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What are insulated forks?

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Use an insulated digging tool Sometimes, your digging tools may require electrical insulation. Perhaps you need to dig narrow trenches for laying cables or irrigation work or just simply need to dig. The problem is…where you need to dig is around underground live cables or electrified rail track areas.

What is electrical insulation?

An electrical insulator is a material that resists the flow of electricity. In other words, it does not let electricity flow through it easily. Materials such as glass, plastic and rubber are some examples of insulators.
Examples include rubber, plastic and fibreglass

So some electric current still gets through?

A perfect insulator does not exist, but don’t worry. Some materials such as rubber, plastic and fibreglass have a high resistivity (a measurement of a material’s strength to oppose an electrical current) and make good insulators for moderate electrical currents. Most metals, however, are conductors of electricity. In other words, electricity will travel easily through a fork with a steel head and shaft.

Insulated forks

Beware of digging around underground cables and pipes There are various steps you should take to avoid potential damage and using an insulated digging tool is one of them.   In this section, we will examine an insulated digging fork.
Check there is full adherence to the British Standards institute Before we go any further, however, ensure that all insulated hand tools conform to the British Standards for working on or near live cables.

An insulated hand digging tool is usually tested for withstanding up to 10,000 volts. A guarantee of insulation up to 1,000 volts is then issued, which is full conformity to live cable working specifications. In addition, a unique traceable number is supplied with all insulated hand tools.

Designed for working around live cables Insulated forks are very similar in design and models tends not to differ. There are three main safety factors which you should look out for when choosing a particular fork:

1. A solid fibreglass core and a layer of insulating material for the shaft.

2. An integrated hand stop.

3. Rounded tines

This is usually a bright orange colour

Safety factor 1 –  A solid fibreglass core and a layer of insulating material for the shaft

Fibreglass is strong yet lightweight and has excellent insulating properties.

A layer or two of polymer – both an insulator and abrasive resistant – coats the fibreglass, offering additional protection. Some manufacturers apply two layers.

There is an extremely wide range of domestic, commercial and manufacturing uses for polypropylene Manufacturers love to blind us with scientific buzzwords!  Polymer is a just another word used for plastic. The coating on the fibreglass core will usually be polypropylene – a tough and flexible thermoplastic material used for an extremely wide number of applications including electrical insulation.
Poly means 'many' , -mer means 'part' and mono means 'one'. For your information, polymer is a large group of synthetic and natural materials.  Plastic, polystyrene and nylon are one form of synthetic polymer while rubber and amber are natural polymers.

Polymers are made up of many similar molecules (known as monomers) all linked together by chemical bonds to make really long chains (and other quite complicated structures too!)

When the white is revealed, dispose of the tool or use as an ordinary fork. Check that the shaft has some sort of wear indication on the sheathing that will signal when the tool should be replaced. For example, once the outer protective layer erodes, a white inner layer becomes visible.  Either replace the tool or use it as a non-insulated tool.
This will help to prevent your hand from slipping onto the metal blade

Safety factor 2 –  An integrated hand stop

A specially contoured insulated collar – or hand stop – prevents the user’s hand from accidentally slipping onto the steel blade. The collar is generally rubber. Don’t forget – steel conducts electricity.  If one of the tines pierces the insulation of one of the cables, you don’t want your hand anywhere near the steel head of the fork!

The blunt tines reduce the risk of damage to utility pipes

Safety factor 3 – Rounded tines

For extra safeguarding, the cutting edges of the tines are rounded or blunted slightly to reduce the risk of damage to pipes and cables.

Any difference between the various designs of insulated forks is negigible Any difference between the various designs of insulated forks is negligible. If there is a dissimilarity, it will be in the size of the head. This type of fork is generally used by contractors and for heavy-duty digging. Therefore, the size of the tines will be slightly larger than average, usually at around 300 x 200mm (12 x 8 inches).