Better PPE protection for workers
Published: 01 January, 2009
There is very little information on heat and flame protective PPE available to users other than from manufacturers and suppliers who naturally promote their products for sale. As a result, such information is restricted to the direction of the products that are being promoted, and the knowledge (or lack of it) of the sales person trying to promote it. Alec Feldman of Fulcrum Consultants, the executive arm of JOIFF, writes about some JOIFF initiatives taken recently to counter this potentially dangerous status quo.
Members of JOIFF are amongst the largest users in the world of workwear to protect against heat and flame. Such workwear is worn by process operators in work places where there is a risk of such exposure, by operators of vehicles that are carrying flammable materials, and by emergency responders for use as station wear, during training, for various types of rescue, for wildland firefighting, for fighting fires and rescue activities in structures etc.
During 2006, the JOIFF Secretariat (Fulcrum Consultants) aimed to address this lack of unbiased knowledge through compilation of information and consultation with the JOIFF membership. In January 2007 was the culmination of these efforts, the JOIFF Handbook on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Protect Against Heat and Flame. This Handbook has subsequently been translated into Croatian and French (available to download for free on www.joiff.com.)
Since the publication of the JOIFF Handbook on PPE, JOIFF has encouraged its members to submit questions, comments, opinions and detail of any shortcomings found with such PPE.
A large proportion of the responses received related in particular to clothing to protect against heat and flame. A recurring question related to what type of clothing could be specified to allow emergency response personnel to carry out a wide range of activities where heat and flame is a risk.
Organisations did not want or (in many cases) could not afford to purchase a number of different sets of clothing, each for different activities as was required if clothing was to be purchased based on CEN and ISO standards, which are drafted as “function specific”. For many activities carried out by emergency response personnel there are currently no standards in CEN or ISO.
Multifunctional, multiprotective gear
At the beginning of 2008, a JOIFF Member requested that JOIFF develop a standard for multifunctional heat and flame protective work wear that would be suitable for use by emergency response personnel across a range of their work activities.
Detailed consultations took place with a number of industry professionals and JOIFF members.
In November 2008 the final draft for the specification was approved. One of the most important stipulations in the JOIFF specification is that workwear to protect against heat and flame is to be manufactured only from inherently flame resistant materials. Flame retarded treated materials are not acceptable.
The specification is now part of the JOIFF Standard which is regarded as best industry practice. It is hoped that this will help to improve the level and type of protection for emergency responders and other personnel who need to wear heat and flame protective work wear across a wide range of activities where exposure to heat and flame is a risk.
Conspicuity on the agenda
In dark or poorly lit working environments it is often necessary to add elements that provide conspicuity to PPE. The JOIFF specification includes information and requirements for performance, quantity and placement of conspicuity when this is found by a risk assessment to be necessary to add to protective garments.
In considering the type and level of conspicuity required, it is important to include elements that will provide conspicuity in both daytime and night time. Fluorescent colours are rare in urban and rural environments but when used, they do provide enhanced
contrast and brightness.
In the night, another type of conspicuous element called retro-reflectivity is required. Retro-reflective materials illuminated by a light-source create contrast, brightness and recognisable shape through reflecting incoming light back to the light source.
To achieve optimum levels of conspicuity, the correct placement of the conspicuity elements is very important so that the human body is properly defined both when stationary and when moving. This can be achieved by providing sufficient fluorescent and retro-reflective materials around the torso and each arm and leg to give 360 degree visibility, coupled with a mixture of horizontal and vertical placement of both fluorescent and retro-reflective materials.
Conspicuity elements should not restrict body movements, nor should they be positioned on a surface that will be covered afterwards by other equipment such as boots, tools, belts etc, or be placed too close to the garment edges where abrasion is higher.
The pictures accompanying this article are practical examples of how the requirements for conspicuity in the JOIFF specification can be met.
Many first response calls are to incidents on the roads and sometimes on railway lines and restricted areas in airports. Often regulations require the use of high-visibility safety apparel for workers who work within such areas. In practice, this type of regulation usually means that firefighters have to put a high visibility garment complying with minimum performance requirements for conspicuity over their turnout garments ie garments that comply with standards such as NFPA 1971 and EN 469.
Because the vast majority of such garments are manufactured from materials that will burn and/or melt on exposure to heat and/or flame, this results in competing hazards that exist for firefighters, ie conspicuity or heat/flame? As well as this conflict in risk assessment, on exposure to heat/flame, if the garment providing conspicuity melts, quite apart from damaging the protective garments it could cause serious injury to the firefighter.
In November 2008, the USA Federal Highways Authority amended a rule requiring the use of high visibility safety apparel for workers by revisions that excluded firefighters when they are exposed to flame, fire, high heat or hazardous materials and when they are exposed to hazardous conditions where the use of such apparel may increase the risk of injury to firefighters. The Authority recognised that a material that meets the fluorescent colour of the relevant USA (ANSI) standard and is heat and flame resistant to the degree required by firefighters has not been developed and that it is possible that, by complying with the rule, a firefighter wearing a high-visibility garment could be at a greater risk of injury.
In April 2008 at the University of Michigan, tests were carried out in both day and night conditions to compare the conspicuity of three different types of safety garments used by first responders. Each of the three were to a different USA standard for conspicuity, including one that was turnout clothing manufactured to NFPA 1971.
It was concluded that all three garment standards provided equal levels of conspicuity under the conditions examined and therefore all of the garments studied should be considered equivalent relative to first responder conspicuity when working in close proximity to traffic.
JOIFF hopes that responsible authorities in other countries will take note of such foresighted and intelligent thinking as that which has been displayed by the USA Federal Highways Authority, and that they also will amend their requirements for firefighters when working in such areas.
In Europe, the equivalent standard to NFPA 1971 is CEN standard EN 469:2005. In EN 469:2005 provision of conspicuous elements is optional, but when it is affixed, it must comply with mandatory requirements specified in an Annex to EN 469:2005
Improving the high visibility standards
As a consequence of development work on the JOIFF specification, JOIFF recognised that some further requirements should be included in both NFPA 1971 and EN 469. Whilst minimum performance requirements and quantities are specified, unlike the JOIFF specification there are no requirements for the provision of a combination of both horizontal and vertical placement of elements of conspicuity, which have been shown to be important for personnel safety.