Evolution of safety clothing and equipment in the energy sector
The frontline professionals in the energy sector are exposed to numerous life-threating activities and hazards. Danger lurks around every corner, right from working in well foundations, to erecting lease tanks to chemical treatments or hydraulic fracturing wells. Even in the presumably safe environments like refineries, certain activities pose threats like process sampling, handling or recharging catalyst or inspection. Also, the off-shore drilling offers risk due to hydrogen sulfide gas, use of heavy metals and the presence of benzene in the crude. Even during shutdowns and repairs, the risk is high. The workers are also exposed to fires and flames and hence require comprehensive safety measures and equipment to work without risk.
Evolution of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), is referred to the equipment that is worn by workers to minimize the exposure to workplace related hazards and injuries. It includes but is not limited to respirators, hard hats, gloves, safety harnesses, safety glasses, earplugs, bodysuits, and steel-toed shoes. During the industrial revolution, the PPE was put in place to minimize the workplace injuries. However, with time it has become more efficient at protecting the overall well-being of the workforce. So, let us track the evolution of some key safety equipment and clothing in the energy sector over the period:
· Back in the 1900s, industrial workers used hemp or natural fiber body belt to protect from injuries. However, these belts did not have shock-absorption properties.
· In 1959, shock absorption property was incorporated into the safety belts. This helped the workers to reduce or eliminate injury caused due to fall.
· In the 1990s, there were more improvements such as snap hook connectors, D-rings, and full-body harness. It transformed the fall prevention system for better
· As per the article published in Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) magazine, the gold miners created the bowler hat to protect themselves from the debris that falls while working in the mines. It had rounded brims and hard exterior, while the interior was stuffed with cotton.
· The Golden Gate Bridge project is considered as the first major project that made it compulsory for all the workers to wear a hard hat. The hat was crafted using canvas and it had an internal suspension system.
· After some time, an aluminum hat was introduced but was soon discontinued due to its side-effects: corroding and electricity conduction.
· In 1950’s thermoplastic was used to construct hat; these hats were easily molded and hence uniformity in the hats was introduced. Hard hat has not been improved much, however additional accessories like earplugs or Bluetooth technology has been introduced to enhance the comfort level.
· Roman Empire created the first respirator which was made out of the animal bladder and was used by the miners to prevent inhalation of iron oxide dust.
· In the middle of the 1800s, the charcoal gas filter mask was introduced. After two decades it was further improved and was known as “fireman’s respirator.” But, the respirators were not widely accepted until 1900.
· In the 1970s, the safety equipment manufacturers created Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) which comprised of a blower and filter inside a helmet. It was widely used in the areas where the face and eye contamination were the concern.
· However, most respirator even today use simple technology that helps in respiration. PAPR is still in the growing stage.
· Do you know the earliest reference to the earplugs were found in Greek Drama, The Odyssey? During those times, it was used to block the songs of the siren. The sailors used beeswax as earplugs.
· In the early 1900s, earplugs were used in the densely populated neighborhood and was made of cotton and wax. These benefits were then marketed to the industry.
· In the 1960s, foams were used to make earplugs and after a decade, polyurethane was used.
· Some years later, the thermal plastic elastomer was used as it was easier to shape the earplugs and it offered better comfort and fit.
· In the recent years, numerous technological advancements have been made with noise cancellation technology, mic, recorders and extra grip earplugs. The idea is to encourage workers to use it to eliminate any chance of hearing impairment.
· Safety glasses were first introduced by a tribe in Alaska which used it to prevent snow blindness. Later, this idea was adopted, and the safety glasses were used to protect the eyes from various contaminants such as dust, splashes, heat, glare, and wind.
· In the energy sector, the workers are expected to wear it full-time. Now, it has been aesthetically designed to make it more fashionable. Even the prescription-based safety glasses have been introduced. Just by wearing glasses, a lot of vision-related injuries can be avoided.
Since the mid-20th century, safety clothing and equipment have evolved significantly. The standardization and safety policies have also helped in encouraging workers to use the PPE which in turn has helped in reducing the rate of injuries and illness at the workplace.
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