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Comfort Based Safety - Protective Workwear Tailored to the Toughest Environments

Published: 10th Aug 2010

The most challenging jobs - be they in oil and gas, or electrical utility - often require the toughest protective apparel. But the tougher the protective garment, the more discomfort can result in a ponderous workday, impinging on productivity or affecting compliance issues.

The primary purpose of protective garments is protection, functionability and identification. Comfort, fit, style and overall wearability was never given adequate consideration, as we have gathered over these 40 years of exposure to the industry: innovations have not been able to pair the two factors of protection and comfort, resulting in unsafe operating procedures.

Through many surveys conducted in the industry of safety garment fabrics, results have suggested that almost 80% of accidents, from a bruised finger, to a fatality caused by an electric arc, were due to non-compliance with regard to the use of Personal Protective Equipment. This is an obvious area of concern, as despite the need for PPE in hazardous environments, people continue to risk bodily harm.

Is a willingness to risk bodily harm caused by comfort concerns?

This seems to be a true statement when speaking to many workers in the field. Comfort is a paramount element that leads to their non-compliance with safety procedures when it comes to PPE.

Selecting the correct technical textiles for protective garments is a daunting task which can save or alter the life of the wearer, hence the emphasis on protection rather than comfort. But this adds weight to non-compliance attitudes as being viable decisions.

Extensive studies of textiles for thermal protection have determined that principally it is the weight and fabric construction that determine protection levels. The more corpulent the hazard, the heavier the garment and the longer the duration of its wear, causing more discomfort to the skin. Environmental exposure coupled with this drawback makes for a resistance in workers to wear such garments. This has resulted in the development of a range of comfort-based fabric solutions.

The solution

One solution found has been a fabric based in aramid fiber, with a bubble construction. It has excellent comfort and wearability properties including anti-odour and anti-static. The garments made with comfort fabrics should be a PPE category 3; and should fulfil the exigencies of the new European standard for thermal protection garments, en-iso 11612, levels a1, b1, c1 and f1. Also antistatic, according en 1149, and must be high protection level against burns by electric arc, according to the international standards iec 61482-1-1 and iec 61482-1-2.

Why the need for comfort based safety?

  • Thermal protection
  • Minimum water vapour resistance
  • Low thermal resistance
  • High permeability
  • High water retention power
  • Very good humidity conduction
  • Ultimate comfort

An example

All these benefits have been evaluated using different well-known laboratory tests and have been proven to be efficient in all these properties, but laboratory tests alone cannot determine comfort levels in the way an actual wearer can. Consequently, the fabrics have been put through what you might call the ultimate test of endurance - the Marathon Des Sables.

The Marathon Des Sables is an annual event of resistance racing that takes place in the arid lands of the Moroccan desert. Participants cover 230km of harsh terrain coupled with the heat and cold of the Moroccan desert.

One team - ‘elx extrem’ - geared up with a T-shirt and trousers made from comfort based fabrics, hauled themselves across the desert and impressively gained a 24th place in this incredible race of endurance.

To give some idea of the caliber of the athletes testing these fabrics, team member Alberto Costilla has run about 60 marathons; José Antonio Sánchez, the youngest member of the team, has run 24 marathons, including more than eight ultra marathons; Manuel Román has run about 20 marathons, highlighting the Dead Sea ultra marathon; and José Manuel López, the group’s sporting veteran has competed in 30 marathons and four ultra marathons, and also emphasised his Dead Sea experience.

A general comment from this team about their garments was: “I’ve participated in more than 300 resistance races over 20 years - finally, clothes that do not hold me back.”

This experiment at Marathon Des Sables demonstrated it was possible to create fabrics that would keep a worker both safe and comfortable, while able to endure all extreme weather conditions. But workwear in the oil and gas industry, for example, needs more than comfort to safeguard workers against many potential risks, due to the work environment and the different work materials that are used.

Every industrial segment has a special requirement and a number of clothing manufacturers have sought to recognise workers’ needs and find solutions for them through thorough investigation, with a view to protecting the employee, and giving the employer peace of mind.

Among other segments, let’s look at some of the hazards:

Chemical and petrochemical segment

The chemical and petrochemical workers are subject to many potential risks, due to their own working environment and to the different products that they use.

Here, there has been a focus on solutions for thermal protection clothes, as well as possible combined needs for other types of protections, such as rain, low temperatures, anti-static properties and repellence to liquid chemicals.

All thermal protection items for workers in this field must fulfil European directive 1989/686/cee (PPE harmonisation) and the requirements defined in the harmonised European standard en iso 11612. Likewise, in accordance with European directive 1999/92/CE (ATEX), when these clothing items are to be used in potentially explosive areas, they must also fulfil the requirements for items with anti-static properties that are prescribed by standard EN 1149-3 or any other equivalent regulation.

Depending on the rest of work conditions that are defined in the corresponding risk assessments, the thermal protection clothes to be worn may also have to fulfil the requirements for rain protection (in accordance with standard EN 343), non-extreme low temperatures (standard EN 14058), low-visibility environments (standard EN 471) and protection against small chemical splashes (EN iso 6530).

Electrical industry

As in any work environment, the electrical industry sector must adequately protect its employees. Solutions include thermal protection for workers against the risk of electrical arc burns, using suitable thermal protective clothing which meets the necessary safety requirements of the work environment.

These thermal protection garments consist of personal protection equipment which is correctly certified according to those established by the European directive 89/686/eec (harmonised standards for PPE), having passed all testing requirements which define and confirm adequate protection levels for these garments.

