Hazardous working environments are a global concern – but the Middle East might be said to boast more than its fair share. With huge construction projects indelibly changing its landscapes, it’s not difficult to see the inherent dangers associated with these, as they emerge before your very eyes.
But there are plenty of other, less visible trades that are fraught with risk, such as the gas and petrochemical industry. Here, day to day workings could be offshore, out of sight and out of mind – while part of the daily job is pulling a flammable material out of the ground towards a platform that has a burning flame tower.
The explosive potential here is self-evident.
There are also metal smelting foundries, where employees manipulate molten metal and part of the skill of their trade is contending with hazards such as splashes.
It’s in environments such as these that the utmost attention must be paid to worker safety, often taking the shape of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as Fire Retardant Protective Clothing.
It’s felt by some professionals working in this area that this subject is manifestly dangerous in itself, with misconceptions prevailing that while a particular fabric is suitable for one occupation, it will be equally suitable for another.
This is evidently not the case.
If this were true, testing methodologies employed by the likes of the British Textiles Technology Group (BTTG) wouldn’t be either as extensive or complex as they presently are.
BTTG are leaders in their field for testing all manner of apparel and textiles. Here we look at their extensive inspection service for heat and flame protective clothing and related PPE.
The question of how well textiles retain their properties is always an important issue, particularly in fields such as clothing providing heat and flame protection.
The European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Directive requires manufacturers of PPE to give information on obsolescence/lifespan.
It is recognised that the manufacturer cannot have full control of conditions of use of PPE, but shall assist the user in determining when PPE is to be withdrawn from use.
BTTG Fire Technology Services (FTS) can assist manufacturers and users by evaluating clothing and related PPE taken directly from service for changes in flame retardancy, heat penetration and most other protective properties.
There are several causes of ‘ageing’ of PPE, defined as changing of the product performance over time during use or storage. These causes can be one or more of:
• Cleaning, maintenance or disinfecting processes
• Exposure to visible and/or ultra-violet radiation
• Exposure to high or low temperatures or to changing temperatures
• Exposure to chemicals and biological agents, including humidity
• Exposure to mechanical action and ‘wear and tear’
• Exposure to contaminants such as dirt, oil, or splashes of molten metal
With respect to clothing and related PPE for protection against heat and flame, several of the above situations could apply.
For example, the main concern to users of industrial fire protective clothing is that the flame retardant performance is retained after the laundering process.
In the case of firefighter’s clothing, which is made up of several layers of different materials, the effect of laundering is also important, but with the emphasis being on whether this causes increases in the heat penetration through the thermal barrier component, thus reducing the protection of the wearer.
Visual assessment, even if this were possible with such an internal component, is insufficient to determine if heat penetration may have fallen below the minimum requirements of the product specification, e.g. EN 469 (specification for clothing for structural firefighting).
FTS undertakes specific inspection programmes for users and manufacturers of PPE, in particular for fire brigades. It can advise users as to the protective properties most likely to be reduced by the end-use environment and then devise an appropriate sampling and testing programme as an independent inspection service.
Manikin testing of heat and flame protective clothing
BTTG Fire Technology Services (FTS) has been evaluating heat and flame protective clothing using heat-sensing manikins since 1992.
Against a background where little work had been done to assess the effectiveness of PPE against the heat outputs from burning explosives (which generally produce an intense, short duration event), during which a number of reviews and studies were also conducted, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned the Health and safety Laboratory (HSL) and BTTG to jointly develop an instrumented manikin to evaluate PPE for use in the explosives industry.
The design concept involved assessing not only frontal exposure at a simulated workbench containing burning material, but also the exposure received at the rear of an escaping worker. This was achieved by having the manikin mounted on rails and capable of rotation and retraction from the source of the heat. This is known as the Moving Manikin test system.
Now, three generations of RALPH, the male form manikin (Research Aim Longer Protection against Heat), plus a first generation female form manikin SOPHIE (System Objective Protection against Heat In Emergencies), have been developed.
The introduction of this upgraded and now gender-based, integrated PPE assessment facility technology, using RALPH and SOPHIE manikins enables each manikin to be dressed not only in protective clothing, but also with all of the PPE (except footwear) worn by, for example, firefighters or industrial workers who may be exposed to similar hazards.
How the Moving manikin works
The unclothed manikin is mounted on to a turntable and located on a track. 120 flush-mounted thermal sensors comprising of copper-constantan thermocouples attached to matt black copper discs are flush-mounting to the body of the manikin ensures that where the clothing is in contact with the manikin, it is also in contact with the sensors.
Sensors are located on the manikin’s head, legs and arms and, more recently, this has been improved to include the hands, too, but not the feet. The outputs from the thermocouple responses are recorded continuously during each test using a data-logger located in the chest cavity of the manikin. The degrees of burn injury can be categorised as:
• 1st degree burn – burn damage to the epidermis
• 2nd degree burn – partial thickness burn to the dermis
• 3rd degree burn – full thickness burn to the dermis and onset of damage to the subcutaneous layers
The motion of the manikin is programmable and the time of front exposure, speed of rotation and speed of escape along a 5.5 m track can all be varied.
