The Rise of Flame Retardant and Electric Arc Resistant Fabrics.
The focus on effective PPE has grown drastically within South African industry in recent years. This is due to a variety of factors, including an increase in injuries on industrial sites, the development of the market sector revolving around mining, petrochemical, oil and gas, as well as new regulations and legislation addressing PPE on both a national and international scale.
These factors have prompted employers to seriously consider which PPE is best suited to their workers, with their decisions being largely based on the level of risk their employees face on a daily basis. This is a much more complex decision process than it seems. A single site may possess different risk levels in different areas, so one type of PPE will not be suitable for all employees.
In South Africa’s largest and most risk associated industries, such as mining, petrochemical and the oil and gas industries, workers face the threat of flame, heat and electric arc induced injuries on a daily basis.
When it comes to selecting garments in these industries, employers need to deal in seconds. Essentially, how many seconds does the employee need to remove themselves from the hazardous environment without sustaining an injury? This is an effective indicator which assists employers in deciding the right PPE for their employees.
However, when we consider burn injuries from electric arc flash, the above principle becomes null and void. It is an entirely different hazard as an injury can be inflicted in a split second. Employers can, however, assess the risk by identifying the type of electrical environment an employee is working in. When dealing with electric arc hazards, the weight of the flame retardant, protective fabric is essential. Heavier garments can withstand higher electrical energy and ultimately provide more protection. Therefore, employers are able to determine the weight of fabric an employee will require in their PPE garment, depending on the intensity of the environment they will be working in.
In addition, it is important to note that the garments required for these environments must be fire retardant so that the garment doesn’t continue to burn once the electrical arc has dissipated.
As with any protective garment, its effectiveness relies predominately on the structure and quality of the fabric to provide the necessary protection.
Gelvenor Textiles weave inherently flame and electric arc resistant fabrics. Our Protective and Technical Workwear Range covers high quality, durable and comfortable fabric options which are able to satisfy a range of hazardous work environment requirements. Inherent protection means that the ability of the fabric to safeguard the wearer in dangerous environments is a permanent feature, providing that the garment is correctly laundered and stored.
Innovation is also a critical component of any specialised textile mill as manufacturers need to respond to new risks that accompany developing technologies and industrial processes. At Gelvenor Textiles, for example, the design/pattern that the various flame retardant fabrics are woven into can increase a garments resistance to an electrical arc shock. Gelvenor has also taken steps to ensure that their flame retardant fabric has reduced ability to generate a spark from static electricity. This lowers the risk of static electricity igniting flammable material while an employee wearing PPE is working in a volatile environment.
Ultimately, considering the current regulations, legislature and the ever-increasing risk in the mining, petrochemical and oil and gas industries, employers should see inherently flame and electric arc resistant garments as an investment.
Treated fabrics have their place in the market for lower risk environments or for single use applications. However, employers need to be extremely aware of the risks inherent in each industrial work situation when purchasing PPE. Armed with this knowledge, they can set out to purchase quality PPE garments which are made from the most effective fibres and chemically engineered processes, to provide employees with the required protection that enables them to escape a hazardous situation unharmed should an incident occur.