Do your employees wear FR clothing at your jobsite? How familiar are you with FR base layers? Not everyone is aware of the hazards created by non-FR fabrics. But some materials can burn and melt to your skin. Even when FR clothing is worn overtop.
So how do you protect against these hazards? Find some base layer options that are flame-resistant. Your employees will be much safer with an FR base layer. Remember, we’re talking about fire and explosion hazards. Having inadequate protection isn’t worth the risk.
The Importance of FR Clothing
Flame-Resistant clothing is an important piece of PPE for the oil and gas industry. In 2010, OSHA issued a statement that required the use of FR clothing for workers in this industry. The purpose of the rule is to protect workers from fire-related hazards.
FR clothing comes in a variety of different styles and options. They can be flame-resistant or flame-retardant. Flame-resistant clothing is inherently designed to self-extinguish. Flame-retardant clothing has been chemically treated to self-extinguish. Both aim to minimize the extent of burn injuries.
Arc flash hazards are also a big concern for the oil and gas industry. Arc-rated clothing protects employees from electrical arc hazards. Employers must provide FR and AR clothing to employees who deal with these kinds of hazards. For more info on the difference between FR and AR clothing, check out our blog, "The Difference Between FR and AR Clothing"
Oil and gas is one of the most dangerous industries there is. Workers are often exposed to hazards associated with fires and explosions. It’s important for you to provide these workers with the clothing and PPE that will help keep them safe.
Base Layer Protection
FR base layers are the last line of defense. They’re extra protection against fire-related and arc flash hazards. The outer garments will usually provide adequate protection. But if the thermal event is strong enough, it could burn through those garments and affect the layers underneath.
That’s why wearing synthetic layers underneath FR clothing is dangerous. This type of non-FR clothing will ignite and continue to burn. They can also melt onto your skin. Examples of synthetics that should never be worn are:
When do I need base layer protection?
FR base layers are needed any time an employee wears something underneath his regular FR clothing. Employees may desire base layers for several reasons.
- It’s cold, and they want the extra layer for warmth
- They’re working hard and want something to wick away moisture and sweat
- They want something comfortable underneath their thick FR clothing
Base layer protection can also be used to achieve the Hazard Risk Category (HRC) and Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV) ratings. The NFPA sets minimum requirements for levels of protection against arc flash hazards.
Most companies try to meet these requirements by using one garment. But the NFPA 70e standard allows you to achieve the ratings through layering, too.
For instance, let’s say your employees need to wear clothing with an arc rating of 20 cal/cm2. You could put them in one thick, heavy jumpsuit that has that level of protection. Or, you could have them wear many layers that add up to 20 cal/cm2.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons for wearing base layer clothing. For an FR program to be effective, you need to examine every layer closely. Starting with the base layers. If worn, they need to be flame-resistant.
What options are there?
Cold-weather clothing is common in many oilfield locations. There have been a lot of recent advancements in cold-weather FR apparel. Workers now have access to sweatshirts, turtlenecks, and other knits. These garments have been chemically treated to be flame-resistant.
Treated fabrics will protect employees like inherently woven garments do. Do be mindful of the laundering requirements though. Treated fabrics are only effective for a certain number of washes. Follow the guidelines from the manufacturer.
What do the FR uniforms look like at your company? Most places use either a jumpsuit or a shirt and pants combination. But have you thought about what your workers will do during the winter months? It’s important that they don’t just throw any old jacket overtop their uniforms.
The outermost layer must always be FR or AR material. This layer is the first exposed to hazards. So it’s essential that winter jackets are capable of sufficiently protecting employees.
Winter jackets that are made from FR material must be provided to employees. There’s a wide variety of styles to choose from. Just make sure they are flame-resistant.
Moisture-wicking garments help regulate your body temperature. They remove perspiration away from your skin. This allows you to dry more quickly. Staying dry will help employees stay comfortable. But it also helps protect them against hypothermia and other kinds of cold-stress.
Wearing fabrics like cotton will have the opposite effect. It absorbs the moisture and contributes to too much cooling. Sweat can get trapped between the skin and clothing. And once the work stops, the employee’s body temperature will start to drop.
So look for a FR base layer option that provides enough moisture-wicking capabilities.
What else should I know?
Employers are responsible for keeping their workers safe. Now that you are aware of base layer hazards, it’s up to you to do something about it. At the very least, you need to train your employees on these hazards. Give them information on how they can best protect themselves. Your best alternative is to provide them with FR base layer clothing. This will ensure employees are wearing the proper protective layers. Everyone can sleep easier at night, knowing the workers are safe.
More on FR Clothing Options
Many oilfield workers wear extra layers. Some of them wear the correct FR base layers. And they’ve avoided burns and injuries because of it. Other workers wear synthetic layers. They’re putting complete faith in their outer garments. But what if the thermal heat exceeds the garment rating? What if they don’t button their shirt all the way? These workers are taking a risk. An unnecessary one.
Neither the OSHA standard nor the NFPA require FR base layers. But you should still consider providing them. More and more research is shining light on this topic. And the standards can always change. It’s best to take the extra precautions. Learn more about FR Clothing Requirements for Oil and Gas with our other relevant blogs.
So if an employee is going to wear something underneath their FR clothing, make sure it’s flame-resistant. Reach out to us at RMI for more information on how to best protect your employees.