In March of 2010, OSHA recognized the alarming number of injuries and fatalities that were occurring from fires and explosions in the oil and gas industry. OSHA sent out an official memo to the entire industry. This memo required companies to provide oilfield workers with FR Clothing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80 oil and gas industry workers died from fires and explosions between 2006 and 2010. Between 2010 to 2015, there were only 9 reported fire and explosion fatalities. This decrease is likely due to the implementation of the new rule.
What is FR Clothing?
FR Clothing is personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect employees from fire related hazards. There are two different terms often associated with FR clothing. People often confuse flame resistant with flame retardant. Let’s review the differences between the two.
Flame Resistant Clothing
The material in flame-resistant clothing is inherently resistant to flames and embers. This type of FR Clothing is self-extinguishing. It will not continue to burn once ignited by a flame or fire event. The goal of flame-resistant clothing is to minimize the extent of burn injuries.
Flame Retardant Clothing
Flame retardant clothing is made out of material that has been treated with a special chemical. This treatment makes it flame resistant. The original material is typically made out of cotton or a cotton-blend. Flame retardant clothing will also self-extinguish after exposure to a flame or fire event.
Both types of FR Clothing can be suitable for your PPE needs. The difference is in the design and construction of the material. But, flame-resistant clothing is often referred to as the “true” FR Clothing because of its inherent design.
Keep in mind, that FR Clothing is not the same as Arc-Rated Clothing. FR Clothing protects workers from flash fires, flames, and embers. Arc-Rated Clothing protects workers who are exposed to electrical arc hazards. The two are very different, and cannot be used interchangeably.
It’s also important to note that FR Clothing is not fire-proof—it will ignite if exposed to fire. But the clothing will self-extinguish. This is important because it will stop the fire from spreading to the rest of their clothes and body. This works to reduce the risk of burn injuries. And chances of surviving a catastrophic event increase significantly.
When should oilfield workers wear FR Clothing?
According to the OSHA memo, workers in the oil and gas industry need to wear FR Clothing during certain phases of production. This includes drilling, servicing, and other production-related processes. Specifically, oilfield workers must wear FR Clothing when:
- The drilling process hits formations or zones of hydrocarbons (oils and gasses)
- Accessing or extracting the oil and gasses
- Servicing active wells of any kind
- Stimulating, plugging, or capping inactive wells
- The well has been drilled, completed, and placed into operation
- The well fluids are brought to the surface and separated, stored, gauged, or otherwise prepared for product delivery
OSHA recognizes that there is a low potential for flash fires to occur when rigging up operations. The agency also notes that there is minimal risk during a drill operation that has not yet reached the gas and hydrocarbon zones.
However, you may want to consider requiring FR Clothing at all times in the oil and gas industry. You’ll need your employees to wear it more often than not. So, you might as well require it 100% of the time. That way there’s no excuse for employees not having worn the proper PPE. Oil workers are faced with many other hazards, learn more with our informative blog, "The Dangerous Life of a Roughneck: The truth about oil drilling safety hazards".
FR Clothing Maintenance
It’s important to keep FR Clothing maintained and in good condition. Some companies hire a cleaning service to wash and maintain employee clothing. Others allow their employees to wash their own laundry, either at home or on the work site. If your organization allows employees to clean and maintain their own FR Clothing, you’ll need to train them properly.
FR fabrics may have different laundering requirements. So, you’ll first need to check the inside label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
In general, you should avoid using both bleach and fabric softeners. Bleach can degrade the level of flame resistance in the material. Fabric softener can leave behind a flammable coating on the FR garments.
Starches, peroxides, and other similar chemicals should also be avoided. Bar soaps and fatty soaps should not be used. They can leave behind residue that interferes with the FR fabric. This residue can cause the garment to continue to burn.
Liquid detergents tend to be most effective for washing FR Clothing. Garments can generally be washed in either hot or warm temperature settings. Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular garment.
Even with the right care and washing techniques, FR Clothing will not last forever. Inspect garments daily for any signs of excessive wear and tear.
Replace garments immediately if you find holes, stretching or other visible defects.
Each manufacturer may have different recommendations for how often you should replace your FR Clothing. This is especially true for flame retardant clothing, or clothing that has been chemically treated to be flame-resistant. Depending on the manufacturer, chemically treated clothing may only be good for a certain number of washes.
Logos and Embroidery
Currently, there are no OSHA regulations that prohibit the use of logos, name tags, or other emblems on FR Clothing. However, the general duty clause and other OSHA regulations put the responsibility on the employer to determine whether or not such accessories will be permitted.
“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
If you do allow your employees to wear these accessories on their FR Clothing, make sure that the stitching is made with FR thread. An alternative to embroidery and patchworks is to use FR ink silkscreens on your garments.
At a minimum, you should ensure that the logos, name tags, and other accessories are not unreasonably large. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that such patchwork is no larger than the size of a credit card. By managing the size of the emblem, you’re minimizing the area that could be compromised if the FR garment were to catch fire. Want to know more about preventing fires in the oil field? Check out our blog "Fire Prevention for the Oil and Gas Industry".
Implementing an FR Clothing Program
Employers are required to provide the necessary PPE to their employees. And you need to know that you’re buying the right gear for the job.
When shopping for FR Clothing, there are several things to keep in mind. You’ll want to make sure that the company is knowledgeable on garment cleaning and maintenance. You’ll want to know that the pants, gloves, jackets or overalls that you buy are compliant with OSHA. And, they should be able to provide insight into replacement schedules. They should also understand the unique hazards that you face in the oil and gas industry. That’s the only way you can be sure that your team has the gear they need to stay safe.
Oil and gas is perhaps one of the most dangerous industries out there. There’s rarely another that is more exposed to the risk of fires and explosions. Making sure your workers are equipped with the best FR Clothing and PPE is crucial.
Let’s get them in the right gear.
And get them home safe!