Workplace Solutions Arc flash Facility safety Hazard communication Personal protective equipment Protective clothing

Benefits of multifunctional PPE

What advancements are being made in the development of multiuse fabrics to protect against thermal hazards?


Photo: CarbonX

Responding is Jake Hirschi, general manager, CarbonX, Kernersville, NC.

Choosing personal protective equipment that’s highly protective and comfortable to wear is a constant challenge. Finding PPE that protects against different thermal hazards in the same facility makes decision-making even more complicated.

As more processes have become automated, many workers are now performing multiple tasks across functions in their facilities. With this crossover in their day-to-day responsibilities, workers may encounter several risks in one shift: molten metal splash, direct flame, radiant heat, arc flash and even extreme weather conditions.

To meet the needs of workers confronting these thermal hazards with varying risk levels, different fiber blends and technical fabrics have been developed to offer multifunctional protection in a single garment.

Protect against molten metal

Some new fiber blends include proprietary combinations that enable fabrics to better shed molten metal. Sparks and splatter simply roll off the material, making it ideal for use in outerwear applications, including jackets, sleeves, coveralls, aprons, bibs and spats. There are even multiuse protective fabrics as light as 8.5 ounces per square yard able to pass the ASTM F955 standard’s pour test for molten iron and aluminum.

Protect against direct flame

Truly nonflammable protective fabrics (as opposed to simply flame-resistant fabrics) offer the highest level of protection. They won’t burn, melt or ignite when exposed to direct flame. Even after intense exposure, they maintain their strength and integrity – and continue to protect. The vertical flame test sets the standard that protective fabrics have two seconds or less after flame. Multiuse protective fabrics on the market today have no after flame at all.

Protect against radiant heat and radiation

Multiuse protective fabrics may be aluminized to enhance protection against radiant heat, as well as infrared and ultraviolet radiation. These fabrics protect against radiant hazards and convective heat in the form of molten metal splash at a fraction of the weight of other alternatives in use, with significantly improved flexibility.

Protect against arc flash

Lightweight multiuse protective fabrics are available that are rated NFPA 70E Hazard Risk Category 2 or higher (lighter weight fabrics typically fall into Category 1). These fabrics can also have an arc thermal performance value greater than 10 calories per centimeter squared, which many arc applications require.

Protect from the elements

Multiuse protective fabrics may include an encapsulated barrier of silicone that helps shield a worker against harsh weather conditions, reduce wind penetration and repel water.

A layered approach to multifunctional PPE

If a single, multiuse protective garment isn’t an option for your workplace, a layered clothing system is an optimal and flexible solution. Air is a great insulator, so when two lighter-weight or lower-rated garments are layered together – with just a miniscule amount of air between them – they can often provide the same or better protection than a single, heavier protective garment.

As new advancements in multiuse protective fabrics are made, selecting the best PPE solution for your workplace will be a lot less complicated.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

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