The Fabric of Safety

FLAME RESISTANT AND TECHNICAL TEXTILES

by Ali Sadeddin

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Technical textiles refer to textile materials and products used primarily for their technical performance and functional properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics.

The technical textiles sector encompasses many diverse products and applications, based on product characteristics, functional requirements and end-user applications.

Technical textiles are predominantly manmade and fibre-based owing to their inherent advantages of strength and versatility. Manmade fibres are estimated to account for around 80% of the total fibre consumption in the global technical textiles market. The majority of technical textiles are manufactured using regular fibres or their specialty variants, whereas, high performance fibres account for a mere 5% of the total fibre consumption. Its materials designed for specific applications requiring concrete and demanding properties (mechanical resistance, tenacity, insulation, thermal resistance, acids, ultra violet, and infrared).

Despite the downturn in the global textile industry, the technical textiles sector is proving to be an increasingly strong inspirational force for the industry. The market presence of technical textiles is expanding, and the field is experiencing growth in functions and applications. Consumption of technical textiles constitutes approximately 25% of the total volume consumption of all textiles in industrialised countries. Global demand is expected to be especially high for geotextiles, industrial textiles and building textiles.

Technical textiles and PPE

With the growing dominance of technical textiles, technical textiles can be classified into 12 groups from the application point of view. Protech is one of these groups which is an ensemble of textile products and related material used in the manufacture of various protective clothing for the personnel working in hazardous environment. Therefore, technical textiles play an important role for producing protective and safety clothing. The variety of protective functions that need to be provided by various textile products is diverse and considerable.

Protective clothing includes garments and related paraphernalia for protection from harmful chemical environments. These types of textiles include protection against ballistic, cuts, abrasion and other types of severe impact, which includes fire and extreme heat, stab wounds and explosions, hazardous dust and particles, biological, nuclear and chemical hazards, high voltages and static electricity, foul weather, extreme temperature environments, and low visibility – to name but a few.

Textiles with exceptional insulation performance, providing protection against very low or high temperatures, have been obtained with aerogels (nano-porous structures of amorphous silica gel). These textiles will be advantageous for those working in harsh environments, but also for extreme sport/outdoor activities.

Due to their enabling character and the unique properties of materials at nanoscale, nanotechnologies are particularly suitable for use in technical protective textiles.

Their use in this sector is still at an early stage, with research following two main paths:

  • Upgrading functions and performances of existing PPE
  • Development of products with unprecedented characteristics and performance

Fire resistant workwear

Although fire resistant workwear is widely associated with being worn by fire fighters, it’s also very important in many industries and workplaces that have fire hazards within their working environments. Clear selection criteria would be set and outlined to help the reader to understand the factors that he/ she should consider before having a decision related to selecting the proper type of fire resistant workwear, specifying it and therefore doing the procurement for such critical items that will save the worker’s life.

But why?

In a flash fire without the protection of flame-resistant workwear, the worker is exposed firstly to the heat of the fireball and then secondly to the heat of the burning fabric of the worker’s clothes. The heat generated by a burning fabric depends on the composition of material, treated or non-treated, weight and weave of the garment and if the material was clean or soiled with hydrocarbons.

According to OSHA, the use of flame0resistant clothing greatly improves the chance of a worker surviving and retrieving quality of life after a flash fire. Flame resistant clothing can significantly reduce both the extent and severity of burn injuries to the body. In order to achieve higher fire protection, OSHA advise employers to comply with the standards number 29 CFR 1910.132(a). As a reaction to higher injuries from fire accidents in the oil and gas industry in the US, in May 2010 US Department of Labor enforced oil and gas organisations to apply and implement the above mentioned standard where applicable. The organisations also are required to comply with the related NFPA standards, namely NFPA 2112 and NFPA 2113.

Furthermore, and according to CAPP, fire resistant workwear provides protection against flash fires in two ways. First of all, fire resistant workwear is designed so that it does not burn when exposed to flame. This in itself provides protection for the worker by eliminating or reducing injury when clothing burns after exposure to flash fire.

Secondly, fire resistant workwear is designed to decrease the amount of heat that penetrates the skin during a flash fire. The fabric basically provides a barrier between the flash fire and the worker’s skin, reducing the amount of energy transmitted to the skin thus providing further protection to the worker. In this case, the thicker the fabric used in the making of fire-resistant workwear, the better the degree of protection to the worker. Accordingly, it is very important to consider the type of garments needed for working on site with flash fire potential, as the workwear has the possibility to extremely boost or reduce the associated hazard.

