Protecting engineers from arc flash with next generation of safety garments

Louise Smyth

The oil & gas sector relies on electricity at all stages of its production process; from upstream to downstream and midstream. And although safety has improved greatly over the years, working with electricity still carries a number of risks – with arc flash being among the most dangerous.

Oil & gas workers need to be protected against an arc flash incident if there is a risk of one occurring whilst they work. This risk is not unfounded; 57% of respondents in a ProGarm survey admitted that they, or someone they work with, has suffered an arc flash strike themselves.

Many workers in the oil and gas industry are familiar with an arc – an electric luminous bridge formed in a gap between two electrodes – but the severity and danger are often overlooked and can’t be summed up in a simple description. In fact, 90% of respondents in the same survey believe that there is a pressing need for the government to develop more specific guidelines or legislation to better recommend safety measures, and appropriate clothing.

Essentially, an arc flash occurs during a fault, or short circuit condition that passes through an arc gap, and can result in devastating consequences if the correct equipment isn’t being worn. An arc flash incident can severely injure or kill a person from as far away as 10ft or more. It can cause severe burns and produce pressure and sound waves strong enough to throw workers across a room. It can cause vision and hearing loss from extreme light and sound outbursts.

The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers has produced data that shows that more than 16% of oil field workers’ deaths are from an electrical accident, explosion or burn. The financial costs and unexpected downtime related to such incidents also have a huge impact on operations.

The role of PPE

Unfortunately, there is no way to fully protect personnel from an arc flash incident. However, personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly protective clothing, can help them from facing the most fatal of consequences. If worn correctly, arc flash protective clothing and equipment can help to prevent serious injury and fatalities. ProGarm’s specialist garments include everything from insulating warm arc flash base layers to arc flash waterproof jackets and trousers. Enhanced and effective arc flash protection comes through wearing layers of protective garments manufactured from inherent fibres and, which feature specific arc flash resilient components.

Too often, protective garments are rigid and uncomfortable, designed to offer protection without adequate thought to the other needs of the wearer. ProGarm understand that if a garment doesn’t feel comfortable, the protection level diminishes when workers choose not to wear it correctly. With this in mind, the company’s clothing has been designed to maximise wearer comfort and working practicality. In fact, some have even claimed that they are “as comfortable as pyjamas.”

Every stich, button, popper and press-stud is flame resistant, as is the ThermSafe Stretch Tape that enables ease of movement and comes with a lifetime seam guarantee. Cheap products may be tempting at the onset but will require replacement quicker down the line, resulting in extra expenditure in the long run.

Most recently, ProGarm has announced the launch of an innovative new product range – arc flash protective undergarments. This was designed because everyday manufacturing materials can melt into skin even under PPE clothing, potentially causing skin infections. These new products have been tested using the Open Arc Test Method and Box Test Method to ensure they are fully functional against the thermal pressures of an arc flash.

Each item of clothing features SafetyIcon, a marking system that allows users to visually check whether the correct garments are being worn. The label will inform wearers whether the garment is arc flash- and flame-resistant, along with highlighting anti-static capabilities. It also shows information on which EN Standards the garments conform to, with EN Standard symbol ensuring all can recognise the different levels of protection with a single glance.

Tony Arnett, managing director at ProGarm comments: “We’re dedicated to providing the highest protection from arc flash events. We want to educate individuals in the oil and gas industry that when it comes to lives being at stake, it’s essential that nobody compromises on safety.”

Recent Issues