A worker from Devon Energy field testing the new gear. Courtesy Devon Energy Corp.
EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)
New safety gear for the oil and gas industry is aiming to make burns caused by blasts of hot steam and scalding water a thing of the past.
University of Alberta assistant professor Megan Strickfaden and a team of graduate students have just finished the first round of testing on a new garment system consisting of a jacket and pants meant to be worn over top of a pair of coveralls.
The garments feature pant legs that are wide enough that workers can slip them on without having to take their boots off and a fleece lining with venting in the back (where a worker is least likely to be exposed to hot water or steam). The pants and jacket are made out of a tri-laminate, semi-permeable material, Strickfaden said from Edmonton, letting air pass through but still staying water and fire resistant.
“All you need is a pinprick on a roof and you’ll have hot water leaking in and breaking that envelope, so our goal was to try to create a clothing envelope for the workers,” she explained. “Any place where the workers had options of how to put something together, we needed careful instructions on how to put it together but also a really good interface.”
Four oil sands workers were enlisted to test out the gear for 14 consecutive weeks of 12-hour days. While she expected the workers to be taking the pants on and off up to a dozen times a day, they found the pants comfortable enough to leave on all day, though small issues such as the vibrant orange colour (as opposed to the traditional blue) and the too-wide legs were issues that Strickfaden said her team would be addressing.
The project all started when industry representatives reached out to the school about four years ago asking for a solution to the increasing number of injuries and fatalities caused by hot water and steam.
“Industry recognized that the coveralls they were currently wearing were covering them from flash fire and radiant thermal exposure, but because of the ‘porous-ness’ and the permeability of the fabrics the coveralls are made of, they aren’t being protected from hot water or steam,” she explained.
Team visited oil and gas work sites to collect data
Textile technologists from the university set to work developing a product that could protect against steam and hot water, while Strickfaden and her team began to visit heavy oil production, extraction and refining sites to understand how the PPE was used and what problems were causing the burns.
The PPE oil and gas workers are currently wearing does not have any size variations, becomes stiff in the winter, tears easily and is too small to be slipped on over boots, forcing workers to remove their footwear to put it on, often while standing on a cold concrete floor or a muddy, snowy area in a field, Strickfaden said. The gear also left a worker’s neck, face, wrist, ankles and lower torso exposed.
“There was one report that stuck out. It was a gentleman that had been using steam to thaw a well head so he could open that up. He inadvertently sprayed steam into his boot and ended up with severe burns,” she said.
In addition to the new gear, Strickfaden’s team is drafting the first set of ASTM International standards for steam and hot water protective clothing.
The gear will not be ready for production until it is field tested in the summer to ensure it will not cause issues like heat stroke, Strickfaden said, adding that because it was an industry-funded project, the team does not have any intellectual property rights on the design and it is open to any companies that want to incorporate it.