Personal protective equipment

Paul Boughton

Karim Dirani discusses a vital tool for the safety of oil and gas workers

The oil and gas sector has emerged as one of the major contributors to the global economy, creating new jobs around the world. In spite of the rising demand for more professionals, it can be a dangerous place to work.

Oil and gas workers are exposed to several occupational hazards throughout the production process, from exploration, preparation and site establishment to day-to-day drilling and extraction work. The dangers in offshore drilling include blowouts, hydrogen sulphide gas during drilling to asbestos, hydrochloric acid and normally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs). 

Among the recent instances of a major calamity in the sector was the explosion at the Amuay Oil Refinery, a part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex in Venezuela, in August 2012, which killed 48 people and injured 151 others. An explosion and subsequent fire in the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig 400km off Houston, Texas in April 2010 killed 11 workers and injured 16. The increase in accidents clearly emphasises the need for an effective occupational safety and health management system in the sector. There is an increased demand for PPE (personal protection equipment) tools that can withstand the harshest, hottest, most dangerous conditions. Since the oil and gas sector is set to play a vital role in meeting future energy demands, safety standards for PPE are established to provide workers with strong protection against potential occupational perils, such as EN ISO 11612, NFPA 2112. In addition, both EU legislation and NFPA 2113 require employers to carry out hazard assessment to determine the risk and determine the PPE required.

Making the oil and gas environment PPE-compliant is increasingly becoming a standard practice. The reinforcement of safety regulations offers a promising scope for PPE solutions. Moreover, recent advancements in PPE successfully address issues such as comfort while enhancing efficiency, making them popular among employees. 

Many workers do not like to wear PPE garments even when working in hazardous environment because they find them uncomfortable and their restricted movement slows them down. However, recent advancements in PPE – and most particularly in apparel – address compliance issues and offer improved features, including increased breathability for temperature control, stretch fabric for comfortable movement, and better dexterity and grip, ensuring comfort and safety at the same time.

One highly important PPE is flame-resistant clothing using a fibre pioneered by DuPont to offer ultimate protection to people working in hazardous environments. Nomex is a flame-resistant fibre made with a specific structure of aromatic rings and conjugated bonds. The fibres are blended with Kevlar – a para-aramid fibre – to offer additional strength. When exposed to flames, the fibres swell to become thick, thus forming a protective barrier on the skin that stays supple until it cools. It is lightweight and does not hinder movement, offering the utmost comfort in extreme environments. Garments made with Nomex are almost 40% lighter than other flame-retardant-treated (FRT) cotton garments and reduce heat due to the fibre’s innovative dog-bone structure. 

PPE with Nomex is reinforced with electrostatic charge dissipative P-140 fibres to quickly dispel static electricity and offer superior anti-static properties. Its most striking feature is that, on average, it lasts five times longer than any cotton-based solution. The inherent protective characteristic of a garment made with Nomex remains unaffected even with age, rough treatment, chemical attack or laundering. It does not shrink, fade or wrinkle and is available in a variety of weights to suit any climate.  

Aside from being comfortable in all environmental conditions, garments made with Nomex offer complete protection throughout their lifecycle by retaining their properties even during heat exposure and repeated washing.

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Karim Dirani is with DuPont in the United Arab Emirates

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