Clothing fires

Many activities in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries require employees to wear clothing with some degree of fire resistance. The hope is that if exposed to flame, it will not immediately ignite, and spread flame across the surface or melt onto skin. There are similar requirements for childrens’ nightwear, dating from the time when homes were heated by open coal fires.

During the time when I reviewed accidents reported to HSE relating to fires involving solid materials, I noted every year a few where clothing set alight after exposure to hot fragments from an angle grinder. So I commissioned work with BRE to look at this. Showers of sparks hitting a flat layer of cloth burned a hole through the material or bounced off, but if you made folds or pockets, as would be found on any real clothing, grinding sparks readily set the fabric alight. The results were published by BRE in a rather obscure journal, this is low tech science after all, but there is a serious message. Keep others away from grinding work, direct the sparks away from yourself, and if this is a regular task, choose overalls with some degree of fire resistance. The detailed results can be read here