentially ignition or explosion.

“Many of our corporate customers specify Princeton Tec headlamps and lighting products due to the reliability, longevity, price point and made-in-the-USA. production,” says John Navarro, a purchasing agent for Bayville, New Jersey-based CWR Wholesale Distribution.

“With an intrinsically safe headlamp, you are meeting the standard and enabling employees to work in the safest possible conditions with the most up-to-date equipment,” Navarro says. “Now the technology is at a better price point than it was five years ago. So, it is affordable for corporate safety budgets.”

Many of Navarro’s industrial customers are willing to spend a little more for higher rated, compliant, intrinsically safe headlamps.

“Our industrial customers want to know their plant personnel can safely use their intrinsically safe headlamps anywhere. Safety committees do not want to worry about where personnel may use the units, if it is safe to use under hazardous conditions.”

While sewer service and maintenance carry some inherent risk, companies seeking to improve safety can take a positive step by providing workers with safe headlamps that ensure compliance.

As the need for safety only grows along with stricter regulation, sewer cleaning contractors can take a positive step by providing workers with headlamps that ensure compliance and minimize operational risk and liability. 


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