During the last decades research into waterproof fabric has brought high quality garments that protect people, including workers, of poor weather conditions, hence waterproof clothing has become a common item in the market. However, workers facing high risks and specific hazards, such as those working for electrical companies face challenges other than poor weather conditions, in particular those risks arising for the exposure to high-voltage lines.
Under the brand GORE® PYRAD®, the new technology incorporated into the clothing would be particularly relevant for the high demands of electrical and other jobs such as technical rescue, some industrial work and military tasks.
What this technology is about, how it has been tested and how companies are starting to use it, was unveiled during a series of presentations from researchers and end users and a visit to the International Institute for Product Safety, in Bonn, Germany, in March.
On top of the required protection against rain, cold and wind, electrical workers face an additional risk: the thermal danger posed by arc faults. An arc fault is defined as an unwanted high-power discharge that can occur without any direct contact in the event of proximity to high-voltage lines or overhead railway lines. Since, technically speaking, arc faults cannot be completely avoided, the protection against them is paramount.
A story of compromises
So far, those working with high-voltage lines have been protected using the available garments produced with existing technology and making the adjustments to get a cloth that both protect and brings comfort to be able to perform their tasks.
It is story of compromises. The protective gear available so far has generally been heavy, bulky and rain-absorbent during long exposure. It is hardly comfortable to work using such clothing and therefore it enjoys very little acceptance among wearers. In cases where the garments have been made of lighter-weight materials for comfort, then the protection against arc faults has been insufficient.
According to an investigation by the Swiss Supervisory Authority ESTI (Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations), 14 per cent of serious injuries from arc fault accidents result from a lack of proper protective gear.
No heat transfer to the skin
Visiting the lab at the Institute for International Product Safety we visualised, from a very safe distance and behind a glass, the fabric technology being tested in a lightweight jacket, exposed to a heavy arc fault. When an arc fault occurred, the laminate of the outer layer acted as a robust flame retardant.
This prevented heat transfer to the wearer’s skin and flames weree unable to burn holes through the textile. When we checked the jacket, it was burnt outside but the laminate and seam retained their physical integrity – even if they were bent.
The test proved that any danger of burns and serious damage and injury is thus significantly mitigated.
Shawn Riley, leader for the heat and flame protective fabric technologies at the Global Technical Research and Development department at Gore, explained that this new technology is the first one “to pair up arc fault protection with the wearing comfort of conventional, lightweight yet durable textiles like polyester or polyamide.
The weatherproof clothing with arc-rated GORE® PYRAD® fabric technology has become 45 per cent lighter compared to previously used gear boasting arc fault protection, regardless of wet or dry conditions. It is also less bulky, allowing greater freedom of movement. Moreover, it also offers the qualities of GORE-TEX® technology: a durable wind- and waterproof design with high breathability. These functions remain intact throughout day-to-day use and over many industrial laundry cycles, at 60°C.
It also fulfils the criteria laid out by EN 61482-1-2 and is certified in accordance with Arc Fault Protection Class 2. With the outer fabric made of polyester, the clothing is available in various colours, including fluorescent orange and yellow – and this constitutes an additional safety factor for wearers in the energy sector.
The technology was tested during several months last year and it has proven successful with workers of the Scottish and Southern Energy company Other 14 manufacturers of eight European countries are already using GORE-TEX® weatherproof jacket with arc rated in especialised garments.