In March 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a clarification memo that required all workers in the oil and gas industry to wear flame retardant treated or flame resistant clothing (FRC). Flame resistant fabrics are designed to resist ignition and spread of heat and flames away from the wearer, self-extinguishing almost immediately once the ignition source is eliminated. Since the federal OSHA mandate, state-run OSHAs are following suit, including Wyoming, which recently mandated that all workers within 75-feet of a well bore wear flame-resistant clothing.
Many oil and gas companies already require their employees to wear FRC. In fact, an internal survey of Wyoming’s oil and gas safety committee found 78 percent of members already had a flame-resistant clothing requirement and 69.1 percent felt flame-resistant clothing should be mandatory on a rig.
“It’s the old seatbelt rule,” said Tim Deutscher, an OSHA area manager in North Dakota, referring to the limited chances of injury to employees wearing FRC. ”One of the first questions we ask [following an explosion] is whether the victim was wearing fire retardant clothing.”
With the OSHA memo and the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, the demand for FRC has substantially increased over the past few years. This has led to sourcing issues for FRC apparel. It has also resulted in a number of start-up businesses that resell garments of substandard quality. Whether you need to put a new FRC program in place or improve your current system, knowing what’s involved in the process and asking a few questions before you dive into a program can eliminate several headaches down the road while keeping workers safe.
How Does an FRC Rental Program Work?
When most oil and gas companies order FRC, they want a program that’s consistent in appearance, lightweight and reflective so workers can continue working throughout the night or in low light conditions. For a typical five-day work week, workers should receive at least 11 shirts and 11 pants, so they can rotate them out for laundering and have spare FRC if there’s damage to one of the garments. Before placing the order, it’s also highly recommended that an organization works with a service provider who will measure every worker ensure a good fit.
When purchasing garments, it’s important to know how garments will be inventoried and maintained. This includes tracking garments as workers move to new locations, making sure garments are laundered according to recommendations and repairing torn fabric with specially treated thread.
Questions to Ask
Before you select your FRC provider based on internet search results, there are a few questions you should ask. Knowing the answers to these questions can substantially reduce long-term frustrations while ensuring your employees are safe and your company is compliant.
1. What is the provider’s reputation? As with any industry, the groundswell of opportunity has led to an abundance of FRC providers that sell poor quality product backed by little to no customer service. Before making an investment, vet the provider. Ask for references and the names of other customers (ask about large accounts that they service in the oil and gas industry). This will help you assess their reputation and credibility. It is also important to make sure that the service provider has extensive knowledge of the oil and gas industry regarding safety standards and that their drivers have been thoroughly trained on those standards.
2. Can the provider service national accounts? Many oil and gas companies work throughout North America, so it’s important to have a provider that goes where you do. In addition to ensuring that there’s product available when and where you need it, working with a national provider can help ensure continuity to the look of the apparel program. It can also reduce time spent managing multiple vendors and streamline procurement processes.
3. How quickly will garments be delivered? The increased demand for FRC has put many orders on hold until supplies become available. Delivery of FRC from some providers can take upwards of six to 10 weeks. Whether you need five garments or 5,000, ask the vendor to provide delivery dates. This will help ensure that production isn’t interrupted and that employees have the garments they need when it’s time to work.
4. Does the product have a lifetime guarantee? If properly maintained, the flame resistant capabilities of the fabric should be expected to last the lifetime of the garment.Look for programs with this warranty.
5. How comfortable is the garment? Because FRC is only effective if workers wear it, it’s essential to select garments that are appropriate for the work environment. For example, if workers are drilling in North Dakota, you’ll likely want heavyweight, reflective garments. Conversely, if workers are drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll want lightweight, flexible fabrics. Being mindful of worker comfort goes a long way in establishing the effectiveness of the program.
6. How will garments be laundered? This is one of the most critical aspects of managing an FRC program. Most FRC garments come with very specific laundering instructions to protect the integrity of the fabric. If workers launder the garments at home, they should be washed independently of other clothing. In addition, the FRC must be turned inside out to reduce streaking from abrasion and never be used with chlorine bleach, fabric softener, hard water or soap containing animal fats. Garments should never be over dried, as excessive heat can destroy the integrity of the garment.
Because of these parameters, you may want to consider working with an industrial launderer to help limit liability and ensure protocols are followed during the FRC laundry process. However, this can also be a challenge as you need to select a launderer with the proven expertise and dedicated program for laundering FRC.
7. How will garments be inspected? If you have an FRC program in place, it’s your responsibility to identify garments with excessive wear or damage and remove them from service. To ensure garments are in top condition, implement a process for manually inspecting garments and ensuring that there are no rips or tears. While you can encourage employees to report issues with their FRC, it’s critical to appoint someone to inspect all garments on a regular basis. You can also work with your launderer to have them assist in identifying clothing that should be removed from rotation. Ask the service provider to show you and explain specifically what they do to inspect garments.
While most industry professionals want to do everything they can to protect their workers, the task of managing an FRC program can be a job in itself, often detracting from an oil and gas professional’s core business focus. In some situations where poor quality garments or improper laundering procedures are used, an FRC program may actually cause more risk to a worker.
Flash fires happen all the time in oil and gas operations, frequently putting workers at risk. By understanding how a quality FRC program works and knowing what questions to ask in the development of your program, you can ensure your workers have quality garments that offer maximum protection from the flash fire hazard workers face every day.
Jeff Koehne | Cintas Corporation