Innovative materials help meet multiple safety requirements on the job to protect workers.
Protective apparel and safety gear for industrial workers are evolving rapidly as advances in fiber, fabrics and comfort move beyond the traditional focus on fire and flame retardant (FR) materials. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers, firefighters and military personnel now includes safeguards from cuts, falls, chemical contamination, blasts, explosions and other hazards.
Led by the recent boom in oil and gas production, the cross-fertilization of technologies across 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, are increasingly 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, notes, “Our GlenGuard™ HI-VIS and HI-VIS ANTI-STAT product allows 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 contamination by fluids, bugs, etc., which might be transferred to another site.” The mats are also non-conductive and feature a traction pattern to prevent vehicle slippage.
Protection from falls is critical to many workers, including those who work on oil rigs, maritime settings and 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. The descender works in tandem with the company’s specified Sky Genie Descent Line, 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.
The Sky Genie Descender 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.
“The company has a very long history of innovation, and we are dedicated to carrying on the tradition of developing products that bring those people who work at height home safely every day,” says Kindberg.
New levels of blast protection
The Xtegra™ system of blast-containment curtains from Advanced Fabric Technologies LLC (AFT), The Woodlands, Texas, is being used by offshore oil rigs to protect the drilling deck during manifold pressure tests. The U.S. military has also used the Xtegra curtains as protection from blast waves and fragments, and for debris containment. The portable, easily assembled system combines auxetic yarns and high-temperature, fire-resistant basalt materials.
The Xtegra system is based on a helical auxetic yarn (HAY), a compliant core yarn wrapped with a finer, stiffer yarn. “The introduction of auxetic ‘smart yarns’ can enhance products or create new platforms. This capability allows auxetic yarns to be used in multiple disciplines,” says AFT president and CEO David O’Keefe.
The auxetic materials in the curtains thicken when stretched and become denser and thicker under compression. AFT’s patented auxetic technology can protect power infrastructures and electrical grids from sabotage or terrorism. The concept is also applicable to mining and manufacturing operations, and is being studied as a replacement for current automotive airbag textiles.
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., a cut and sew contractor for the military, as an Individual Equipment Personnel Decontamination Mitt™ (IEPDM™).
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 non-volatile 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 United States 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.
Developments in the field of auxetic textiles were addressed in a symposium at the recent Techtextil North America. Auxetic materials, which exhibit counter-intuitive properties known as a negative Poisson’s ratio, are inspiring textiles with applications in the fields of industrial safety and personal protective equipment.
Poisson’s ratio is the ratio of transverse contraction strain to longitudinal extension strain in the direction of stretching force, according to Andrew Alderson, principal research fellow at the Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) at Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. Auxetic materials, which become thicker perpendicular to the direction of stretch, are described as having a negative Poisson’s ratio.
“Auxetic materials are a route to achieve properties that are not easy to achieve,” says Alderson. Under compression, an auxetic material becomes denser, exhibiting enhanced fracture toughness, stiffness and shear rigidity. When bent, an auxetic material forms a dome shape.
The nonconventional behavior of auxetic structures creates a better fit when used in helmets and elbow and knee pads. Auxetic spacer fabrics may also find applications in military uniforms, mattresses, mats, protective bags and packaging materials.
Eye-opening statistics about the market for protective textiles were shared at Techtextil North America in May by Mary Lynn Landgraf, senior international trade specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA):
In 2014, North America emerged as the leading consumer of protective textiles, with 40 percent of the total volume share.
Chemical defense garments were the largest application segment, accounting for 30 percent of total market volume in 2014.
Due to significant growth in the oil and gas industries, construction and manufacturing, health care/medical and mining, North America is projected to continue leading the market until 2020, followed by Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
In the U.S., OSHA standards are anticipated to continue to drive regional growth.
Asia Pacific and Latin America are the fastest growing markets for protective clothing due to emerging industries in developing economies such as China, India and Brazil.
On a global basis, the market for upstream oil and gas equipment has grown by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.2 percent over ten years, reaching USD $138.9 billion in 2013. While the industry has recently cut back, there remains huge potential in the global oil and gas industry for protective clothing and equipment.