Occupational Health & Safety

Take the Guesswork Out of Selecting Apparel

New innovations deliver objective, real-time data on a PPE solution's resistance to molten substances.

Recent advances have been made in on-site PPE evaluation for employees working in high heat, molten metal, and hot liquid, chemical, and petrochemical environments. These practices allow safety managers and line workers to participate in and observe testing of PPE apparel solutions and provide real-time test data on actual hazards faced by employees, to instill confidence in PPE apparel selections.

The Challenges of Selecting Protective Apparel
Safety managers responsible for selecting apparel for employees working with molten metal, petrochemicals, and other hot or flammable liquids have to weigh several factors, including a product's ability to shed these hazards, its flame and extreme heat resistance, and the level of comfort it provides, in addition to economic considerations such as cost and durability.

Often these decisions are based solely on lab-generated testing data and product specifications provided by the fabric and/or apparel manufacturer. It can be an expensive and lengthy process for a company to send fabric or apparel samples to certified laboratories to be tested to confirm a manufacturer's performance claims or provide side-by-side comparison data for various product options. Therefore, few companies are able to conduct their own objective testing before signing contracts and committing to purchase sometimes large quantities of new products. Too frequently, a company’s final product selection is based on its best guess about which product will sufficiently protect employees for the greatest value after comparing various self-serving sales pitches.

On-Site Testing of PPE Apparel
One new innovation allows for mobile pour testing and on-site evaluation of existing and potential PPE layups. Chapman Innovations has produced a testing platform able to measure a protective fabric's resistance to molten substances and hot liquids and chemicals. The device is portable, so testing can be performed on site, where safety managers and employees can observe firsthand how different protective fabrics compare in performance. Chapman Innovations CEO Tyler Thatcher said the platform "allows us to actually demonstrate the performance of protective fabrics to the people whose lives they are protecting. The results will either bring them peace of mind about the PPE solution they have in place or direct them to better alternatives. The end goal is ensuring that employees' work wear provides the highest level of protection possible."

Platform Simulates ASTM F955 Test
Although not intended to replace standardized laboratory testing and certification processes, the testing platform simulates the ASTM F955 pour test for molten substances and hot liquids. Different fabric combinations are placed on its angled ceramic plate, and hot liquids -- such as molten metal, petrochemicals, and hot chemicals -- are poured directly onto the fabric. Heat sensors (or thermocouples) mounted in the plate measure the temperature change on the back side of the fabric while the substance is poured and continue monitoring heat as it transfers across the material. This is different from the ASTM F955 pour test, which measures temperatures at only two points: the point of impact and a point 6 inches below the point of impact.

New advances such as the testing platform provide safety managers with information that many have never known before. Specifically, the testing platform is equipped with a data-acquisition device that plots real-time quantitative data measuring:

  • Level of protection to prevent a second-degree burn. The testing platform's measurements indicate how effectively a fabric or fabric combination limits the amount of heat transferred through the material to the wearer and demonstrate what levels of protection are needed to prevent a theoretical second-degree burn. These measurements are given in maximum calorimeter temperature rise (in Celsius degrees) during the first 30 seconds and time to a second-degree burn (in accordance with the Stoll curve) after impact with the molten substance.
  • How effectively a fabric sheds a molten hazard. The testing platform's ceramic plate can be adjusted to any angle to evaluate how effectively a fabric sheds molten liquids. The more quickly a fabric can shed a molten hazard, the less likely it is a serious burn will occur.
  • Visual evaluation of physical damage to the fabric. With the testing being performed on site, safety managers can visually rate for themselves the extent of charring, shrinkage, metal adherence, perforation, etc., and do not have to rely on a laboratory's subjective observations of the physical damage to the fabric.

"Oftentimes there can be a lot of politics involved in decision-making about PPE," said Thatcher. "New advances like the testing platform will change the whole discussion about PPE solutions to be more data-driven. It's tough to argue with objective, quantifiable, real-time data."

Flexibility for Numerous Applications
The testing platform allows for testing of any molten substance or hot liquid in any amount in as realistic an environment as possible. This lets safety managers see how a particular product stands up against the actual hazards their employees face every day. By comparison, the ASTM F955 test typically evaluates only for molten aluminum, brass, and iron under controlled laboratory conditions.

One company used the testing platform to evaluate how well its PPE solutions protected against contact with phosphorous, a highly flammable chemical that self-ignites upon contact with air. The testing platform and conditions were specially arranged to test various products' resistance to this volatile element.

Another benefit of on-site, real-time testing is the capability to make modifications to the testing procedures and conditions as needed during the evaluation. Results of earlier pours can be used to adjust conditions for subsequent pours.

In its first few months of service, the testing platform has been used to provide real-time test data against a variety of hot liquids and molten hazards, including phosphorous, steel, iron, zinc, aluminum, and grease. In another demonstration, a company used the testing platform in its evaluation of molten iron. The safety director was able to then use the generated data and in-person demonstration to convince line employees as well as senior management to update the company's PPE solution.

Chapman Innovations teamed with Professor Matthew Jones and graduate student Jeremy Osguthorpe at Brigham Young University to design and construct the testing platform. Jones and Osguthorpe are currently compiling data collected from the testing platform into a research paper that will be published in an academic journal and used to support further development of the system. "We recognized the significant impact the testing platform would have in the industrial segment," Jones said. "We knew we had a responsibility to develop a device that was accurate and durable with a wide range of capabilities, knowing that the data it generates will be used to make decisions that could save lives."

With new advances like this one, safety managers now can make decisions based on which products they know will deliver the highest level of protection, instead of which products they hope will adequately protect an employee in a worst-case scenario.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Brian Cormican is the Vice President of Business and Channel Development for Chapman Innovations, which manufactures the CarbonX® brand of flame-resistant (FR) fabrics and apparel. He travels across the country giving demonstrations on shop floors, in safety managers' offices, and at racetracks about the protective properties of CarbonX® fabrics and apparel. He has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a bachelor's degree in Business Administration-Finance from Brigham Young University.

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