Textile procurement

All this effort and research carried out by health and safety related departments should come with a guide that helps the manufacturers to make suitable attire, which can in turn help workers in protecting themselves from flame and heat associated with fire. It also provides a road map for the procurement professionals to make the right decision when selecting and purchasing workwear that is fit for the occasion.

It is very important for the people who are responsible for employees’ health and safety to be aware about the standards and requirements for PPE, and accordingly articulate and craft their own guide and specifications that can help in getting and acquiring the correct products that can in turn provide the workforce with the needed protection from workplace associated hazards and dangers.

Besides the selection criteria I introduce in my Fitting the Occasion article (fit to purpose, comfortable, durable and with legal compliance), the selection of flame-resistant workwear is based on the following principles:

  • The use of hazard assessments to identify the need for flame resistant workwear
  • Knowing the related standards that can be adopted to help in setting the selection criteria and specification
  • Evaluating the existing flame-resistant workwear in the marketplace to decide those fit for the hazards identified on your site
  • The articulation of specifications needs for the procurement of flame resistant workwear

The first principle is the sole responsibility of the health and safety department, while the other three principles shall be worked jointly between health and safety and procurement departments.

As per OSHA and CAPP, the wearing of fire-resistant workwear should be considered as the basic standard for work in and near all oil and gas facilities. Any facilities or locations where oil or gas could be present can have an associated risk of flash fires. Welding and cutting, also, can produce hazards such as sparks, spatter, radiation, slag, heat, hot metal, fumes and gases, and even electric shock. Since these hazards may cause burns, injury or death, it is important for welders and cutters to wear protective equipment that is adequate for the hazards at all times. Welding and cutting operations could be in the oil and gas industry as well as construction and infrastructure industries. Nevertheless, regardless of the industry and workplace, the employer shall ensure that all employees engaged in welding or cutting operations shall wear adequate fire retardant work clothing, fire retardant gauntlet type gloves and arm protection, an apron of fire retardant or other adequate material, adequate eye and face protection against harmful radiation, particles of molten metal, or for chipping and grinding welds; and safety boots. The materials used in fire resistant clothing can protect against other workplace hazards as well and should be considered even when the risk of a flash fire is low. These other hazards may include minor scrapes and abrasions, hot surfaces, some chemicals, sun, and cold.

Although many standards have been set for fire protection workwear, generally speaking all of them consider similar criteria for evaluating the hazard and indicating the kind of fabric to be used in such kinds of clothing. However, to get good results in setting your selection criteria and specification, it is recommended to adopt and implement one of these standards at a time and not try to comply with all at the same time.

Other option is to study all the standards and data available for the fire-resistant workwear and craft your own standard. However, adopting two different standards will give you more flexibility in the sourcing process when it comes to the procurement side. In this way, you can eliminate any possible superiority that manufacturers can play during the procurement cycle provided they are following particular standards while others follow different, but equivalent, standards.

After assessing the hazards and learning the related standards, it is very important to know about your marketplace. What are the existing goods and to what extend do they comply with the international standards and particular requirements? Knowing your market makes you able to set and select the standards and specifications that can be used during the procurement process, which is realistic and applicable – as well as fitting your purpose and meeting your needs. It also allows you to recommend some brands or manufacturers or even country of origin, depending on the local authority norms and preferable and adopted standards.

During the development of specifications, you have to differentiate between fire resistant workwear and fire-retardant workwear, as both of them are made from different fabrics. Naturally flameresistant fabrics are fabrics manufactured with fibres whose inherent properties make them naturally flame resistant without a chemical treatment. The fabric’s effectiveness will not be reduced by repeated washing or wear since fabrics such as these ensure optimum protection throughout the life of the garment. Flame retardant treated fabrics are produced by applying a finish to a fibre or fabric to reduce its flammability, or by incorporating a flame-retardant chemical into the fibre prior to spinning. The flame-retardant treatment chemicals are activated by intense heat, producing char and gases that inhibit combustion for a certain time. Because the flameretardant treatment is a chemical treatment which is washed out with time, the fabrics will only conform to heat and flame standards for a limited number of washes. Therefore, flame “resistant” is the proper term for protective clothing.

“the materials used in fire resistant clothing can protect against other workplace hazards as well and should be considered even when the risk of a flash fire is low”

Shall I wear it?

