Protective textiles provide innovative solutions in countering workplace hazards.
Protective apparel and safety gear for today’s industrial workers are evolving at a rapid pace as technical advances in fiber, fabrics and comfort move beyond the traditional focus on fire and flame retardant (FR) properties. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for firefighters and military personnel may now include safeguards from cuts, falls, chemical contamination, blasts, explosions and other hazards.
The oil and gas impact
Led by the recent boom in oil and gas production, the cross-fertilization of technologies among various industries offers great advantages to employees who are required to “suit up” to do their work.
The oil and gas industry is poised for continued growth, according to Mary Lynn Landgraf, senior international trade specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), based in Washington, D.C. Landgraf spoke in a symposium at Techtextil North America in May. She noted that technologies developed for protection and hazard mitigation in the oil and gas sectors will benefit other sectors such as chemical, biohazard, mechanical, biological and electrical.
When FR isn’t enough
Workers in the oil, gas and electrical industries, where FR protection is a must, increasingly are required to wear clothing with high-visibility (hi-vis) features. New hybrid materials are enabling workers to meet multiple safety requirements with fewer—or lighter-weight—layers.
At Glen Raven Technical Fabrics (GRTF), Glen Raven, N.C., a line of patented no-melt, no-drip modacrylic blend fabrics offers the benefits of high visibility, as well. Richard Lippert, the company’s director of business development for the protective market, says, “Our GlenGuard™ HI-VIS and HI-VIS ANTI-STAT products allow us to participate in a market segment that continues to grow. In particular, the mesh version appeals to workers who are looking to be compliant, but want to wear garments that can reduce the risk for heat stress.
“Our product is geared to the requirements of oil, gas and electrical workers, and anyone in FR that needs to be compliant to ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standards for high visibility,” he adds. “Our technology is in line with current and upcoming regulations, which we anticipate are going to increase in both intensity and magnitude.”
A recent addition to the hi-vis market comes from Japanese high-performance fiber supplier Teijin, which launched an “extra-vivid” aramid fiber in conjunction with fabric manufacturer Komatsu Seiren, Ishikawa, Japan. According to company information, the new fabric is fully compliant with ISO 20471:2013, the international standard for high-visibility clothing that enables others to see the wearer in a variety of lighting conditions.
Hazards above and below
Safety begins from the ground up. Signature Systems Group LLC, Flower Mound, Texas, is the manufacturer of MegaDeck®HD, a heavy-duty portable roadway system that protects personnel, equipment and the environment in remote work sites. These work settings include oil and gas fields, electrical and power line installations, and construction, mining, forestry and landscaping sites.
According to Deb Wong, vice president of marketing for the company, the composite MegaDeck mats made of high-density polyethylene lock together to “provide a safe, hygienic platform for people to work on, eliminating the tripping, sliding or falling hazards of wood, as well as contaminants such as fluids and bugs, which might be transferred to another site.” The mats are also nonconductive and feature a traction pattern to prevent vehicle slippage.
Protection from falls is critical to many workers, including those who work on oil rigs, in maritime settings and in high-rise construction. Urban window cleaners, painters and aerial firefighters also depend on fall protection. Sky Genie Professional Safety Products, Fort Smith, Ark., supplies equipment such as secure harnesses, ropes and descenders; self-rescue systems, belts, lanyards and bosun’s chairs; as well as bags and accessories.
Owner Flip Kindberg, formerly a recreational rock climber and professional tree climber, describes the Sky Genie Descender as a leading product in rope access for more than 50 years. Weighing just over one pound, the aluminum descender has a lightweight and simple design and works in tandem with the company’s specified Sky Genie Descent Line. It’s made from 20 braids of high-strength nylon, with high “knotability,” which provides the appropriate friction to the device and allows the worker to start, stop or slow the rate of descent safely.
It has been the only such device approved by the U.S. Forest Service since 1974, and in the 1980s it travelled on each of the NASA space shuttle launches.
Materials for blast protection must also have a high thermal threshold. A new line of textiles made from continuous filament basalt has been recently introduced by Olbo & Mehler, Fulda, Germany. The woven fabric is available in greige form in a number of constructions; it is also available in a patented version with a rubber-friendly treatment.
The basalt textiles are intended for high-temperature applications up to 1,350 degrees (F) in industrial and construction end uses, including oil and gas pipelines, pipes for chemical production and transportation of aggressive media, fire-resistant heat and sound insulation, and heat shield protection for belts and reinforced structures.
“Basalt fabric has an important role in heat and fire resistance solutions and can help to comply with standards according to the final applications. For example, applied in conveyor belts, basalt can meet standards for flame resistant test ISO 340:2013 and fire propagation EN 12881-1. For fire curtain applications, our basalt fabric can meet the standard for fireproof BS 8524-1,” says Elisabete Silva, innovation manager for the company.
Military personnel, first responders, hazmat teams and workers in the chemical industries face contamination hazards from leaks, spills and weapons of mass destruction. Traditional decontamination wipes utilize granular carbon, which is not only an inhalation hazard, but can scratch sensitive equipment and leave behind contaminated grit.
In response to a government solicitation, Entropic Systems Inc., Edmonds, Wash., and Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., developed a superior technology for wipes made from activated carbon cloth, which traps the chemical agent inside the fabric. The patented technology is now being marketed by Integrated Textile Solutions Inc. (ITS), Salem, Va., as an Individual Equipment Personnel Decontamination Mitt™ (IEPDM™). ITS is a cut and sew contractor for the military.
The flexible, ambidextrous mitt removes more than 90 percent of chemical warfare agents in one pass without scratching or damaging surfaces, or leaving particles behind. The mitt can also remove nonvolatile chemicals such as pesticides. A Tychem® SL backing prevents the contaminants from passing through the cloth. The mitt can be hermetically sealed in its pouch for safe disposal.
While military and law enforcement are the primary customers for the IEPDM, the concept is being rolled out in customized sizes for the explosive ordnance community (EOD) in the U.S. and Europe, according to Gregg Lisicki, business development manager for ITS. “The EOD community had been using trash bags to enclose the devices,” he reported. “We were able to translate the mitt into a bag which would contain any chemical agent that may be leaking from an unexploded ordnance that needs to be transported for disposal.”
The IEPDM technology is also appropriate for industrial sites where chemicals are produced, such as insecticides or chlorine, Lisicki notes. “The best solution to pollution is always dilution—but the luxury of a decontamination shower is not always available.” Small and portable, the mitts are capable of providing a quick spot decontamination in the field as workers are shedding their protective clothing after cleaning up a leak or spill.
Growing demand for protection
“Market research from WhaTech.com points out that advancement in technology is the key factor driving the growth of the global personal protection equipment market,” says OTEXA’s Landgraf. “Moreover, increasing awareness of workplace safety is another major factor playing a key role in driving the overall global personal protective equipment market.
“Rapid industrialization, increasing foreign investments and upcoming government regulations are also boosting the demand for the global personal protective equipment market.”
Debra Cobb is a freelance writer with extensive experience in the textiles industry.