Gender based integrated PPE assessment facility using flame engulfment manikins
The dressed manikins are subjected to full (gas) flame envelopment for a chosen length of time, typically 8 seconds for firefighter clothing. The outcome is a burn injury prediction print-out, a record of the location and duration of any visible ignition and an optional video.
This type of manikin fire testing is an optional requirement of EN 469 (specifications for clothing, and structural firefighting) and of EN ISO 11612, a revision of EN 531 (specification for industrial fire protective clothing) and is also referenced in BS 7971-10 (protective clothing for police use).
Gender based integrated PPE assessment facility
The well known RALPH fire test manikin test facility was upgraded in 2006 and now has the following features:
• Interchangeable male and female form manikins
• New RALPH now joined by SOPHIE
• Each manikin able to be dressed realistically with clothing, gloves, fire hood, helmet, breathing apparatus
• Each manikin is fitted with 130+ heat sensors
• Each manikin fitted with heat sensors in all regions except the feet and therefore having sensors in the neck, head and hands
• Each manikin fitted with higher density of sensors at PPE interface regions
• Compliant with test method ISO 13506: 2008: Prediction of Burn Injury using an instrumented manikin
• Compliant with aims of ISO Committee TC94/SC14: Firefighter’s Personal Protective Equipment – specifications for ensembles
• Produces body map colour coded printout of predictions of pain, and first, second and third degree burn injury regions
• Able to assess PPE ensembles for all fire related activities – Fire and Rescue, Industrial, Military, Police
• Test viewing access for clients and/or video recording
• Installed in dedicated fire test laboratory close to Manchester Airport and motorways
The RALPH manikin test system was introduced in the early 1990s. Since that time it has been used extensively in the assessment and testing of protective clothing ensembles and single items of clothing.
The most appropriate way that the objective for assessing clothing for female firefighters or female industry workers could be achieved was to design a facility that featured interchangeable ‘female’ and ‘male’ manikins, differing only in their shape and size.
Compliance with the ISO standard 13506 is achieved in the ‘male’ operating mode.
Most existing manikin test systems, including RALPH, in addition to being ‘male’, are not able to be fully dressed in a PPE ensemble. They cannot therefore assess the integration of PPE ensembles with respect to providing sufficient protection for all regions of the wearer’s body.
This is usually because wiring and/or supporting framework interferes with dressing and/or with the attainment of sufficient heat exposure.
The new test system avoids these problems by having all wiring exiting at the manikin’s feet, which permits dressing with helmet/firehood/breathing apparatus without obstruction.
The hands are also able to be dressed with gloves so as to interface realistically with the cuffs of clothing.
Sponsors of the current RALPH/ SOPHIE manikin fire test facility
BTTG would like to thank the following organisations for their technical and financial contributions to the development of its manikin facility:
• Health and Safety Executive (UK government agency)
• Fire Services Inspectorate (UK government department)
• Fire Research Division of ODPM (UK government department) • Scottish Office Home Department (UK government department) • UK Chief Fire Officers Association
• Bristol Uniforms Limited
• Celanese PBI
• WL Gore & Associates (UK) Limited
Testing of materials for heat and flame protective clothing
BTTG Fire Technology Services (FTS) is equipped to carry out all the major heat transfer and flammability tests associated with the current and proposed European and International standards for protective clothing, gloves, hoods and balaclavas.
• EN 348/ISO 9150 Small splashes of molten metal To measure the ability of materials used for welders clothing and gloves to shed the small splashes of molten metal generated during welding.
• EN 367/ ISO 9151 Convective heat transfer A measure of the level of protection given by fabrics when subjected to direct flame impingement.
• EN ISO 6942 Radiant heat transfer A measure of the level of protection afforded against radiant heat – a crucial test for firefighters’ garments in particular.
• EN ISO 9185 Molten metal splash Fabrics used for clothing worn by foundry workers can be evaluated using this test in which molten metals (iron or aluminium usually) are poured onto the fabric.
• EN ISO 15025 Flammability As required for firefighters’ garments, flame retardant coveralls and welders’ clothing, for example.
• EN 702/ISO 12127 Contact heat Primarily used to measure the heat protection of gloves when in contact with a hot metal block.
Consultancy and Specialist Services for Heat and Flame PPE
BTTG Fire Technology Services (FTS) is part of a totally independent testing, PPE certification and consultancy organisation with 18 years of experience relating to the testing and certification of heat and flame protective clothing to the European PPE directive 89/686/EEC.
In addition, BTTG is directly involved in developing test methods and performance specifications such as BS, EN and ISO standards for fire protective clothing and related items. It achieves this involvement by participation in CEN (Committee for European Normalisation) and ISO (International Standardisation Organisation) Working Groups.