Flame resistant clothing is required in various workplace applications where the risk of exposure to open flame exists. Flame resistant workwear is recommended for persons working in the field of electrical maintenance, utility work, industrial manufacturing, construction, power generation, energy distribution, oil and natural gas workers and other types of hazardous occupations. Although flame resistant clothing is dominant in protecting workers from the possibility of burns, it is important to know that flame resistant clothing only helps to minimise the possibility of burn injury; it does not eliminate it.

Unfortunately, wearing the wrong clothing will actually make burns and fires worse rather than acting as a protection against injury. Synthetic fibres like polyester, rayon, and other blends will actually melt to the skin when exposed to intense heat. On the other hand, cotton and natural fibres act as a fuel that will burst into flames and continue to burn if a worker is exposed to extreme heat.

These guidelines form the basis for the reasoning behind the design of fireresistant workwear for protection against flames and heat.

In a power generation industry, the hazard in an arc fire, flash fire, or other sudden unexpected release of intense heat can sometimes occur after the accident. For arc fires, an arc exposure value is measured as the amount of electrical energy per unit area. This value is applied as a rating to determine how effective flame-resistant clothing is at meeting dangers from electrified equipment and arc fires. If a person is knocked unconscious, flame resistant clothing can offer protection for the worker until they can be rescued. For instance, this type of workwear is made to be either self-extinguishing or noncombustible so that a person’s clothing will not continue to burn.

Technical textiles

Technical clothing of multi-layered material that offers resistance to fire is used for the clothing of the fire-fighters. Thus, the outer layer is made of metaaramid fibre, which gives resistance to fire, and para-aramid fibre which gives a better mechanical strength. The outer layer is followed by an impermeable layer, which serves as waterproof membrane. Then follows a layer made of meta-aramid, which gives thermal insulation. The inner layer is a layer of aramid yarn knitting or modacrylic. Technical textiles are considered as the perfect solution for flame retardant protective clothing. They will not only protect but are also extremely comfortable to wear. The fabric also offers maximum breathability. The safety standards for flame retardant fabrics are extremely strict; and technical textiles can fully meet all of these standards.

For example, technical textiles can comply with:

  • EN 14116 Flame Spread Index 33 – Resistant against contact heat and small flames
  • FIA 8856-200 – Motorcyclists’ protective clothing
  • EN 1149 – Protection against electrical hazards
  • EN 11611 – For welding and allied processes
  • EN 11612 – Protection against heat and flames
  • EN 61482 – Protection against arc flash
  • EN 13034 – Protection against chemicals
  • Any similar standards

Technical textiles are used to manufacture flame retardant workwear ranges that consist of individual items. The spectrum of areas where they can be used is extremely wide, since in many jobs flame retardant workwear is important to ensure optimum protection.

Conclusion

Fire resistant workwear is very important to protect workers within working environments that have a noticeable hazard of fire and explosions such as mining, and oil and gas. However, fire resistant clothing can help in protecting workforces involved in construction, utility, telecommunications and power generation industries. Many people suffer serious injuries and even death due to fire accidents during their work. This will affect the productivity of work and therefore the profitability of the business. Although PPE costs companies money every year, not using it costs society more and affects the overall economy of the country.

While selecting the fire-resistant clothing we have to understand our industry needs, assess the hazard levels, understand the existing standards and the availability in the marketplace, and then set the proper specification that can help buyers to take their purchasing decisions and acquire the proper attires that will fit the purpose and be comfortable, durable and comply with legal requirements. In many countries, having an unsafe workplace give the rights to the workers to sue their employers and enforce a compensation that can threaten companies with huge loses that are much greater than the cost associated with having a safer workplace.

People matter and protecting human life is priceless. Keeping your workforce safe and healthy will improve their productivity, reduce the number of days off taken by employees due to injuries, and bring the cost of compensation related to accidents and injuries to the minimum levels. That will save a lot of money and increase the ROI of the business. This should be considered as a motive to business people, to consider safety and provide all tools to maintain their employees’ safety and good health.

Technical textiles help to greatly improve the quality of fire-retardant materials and make them safer and more reliable. With the continuous development and innovation in the technical textiles industry, more new products and fabrics will come to the fore that may yet create revolution in the PPE industry.

Author Details

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Ali Sadeddin

Ali Sadeddin is a mechanical engineer who has been involved in the construction field for more than 20 years. Having more than 14 years of intensive exposure to procurement and operations in the construction sector, he is currently serving as Procurement Director (Head of Procurement) at Khidmah LLC, a leading company in facility and property management.

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