In the United States, every single day someone is sent to a burn center due to a flash fire involving electrical equipment. In the oil and gas industry, it is very important to understand how easily a flash fire can be created and how to prevent it.
What are Flash Fires?
The first step to preventing them is understanding what a flash fire is. As defined by Wikipedia: A flash fire is a sudden, intense fire caused by ignition of a mixture of air and a dispersed flammable substance such as a solid (including dust), flammable or combustible liquid (such as an aerosol or fine mist), or a flammable gas. It is characterized by high temperature, short duration, and a rapidly moving flame front. Its intensity is dependent on the size of the gas or vapor cloud, however no matter the size they are all extremely dangerous.
How Can Flash Fires be Prevented?
One of the most devastating safety issues faced by the oil and gas industry is flash fires. In recent years there have been several efforts made by the oil and gas industry to reduce the risk of flash fire incidents, however, they have not eliminated the results from a fire such as these, such as burn injuries or fatalities. Efforts to reduce the occurrence of flash fires includes static protection on areas containing flammable gases, such as well gases, vapors, and hydrogen sulfide. These substances can be released from wells, trucks, production equipment or surface equipment such as tanks and shale shakers. Reduce ignition sources including static, electrical energy sources, open flames, lightning, cigarettes, cutting and welding tools, hot surfaces, and frictional heat.
What Protective Clothing Should be Worn?
Flame resistant clothing (FRC) should be worn at all times on in an oil or gas facility that has a potential for flash fire. Flame resistant clothing can include shirts, pants, coveralls, undergarments, gloves, and headwear. Most companies that sell FRC are already in line with OSHA standards. Be sure to research their testing and standards prior to purchase.
Why Should FRC be Worn?
Injuries and fatalities in the case of a flash fire can be greatly reduced by wearing FRC. By requiring FRC to be worn by all employees, you will reinforce the importance of safety in the workplace, reduce injury and death of employees, all while protecting your bottom line by avoid fines from OSHA. The most serious burns are the result of individuals wearing regular work clothing that ignites and literally burns directly off the wearer’s body. Each year thousands of clothing related injuries occur due to fires that could have been either prevented or the effects greatly reduced by wearing FRC. FRC clothing does not ignite nor does it continue to burn. Even a single layer or FRC outerwear can significantly protect employees and can be the difference between life and death.
Ways FRC Protects You:
- It is self-extinguishing and resists ignition.
- It does not melt to your skin.
- It provides insulation from heat.
- It prevents exposing your skin to the fire.
The most severe cases of burn injuries and fatalities are due to clothing catching fire because it is not flame resistant and continues to burn. If employees in the oil and gas industry become educated on the dangers and causes of flash fires, they will be able to understand how to prevent them.