Technical textiles refer to textile materials and products used primarily for their technical performance and functional properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics.
The technical textiles sector encompasses many diverse products and applications, based on product characteristics, functional requirements and end-user applications.
Technical textiles are predominantly man made and fiber-based owing to their inherent advantages of strength and versatility. Man made fibers are estimated to account for around 80% of the total fiber consumption in the global technical textiles market. The majority of technical textiles are manufactured using regular fibers or their specialty variants, whereas, high performance fibers account for a mere 5% of the total fiber consumption. Its materials designed for specific applications requiring concrete and demanding properties (mechanical resistance, tenacity, insulation, thermal resistance, acids, ultra violet, and infrared).
Despite the downturn in the global textile industry, the technical textiles sector is proving to be an increasingly strong inspirational force for the industry. The market presence of technical textiles is expanding, and the field is experiencing growth in functions and applications. Consumption of technical textiles constitutes approximately 25% of the total volume consumption of all textiles in industrialized countries. Global demand is expected to be especially high for geotextiles, industrial textiles and building textiles.
TECHNICAL TEXTILES AND PPE
With the growing dominance of technical textiles, technical textiles can be classified into 12 groups from the application point of view. Protech is one of these groups which is an ensemble of textile products and related material used in the manufacture of various protective clothing for the personnel working in hazardous environment. Therefore, technical textiles play an important role for producing protective and safety clothing. The variety of protective functions that need to be provided by various textile products is diverse and considerable.
Protective clothing includes garments and related paraphernalia for protection from harmful chemical environments. These types of textiles include protection against ballistic, cuts, abrasion and other types of severe impact, which includes fire and extreme heat, stab wounds and explosions, hazardous dust and particles, biological, nuclear and chemical hazards, high voltages and static electricity, foul weather, extreme temperature environments, and low visibility – to name but a few.
Textiles with exceptional insulation performance, providing protection against very low or high temperatures, have been obtained with aerogels (nano-porous structures of amorphous silica gel). These textiles will be advantageous for those working in harsh environments, but also for extreme sport/outdoor activities.
Due to their enabling character and the unique properties of materials at nanoscale, nanotechnologies are particularly suitable for use in technical protective textiles.
Their use in this sector is still at an early stage, with research following two main paths:
Upgrading functions and performances of existing PPE
Development of products with unprecedented characteristics and performance
FIRE RESISTANT WORKWEAR
Although fire resistant work wear is widely associated with being worn by fire fighters, it’s also very important in many industries and workplaces that have fire hazards within their working environments. Clear selection criteria would be set and outlined to help the reader to understand the factors that he/ she should consider before having a decision related to selecting the proper type of fire resistant work wear, specifying it and therefore doing the procurement for such critical items that will save the worker’s life.
In a flash fire without the protection of flame-resistant work wear, the worker is exposed firstly to the heat of the fireball and then secondly to the heat of the burning fabric of the worker’s clothes. The heat generated by a burning fabric depends on the composition of material, treated or non-treated, weight and weave of the garment and if the material was clean or soiled with hydrocarbons.
According to OSHA, the use of flame0resistant clothing greatly improves the chance of a worker surviving and retrieving quality of life after a flash fire. Flame resistant clothing can significantly reduce both the extent and severity of burn injuries to the body. In order to achieve higher fire protection, OSHA advise employers to comply with the standards number 29 CFR 1910.132(a). As a reaction to higher injuries from fire accidents in the oil and gas industry in the US, in May 2010 US Department of Labor enforced oil and gas organizations to apply and implement the above mentioned standard where applicable. The organizations also are required to comply with the related NFPA standards, namely NFPA 2112 and NFPA 2113.
Furthermore, and according to CAPP, fire resistant work wear provides protection against flash fires in two ways. First of all, fire resistant work wear is designed so that it does not burn when exposed to flame. This in itself provides protection for the worker by eliminating or reducing injury when clothing burns after exposure to flash fire.
Secondly, fire resistant work wear is designed to decrease the amount of heat that penetrates the skin during a flash fire. The fabric basically provides a barrier between the flash fire and the worker’s skin, reducing the amount of energy transmitted to the skin thus providing further protection to the worker. In this case, the thicker the fabric used in the making of fire-resistant work wear, the better the degree of protection to the worker. Accordingly, it is very important to consider the type of garments needed for working on site with flash fire potential, as the work wear has the possibility to extremely boost or reduce the associated hazard.
All this effort and research carried out by health and safety related departments should come with a guide that helps the manufacturers to make suitable attire, which can in turn help workers in protecting themselves from flame and heat associated with fire. It also provides a road map for the procurement professionals to make the right decision when selecting and purchasing workwear that is fit for the occasion.
It is very important for the people who are responsible for employees’ health and safety to be aware about the standards and requirements for PPE, and accordingly articulate and craft their own guide and specifications that can help in getting and acquiring the correct products that can in turn provide the workforce with the needed protection from workplace associated hazards and dangers.
