If you work in the oil and gas industry, you realize how important it is for workers to wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE). The hazards are just too risky to take any chances. Not only do workers face the risk of falls, crush hazards and injury from chemical exposure — they face the daily threat of fires and explosions. The good news? Workers can protect themselves from those fire-related hazards by wearing the right clothing.
Flame-resistant (FR) clothing isn’t always the most comfortable thing to wear.
Workers often complain of how heavy and bulky their garments are, how restrictive and how hot they can become. Until recently, they were correct. Comfortable or not, they need to wear the gear that keeps them safe. Protective FR clothing can mean the difference between life and death. It’s always easier to get workers to wear the right gear when it’s comfortable though, right?
Fortunately, there have been modern advancements in technology over the last several years. We no longer have to choose between comfort and protection when outfitting workers with their FR gear. The FR clothing on the market today is lightweight, comfortable and safe!
Comfortable, modern clothing is finally available for your employees!
One common thing you’ll see workers do to increase their comfort level is to wear layers. This is when you’ll see them wear a garment on top of their FR clothing. But more often than not, employees will wear base layers underneath their FR clothing. Sometimes, base layers are worn to keep warm, stay cool or reduce moisture. But, how do you know if those layers are safe to wear?
Not all base layers are safe to wear in hot zones. Some materials can burn and melt to the skin. That’s why it’s so important to make sure each layer of clothing meets certain protective requirements.
Make sure your employees are using base layers that are flame-resistant. They’ll be much better off. FR base layers are the last line of defense against injury. If a fire or thermal event is strong enough, it could burn through the FR clothing, and affect the garments underneath.
Base Layers to Avoid
It’s not uncommon to hear of workers wearing popular athletic wear made of synthetic fabric under their protective garments, and this is extremely dangerous. Workers should avoid wearing synthetic garments. This type of clothing will ignite, and can continue to burn against the skin. Synthetic garments can also melt to the skin, creating additional injury concerns. Here are some examples of synthetic garments to avoid:
- Cotton synthetic hybrid
Unfortunately, these are the most common types of base layers that people will wear. It’s up to you to educate them on the dangers of synthetic clothing. Most people don’t realize that what they’re doing is wrong. They just want to be comfortable.
Reasons for Wearing FR Base Layers
Comfort is the main reason why employees choose to wear layers. Some FR clothing is rough and scratchy. Having something soft and lightweight feels much better against their skin.
They also might be in a position where they don’t always need their FR clothing. For instance, a worker might be required to wear it in one area, but not in another. If he moves around a lot throughout the day, he probably only wears the FR when he needs to. These workers often just wear a t-shirt or base layer. They'll throw on a long-sleeve jacket or coat only when they need FR protection. In this instance, the protective barrier has been compromised.
Weather and the environment are some other popular reasons for choosing base layers
Cold Weather FR Apparel
Of course, it’s natural to want to bundle up when it’s cold outside. Workers may simply want an extra layer for warmth. You might find that some of them are wearing regular clothes from home, such as long-underwear, turtlenecks, and even sweaters. It’s completely reasonable for workers to want to stay warm and comfortable while they work. But, those layers need to be flame-resistant. That’s why it's up to the employers to provide safe and effective alternatives.
Today, many of the garments that workers wish to wear are available in FR clothing options. You can find FR base layers that are safe to wear, and that help keep them warm. For anyone who works outdoors during the winter, that can be a game-changer. They’ll be much more comfortable. This keeps them focused on the task at hand, greatly reducing distraction and potential for injury.
Workers may also want to wear layers overtop their FR clothing. Did you know that there are FR jackets they can wear? They should still have FR clothing on underneath, but the jackets protect them from the elements — and keep the wind, rain, and snow off of them.
Warm Weather FR Apparel
You may not think of adding layers when it’s warm outside. But it’s actually a great way to manage a person’s body temperature.
Moisture-wicking garments help keep a person cool. They remove perspiration away from the skin. This allows workers to dry more quickly. And, it helps to avoid the sudden “chilled effect” that people sometimes get after heavy perspiration.
Have you ever experienced that? Think back to a time when you were in a hot environment and you worked up a sweat. Then, you head off to a cool area to take a break and get a chill when the cooler air reaches your skin and damp clothing. That’s when some people experience a sudden, drastic drop in body temperature. It’s because they are wearing fabrics like cotton, which have the opposite effect that moisture-wicking garments do.
Cotton absorbs the moisture from your skin. It gets trapped between the clothing and your body. It doesn’t allow you to regulate your body temperature in a controlled and safe way.
Moisture-wicking garments solve that issue. So, if you have employees in a hot work environment, they may want to consider adding a breathable FR base layer to their daily wear. They’ll be more comfortable, even though they’re wearing extra clothes.
When FR clothing is required, it must fully cover and protect the employee. Short sleeve tee shirts don’t provide adequate coverage. You do have options, though. Workers may wear a shirt and pant combination. Or, they can choose a one-piece coverall. They can wear jackets, sweatshirts or long underwear as long as it’s rated flame-resistant.
Talk to your employees. Find out what they prefer. Remember, you want them to be comfortable.
Don’t Forget These Minimum Requirements for Oil and Gas Work
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifies when FR clothing is required. The rules are pretty clear for those who work in the oil and gas industry. Plenty of other industries use FR clothing, too.
In 2010, OSHA sent out an official memo that explains the enforcement policy in oil and gas. It requires companies to provide oilfield workers with FR clothing. Workers need to wear that clothing in certain situations. The requirement covers most drilling, servicing, and other production-related processes.
Specifically, OSHA requires FR clothing:
- When active gas or hydrocarbon zones are reached
- When there is a history of fluid or gas kicks from underground zones
- If a potential for flash fire exists during stages such as:
- Snubbing tubing
- Open hole work
- Plugging an abandoned well
- Working with wellhead or wellbore under pressure
- Tank heating
- Using an open flame
A full list can be found in the OSHA memo.
Key Points to Remember
Many employees like to wear base layers. Base layers are not required. But if worn, they must be made from flame resistant materials. NFPA 70e discusses this topic further. The requirement for FR base layers also falls under OSHA’s general duty clause. It’s always good practice to refer back to these safety requirements anytime you’re in doubt.
Make sure your workers understand what their options are. Many of them aren’t aware of how dangerous it can be to just wear regular clothing. Explain the risks clearly and often. Make it clear that any additional layers must also be made of flame-resistant materials.
Even though base layers aren’t required, you may want to consider providing them from the start. Employers are responsible for putting workers in the proper PPE. So, if you think they’re going to wear something from home, you might as well provide it instead. That way, you know they’re wearing the right thing. It’ll give you and your employees some peace of mind.
Have other questions about FR clothing? Reach out to us. We’ll help you find something that is both safe and comfortable for your employees.