Estambril®, is a company specialising in protection, particularly against thermal risks, and offers a wide range of solutions based on extensive experience and exhaustive studies into the different needs within this specific type of protection.

In general terms, thermal protective clothing to protect workers against risk of burns caused by electrical arc must comply with the standards established in the European directive 89/686/eec (Harmonised Standards for PPE), meeting all requirements stipulated in the corresponding regulations.

There are currently two types of tests which comply with the regulations in place within the sector and relate to testing the protective levels of the garments against the high electrical heat produced by electrical arc. The main differences between the existing test regulations can be summarised as follows:

  • Panel test:
  • Electric arc of spherical geometry
  • Using different intensities of discharge, it accurately defines the maximum level of energy which the garment or protective equipment is able to withstand in order to offer suitable protection
  • Box test:
  • Electrical discharge inside a ‘box’
  • Defines two intensities (4 or 7 ka), testing whether the garment or protective equipment is able to withstand these two types

Based on the general work conditions defined in risk evaluation, the different thermal protection garments that can be used must also comply with protective requirements against rain (EN-343), non-extreme cold (EN-14058), or for work in low-visibility environments (EN-471), as appropriate.

A correct analysis of the occupational hazard assessment points to the appropriate PPE for each profession at risk. That is the case seen in Kazahstan after an accident with electric arc, where the worker did not suffer any kind of lesion. In these kind of accidents temperatures up to 30,000 degrees celsius are reached for 500 milliseconds - a potentially fatal risk for the worker, only prevented by using the appropriate PPE.

This two/three layer garment made of 220 gr/mt2 aramid comfort fabric is resistant to a maximum incident energy (aptv) of 33.5 cal/cm2/sec for the two layer one and up to 80 cal/cm2 for some of the three layer equipment.


Firefighters are subjected to a range of different risks and therefore require a variety of personal protection equipment: respiratory protection products, helmets, gloves, footwear, chemical protective clothing, heat-resistant clothing and the like.

With regard to heat-resistant clothing, a wide range of different fabrics and combinations are available.

Heat-resistant clothing for firefighters must comply with the stipulations defined in the European Directive 89/686/EEC (Harmonised Standards for PPE), and, depending on the type of risk/garment must also meet the requirements stated in the European Regulation EN-469 (governing intervention clothing); or Regulation EN ISO 11612 for light outdoor wear with basic thermal protection (A-B1-C1); or the EN 15614, aimed specifically at protecting forest fire extinguishing teams.

Tough fabrics for firefighters

Conscious of the complex adverse conditions in which firefighters have to work, important innovation investment efforts have been made in the sector of fire-fighter’s protection equipment.

We are glad to introduce a new solution for fire-fighter’s intervention suits.

Ahead of the risk for their lives that thermal stress means for fire-fighters, new fabrics are designed to address three critical elements:

Two important key aspects of comfort:

  • Weight reduction
  • Perspiration improvement and
  • Improving the water-absorption level that will reduce the risks of steam burns, while providing the necessary thermal protection and comfort

The comfort sensation is improved by increasing mobility with a weight reduction of the set of fabrics. This fabric system diminishes the Rct levels (‘warm’ level) by 40%, and increases the perspiration with a Ret reduction (perspiration resistance) by 26%.

The humidity control also be optimised, which is another one of the key points in thermal stress. Some key tests have been developed in an EMPA Swiss laboratory, which were specialised comfort studies. Now it is possible to certify an improvement of the humidity management by perspiration in more than 2ºC of body temperature, because there are now fabrics which moisten and dry more quickly, and absorption weight has been reduced by 15%.


The Armed Forces, both in terms of the police and army, require a variety of personal protective equipment, including thermal protection wear which, in some cases, must comply with basic protection and operational needs.

Specific solutions for this sector have been reached through the close cooperation of both users and specialised clothing manufacturers, enabling a wide range of existing solutions, as well as the possibility of creating new and specific solutions that cover particular needs within different areas of the sector.

Solutions have already been developed for thermal protective clothing with high levels of insulation and comfort, which also offer high levels of camouflage, where necessary. There are also solutions which effectively combine thermal protection against heat and/or flames with insulation against the cold, or those suitable for intervention in hot environments.


This industrial sector needs a very high level of thermal protection, as the worker is faced with hazards that are deadly due to very high heat ranges of molten metal splashes, steam and constant heat exposure.

But there are solutions for these workers that not only contribute to improving protection and resistance in front of splashes of both molten metal and aluminum, but can also give an excellent protection/weight ratio.

Equipment has been designed to be used on the parts of the body where the risk of splashes are higher, and the protection has to be superior, such as the forearms, legs and back. The basic fabric is 100% Aramid. But the great difference found in some PPE lies in the application of a ceramic coating made of nano particles. The weight increases approximately 60g on the basic fabric, so the weights available in this range of fabrics are 320g and 380g.

The recommended use would be one layer for the garment and a ceramic quoted patched layer on the parts facing the highest risk.

The principle aims to develop this fabric were to increase protection and durability and the increase of these values can be explained like this:

In the works

  • FR fabrics with High Visibility properties
  • Very high mechanical resistance fabrics for firefighter garments
  • Fabrics with high protection level against burns by electric arc
  • FR fabrics for riots garments
  • FR underwear with high comfort level
  • New concept for firefighter garments: Low weight + High Protection + High resistance


Riaz Rashid is a business development Executive EMEA for the Estambril Group. Miguel Lanuza is the Applied Technology Director for the Estambril Group.

Established in 1944, the company aims to protect those professionals who carry out high risk jobs, by producing technical textiles of the highest quality. E: T: +27825690038

Published: 10th Aug 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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