Why FR Apparel Is Critical for the Oil & Gas Industry
With proper care and maintenance, FR clothing can limit the spread of fire and the extent of fire-related injuries.
Employees on the front lines of the oil and gas industry do important and essential work. It's thanks to their skilled and dedicated labor that we have convenient transportation, affordable heat and power, and energy to power other industries.
Unfortunately, this valuable work comes with its fair share of risks, including a number of fire hazards.
After all, there are three factors behind every fire: oxygen, heat, and fuel. And since oil and gas personnel work in close proximity to fuel sources, it only takes one spark to cause devastating damage and significant harm.
Managing fire risks on jobsites requires a multifaceted approach, with various controls to ensure the ongoing safety of workers. One of those controls is personal protective equipment (PPE), including flame resistant (FR) clothing.
Given the nature of the work, the fire hazards in an oil and gas operation are too many to name. Various tasks and processes on the jobsite can result in the release of flammable gases, like methane and hydrogen sulfide.
With the presence of these gases, it only takes a simple ignition source to cause a whole lot of trouble. While open flames are likely the first ones that come to mind, static electricity and hot surfaces can be sufficient to ignite a fire or cause an explosion.
While the majority of control measures will be aimed at preventing accidental ignitions, FR apparel is there in case those controls fail. When a fire breaks out, FR clothing protects workers from getting burned - or limits the severity of the injuries if they do come in contact with flames.
FR Apparel: The Frontline Worker's Safety Armor
FR apparel may be ubiquitous now in oil and gas, but this is a relatively new development. Usage has become more widespread since OSHA issued its clarification on FR clothing for oil and gas workers in 2010. This interpretation letter removed all ambiguity from the relevant standards (1910.132) and how it is meant to be applied in this industry.
As the name suggests, FR clothing is designed to protect the user from fire-related hazards. It is made from materials that resist flames and embers and, therefore, won't ignite easily. More importantly, FR material won't continue to burn once ignited. This helps prevent a fire from spreading, reduces the extent and severity of burn injuries, and increases a worker's chances of surviving a fire-related incident.
When to Wear FR Clothing
OSHA requires oil and gas workers to wear FR clothing during certain phases of production. These include: drilling, well servicing, and hot work activities.
While not strictly necessary, it is a good policy to mandate wearing FR clothing at all times in the field. This reduces the likelihood that workers will forget to change into their FR apparel when they move from task to task, or from one area on the site to another.
Taking Care of FR Apparel
Like any other piece of equipment, FR apparel will require proper maintenance to ensure its ongoing efficacy. Since it is clothing, however, it will require frequent laundering, which must be handled with care.
Some companies will outsource their FR apparel laundering to a cleaning service. This ensures that it is handled properly and won't have its protective qualities compromised.
If employees are tasked with washing their own FR apparel, they should be instructed to avoid the use of bleach or fabric softeners, as these can reduce the flame resistance of the garment. And of course, to follow all instructions printed on the tag.
Each item of FR clothing should also be inspected regularly for signs of wear and tear. Replace any garment with visible damage or defect to ensure that it provides full protection to the user.
Logos and Embroidery on FR Clothing
Some companies want to use customized FR clothing that features their logo or embroidered lettering. OSHA permits this, but only if it is done in a way that does not compromise the flame resistant properties of the garment.
Mainly, that means ensuring that the stitching is made of flame resistant materials. Patches affixed to the garments should be kept fairly small so they don't pose a significant risk if they catch fire.
Stay Safe, Stay Protected
There's simply no way to eliminate fire hazards in oil and gas. The work is all about extracting and processing substances that are inherently flammable and ignite easily. That's why it's important to have a comprehensive safety program to reduce the risk of fire and explosions for every oil and gas jobsite.
But despite every safety professional's best efforts, incidents can still happen. That's why all frontline oil and gas workers need to be decked out in flame resistant clothing. When a fire does ignite, this protective apparel will limit the extent and severity of the resulting injuries.
FR clothing is a simple measure that can save lives and prevent harm. Implementing and enforcing an FR policy isn't just a regulatory requirement - it's also the right thing to do.