Besides the selection criteria I introduce in my Fitting the Occasion article (fit to purpose, comfortable, durable and with legal compliance), the selection of flame-resistant work wear is based on the following principles:
The use of hazard assessments to identify the need for flame resistant work wear
Knowing the related standards that can be adopted to help in setting the selection criteria and specification
Evaluating the existing flame-resistant work wear in the marketplace to decide those fit for the hazards identified on your site
The articulation of specifications needs for the procurement of flame resistant work wear
The first principle is the sole responsibility of the health and safety department, while the other three principles shall be worked jointly between health and safety and procurement departments.
As per OSHA and CAPP, the wearing of fire-resistant work wear should be considered as the basic standard for work in and near all oil and gas facilities. Any facilities or locations where oil or gas could be present can have an associated risk of flash fires. Welding and cutting, also, can produce hazards such as sparks, spatter, radiation, slag, heat, hot metal, fumes and gases, and even electric shock. Since these hazards may cause burns, injury or death, it is important for welders and cutters to wear protective equipment that is adequate for the hazards at all times. Welding and cutting operations could be in the oil and gas industry as well as construction and infrastructure industries. Nevertheless, regardless of the industry and workplace, the employer shall ensure that all employees engaged in welding or cutting operations shall wear adequate fire retardant work clothing, fire retardant gauntlet type gloves and arm protection, an apron of fire retardant or other adequate material, adequate eye and face protection against harmful radiation, particles of molten metal, or for chipping and grinding welds; and safety boots. The materials used in fire resistant clothing can protect against other workplace hazards as well and should be considered even when the risk of a flash fire is low. These other hazards may include minor scrapes and abrasions, hot surfaces, some chemicals, sun, and cold.
Although many standards have been set for fire protection work wear, generally speaking all of them consider similar criteria for evaluating the hazard and indicating the kind of fabric to be used in such kinds of clothing. However, to get good results in setting your selection criteria and specification, it is recommended to adopt and implement one of these standards at a time and not try to comply with all at the same time.
Other option is to study all the standards and data available for the fire-resistant work wear and craft your own standard. However, adopting two different standards will give you more flexibility in the sourcing process when it comes to the procurement side. In this way, you can eliminate any possible superiority that manufacturers can play during the procurement cycle provided they are following particular standards while others follow different, but equivalent, standards.
After assessing the hazards and learning the related standards, it is very important to know about your marketplace. What are the existing goods and to what extend do they comply with the international standards and particular requirements? Knowing your market makes you able to set and select the standards and specifications that can be used during the procurement process, which is realistic and applicable – as well as fitting your purpose and meeting your needs. It also allows you to recommend some brands or manufacturers or even country of origin, depending on the local authority norms and preferable and adopted standards.
During the development of specifications, you have to differentiate between fire resistant work wear and fire-retardant work wear, as both of them are made from different fabrics. Naturally flame resistant fabrics are fabrics manufactured with fibers whose inherent properties make them naturally flame resistant without a chemical treatment. The fabric’s effectiveness will not be reduced by repeated washing or wear since fabrics such as these ensure optimum protection throughout the life of the garment. Flame retardant treated fabrics are produced by applying a finish to a fiber or fabric to reduce its flammability, or by incorporating a flame-retardant chemical into the fiber prior to spinning. The flame-retardant treatment chemicals are activated by intense heat, producing char and gases that inhibit combustion for a certain time. Because the flame retardant treatment is a chemical treatment which is washed out with time, the fabrics will only conform to heat and flame standards for a limited number of washes. Therefore, flame “resistant” is the proper term for protective clothing.
“the materials used in fire resistant clothing can protect against other workplace hazards as well and should be considered even when the risk of a flash fire is low”
SHALL I WEAR IT?
Flame resistant clothing is required in various workplace applications where the risk of exposure to open flame exists. Flame resistant work wear is recommended for persons working in the field of electrical maintenance, utility work, industrial manufacturing, construction, power generation, energy distribution, oil and natural gas workers and other types of hazardous occupations. Although flame resistant clothing is dominant in protecting workers from the possibility of burns, it is important to know that flame resistant clothing only helps to minimize the possibility of burn injury; it does not eliminate it.
Unfortunately, wearing the wrong clothing will actually make burns and fires worse rather than acting as a protection against injury. Synthetic fibers like polyester, rayon, and other blends will actually melt to the skin when exposed to intense heat. On the other hand, cotton and natural fibers act as a fuel that will burst into flames and continue to burn if a worker is exposed to extreme heat.
These guidelines form the basis for the reasoning behind the design of fire resistant work wear for protection against flames and heat.
In a power generation industry, the hazard in an arc fire, flash fire, or other sudden unexpected release of intense heat can sometimes occur after the accident. For arc fires, an arc exposure value is measured as the amount of electrical energy per unit area. This value is applied as a rating to determine how effective flame-resistant clothing is at meeting dangers from electrified equipment and arc fires. If a person is knocked unconscious, flame resistant clothing can offer protection for the worker until they can be rescued. For instance, this type of work wear is made to be either self-extinguishing or noncombustible so that a person’s clothing will not continue to burn.