As a test house and Notified Body for PPE certification BTTG FTS is a member of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) and JOIFF, the Organisation for Emergency Services Management, which has a worldwide membership of oil and gas producers including ones in the Middle East. BTTG FTS (Notified Body Identification Number 0339) has been a major provider of EC Type-Examination Certificates (CE-Certification) for all types of fire protective clothing, mainly for firefighting and welding/foundry work, since 1993. Although employers outside of the European Union do not have to provide CE-Certified PPE, an increasing number see the benefit of buying PPE which has been tested and assessed by third party Notified Body organizations such as BTTG FTS. In addition to providing CE-Certificates for new PPE, BTTG FTS is also authorised, as a Notified Body, to check production quality control of PPE such as for firefighting and foundry work.
Examples of EN and EN ISO PPE product specifications which BTTG uses on behalf of clients concerning fire protection are as follows:
• EN 469, EN 15614, EN 1486 : clothing – firefighting
• EN 470/EN ISO 11611: clothing – welders
• EN 531/EN ISO 11612: clothing – industrial heat/flame protection
• EN 533/EN ISO 14116: clothing – limited flame spread
• EN 407 and EN 659: gloves – industrial and firefighting respectively
• EN 12477: gloves – welders
• EN 13911: hoods – firefighting
Starting in 1989 BTTG pioneered the development and use of the only independent manikin fire test facility outside of North America. Over this period, considerable expertise in the assessment of fire protective clothing has been developed.
Our wide range of activities, industry affiliations and experience enables us to offer various consultancy services applicable to the following sectors:
• Fire Brigades
• Industry (users and manufacturers)
• Safety Agencies
• Insurance and Legal Services
Examples of these services are:
Advice with respect to the generic type of clothing to be worn, plus compatibility assessment of various different items of PPE.
Given the enormous range of PPE and closely related police protective items in the marketplace which fulfil the requirements of the relevant performance standards and are fit for purpose (as indicated by the CE mark, if PPE), selecting the item or set of items best suited to a particular end-user with respect to the results of a risk assessment can be a challenging task.
When presented with the technical information for particular items of PPE, there may be a need for assistance in its comprehension/ interpretation and also a need for rigorous assessment of compatibility and ergonomic performance if various items of PPE are required to provide truly integrated and adequate protection.
FTS is in a position to provide the necessary expertise to help you make the correct choices. Product assessment of garments in use from purchase to replacement.
PPE in Use – product assessment after an incident
Another service available is the assessment of garments in use from their purchase to their replacement under a scheme called ‘An Independent Inspection Service – PPE for Firefighters.’
Innocuousness – chemical testing of components
This is a testing service to show that the PPE does not contain any substance that may harm the user.
Advice on the effect of the environment
Here you can get advice on storage and the effect of exposure on the longevity of PPE.
Advice on CE certification of PPE
Technical files from PPE manufacturers must be examined to determine whether the technical specifications chosen by the manufacturer comply, in BTTG’s opinion as a Notified Body, with the health and safety requirements set out in the PPE Directive 89/686/EEC.
This is a key step, particularly in situations where the manufacturer has not used or only partially used an EN or EN ISO specification, a provision of the PPE Directive which is not widely understood or used.
Practical Performance Testing
This is a term for assessing PPE when being worn and will increasingly be required as part of the CE marking process to be undertaken by Notified Bodies. It should also be a part of the PPE selection process undertaken by end users.
In addition to undertaking these procedures for CE certification BTTG can, for example, supervise end-user assessments according to BS 7971-1, Annex C: ‘Procedures for assessment of ergonomic performance and compatibility’, a well developed specification for police protective equipment, but also relevant to the firefighting and industrial sectors.
Neil Sorensen, Director of business development for BTTG Testing & Certification Limited, a leading international testing and certification organisation for personal protective equipment, one of whose specialities is fire protective clothing.
Neil Sorensen has been contributing to the development of this class of protective clothing standard since 1982 and is chairman of the British Standards Institution committee for Clothing for Protection against Heat and Flame.
BTTG is based in the North of England and was founded in 1989 by the merger of the Shirley Institute and the Wool Industry Research Association, organisations with histories stretching back to just after the First World War.
The Group has three operating companies: BTTG Testing and Certification specialises in the testing and Certification of Personal Protective Equipment , Geosynthetics, Floorcoverings and other construction products. It offers Certification to EU Directives. Shirley Technologies provides a broad range services to the traditional apparel sector. It specialises in chemical testing and provides certification to the Oeko-tex scheme.
BTTG has two long-established fire testing laboratories in the UK, both operating as BTTG Fire Technology Services, one located near Manchester, the other in Leeds.
The Manchester laboratory specialises in the testing of materials and clothing/gloves intended to be used as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), while the Leeds laboratory specialises in the testing of materials and end-products for the furnishings sector (corporate, transport, health services and domestic) and for the construction products and marine equipment sectors.
Both laboratories have most of their tests accredited to EN ISO/IEC 17025, the international quality management system for testing laboratories, and work with BTTG Certification Services by providing accredited test data to support product certification. You can access a Certification link plus full list of tests on the company’s website.
For more information, including contacts for specific services, visit our website at: www.bttg.co.uk www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php
Published: 10th Feb 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East