Calls for protective clothing standards

INDUSTRY standards for protective clothing to protect Australian workers from being burnt at work, look set to be introduced across Australia.

INDUSTRY standards for protective clothing to protect Australian workers from being burnt at work, look set to be introduced across Australia.

The push to introduce industry-specific, protective clothing standards follows an increase in the number of workplace accidents involving major burns and the current lack of resources available to document the many accidents that go unreported each year.

Historically, Australia has followed the lead of Britain and Europe when it comes to safety standards, but when it comes to fire resistant (FR) fabrics, the US is at the forefront.

Australian technical fabric expert, Nigel Parsons, who is technical development manager with Charles Parsons & Co said the US introduced a new standard, NFPA 70E, for the electrical industry in 2000 after extensive data was analysed around electrical fire accidents.

“The analysis revealed more than 400 deaths occurred as a result of electrical accidents and almost 80% were related to infections and complications received as a result of their clothing catching fire,” Parsons said.

“It’s not always the electrical arc that harms you! The really serious danger comes when your clothing catches fire.

Australia now looks set to introduce stronger protection for workers across electrical, mining, defence, petro-chemical, mining and the oil and gas sectors.

Parsons, who is technical development manager with trade only supplier of textiles Charles Parsons, said consistent national standards were the best way to protect Australians from burns and more serious infections that could result in death.

In Australia at the moment, protective workwear only has two performance standards in place AS/NZS 4824:2006, which sets out the performance requirements for protective clothing for Wildlands Firefighters; and AS 4967:2006, which sets out the performance requirements for protective clothing for Structural Firefighters.

These standards act as a guide and are used within the industry to ensure FR protective clothing meets a certain minimum criteria.

A guide to selection does exist in Australia, AS-NZS ISO 2801:2008. Although this standard does not provide performance guidelines, it leads organisations through the process of risk assessment and defining the requirements of their specific protective clothing needs.

While AS-NZS 4836:2001 (safe working on low voltage electrical installations) stipulates eyewear, boots, insulated gloves, flame resistant gloves, ear plugs or muffs should be worn, but when it comes to clothing, the standard recognises electrical workers should wear FR clothing, but there is no actual performance standard for the protective clothing.

Protective clothing

Protective clothing in the workplace can be separated into two modes:

Primary protection: workers are aware of the environment in which they work and take precautions to reduce the extent of injury by wearing goggles, switching coats, pouring coats, insulated and flame resistant gloves, hard hats etc. This primary protective equipment is not always comfortable and may not be suitable to wear for long periods.

Secondary protection: workers wear FR clothing as the last line of defence. This protective clothing must be comfortable, wearable, serviceable and suitable to be worn at all times in the work environment.

Parsons said the pressure to introduce industry standards was evident at a seminar held during the 2009 Safety in Action Expo in April.

“Unions, defence, energy services, mining, clothing and electrical industry representatives all called for tighter regulations,” Parsons said.

Scott Margolin, international technical director for Westex, manufacturer of Indura Ultra Soft and guest speaker at the seminar spoke about FR fabrics.

He told attendees they could no longer ignore the fact that accidents happen and it was unacceptable that workers weren’t protected with FR clothing.

According to Parsons Indura Ultra Soft offers 15-20% better protection from electric arc than equivalent 100% cotton FR fabrics and the range of fabric is also guaranteed FR for the life of the garment.

A three minute clip profiling the fire resistant material being tested in a flash fire and electric arc is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohGqzIFnnzo