Industry Interview: Will a Rig Accept Your FR Clothing?

You begin to pack your bags in preparation for your next offshore hitch, as you are about to finish packing you receive a call informing you that your Flame Resistant (FR) clothing will need to adhere to the FR policies of the rig you are to board. You proceed to check the tags on your clothing, only to find out that your garments do not meet the rig’s policies.

        This is a scenario we—at Reaching Ultra (RU)—have experienced. Furthermore, we have equally seen that what applies to one company’s HSE policy—in regards to FR clothing—may not apply to separate company’s policy. Because of this, we began to implore on how to ensure that the FR clothing we sourced was not only fit for purpose, but equally retained an element of universality. However, the more we implored, the more perplexing the answers became, due to inconsistent explanations. And in order to bring clarity to the questions asked, we realized that interviewing a company whose products are in tune with the safety sensitivities of the oil and gas industry would be needed. This, in turn, led us to interviewing Ken Baldwin the National Sales Representative at RASCO FR.

Figure 1: Simultaneous operations being carried out offshore (Source: Trondur | Dreamstime)

RU: Can you provide a rule of thumb approach for oilfield workers and companies, on how to verify that the FR clothing they are purchasing is fit for purpose?

RASCO FR: Our rule of thumb: always look at the labels of the garments you are buying. Our recommendation is to make sure that that all garments being worn are certified by an independent third party lab (Preferably UL) to meet the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) 2112 specification, as well as the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) 1506 specification. If the label states that the garments comply with these standards, but are not certified by an independent lab, we wouldn’t advice the use of such clothing.

RU: In “oilfield speak” we often hear the terms fire retardant, fire resistant, and flame resistant used interchangeably. Are these terms inherently distinct, or do they embody the same idea—can you expand on what each means, and where they differ?

RASCO FR: Fire retardant material is designed to keep fire from spreading, once the material comes in contact with a small ignition source: in short, the material slows down combustion. Flame resistant material equally deters the spreading of fire on FR clothing, however, it also resists ignition. I must note that flame resistant garments are self-extinguishable, and will not continue to burn once the source of fire is removed. Furthermore, fire resistant clothing has the same characteristics of flame resistant clothing, making the aforementioned terms interchangeable.

RU: Does RASCO FR adhere to different qualification programs/standards for offshore environments, when compared to land based environments. Is there any overlap between the two?

RASCO FR: At this point the standards are the same for offshore and land based work.  This is due to the fact that—at present—a regulatory agency has not defined standards that are offshore specific. It will be interesting to see if a different set of standards are put in place in the future.  

RU: How does RASCO FR stay abreast with the different qualification programs/standards that FR clothing must follow, and what standards does RASCO FR currently meet?

RASCO FR: Part of being a forward thinking company is our commitment to staying abreast with all existing qualification programs/standards that FR clothing must follow. Being members of the National Fire Protection Agency, the organization which promulgated the NFPA’s 2112 specification—allows us to be intimately involved with the changes and/or additions made by the NFPA. We equally monitor—very diligently—the changes and/or additions made by the by the American Society for Testing and Materials that deal with FR clothing. 

Figure 2: Platform conducting flaring operations as it communicates with a subsea well (Source: Camij | Dreamstime)

Currently, our garments are in full compliance with requirements detailed in NFPA 2112, NFPA 70E, and ASTM F1506. I must note that our garments are verified via UL—an independent third party—to ensure they meet the above requirements. Additionally, we diligently re-test our garments to certify that they not only meet, but also exceed all applicable clothing standards.

RU: Because RASCO FR has been in the business of creating work wear since 1988, we have to ask: what were the drivers that led to RASCO FR becoming involved in FR clothing in 2001?

RASCO FR: The principle driver that led us to becoming involved in FR clothing was the demand, as many of our clients expressed their need of having a reliable source to provide FR Clothing. As a forward thinking company—committed to meeting our clients’ needs—RASCO FR launched its first product lines with great success. I must add, that industry changes which required our clients’ employees to wear FR clothing at work sites, was an equally important driver.

RU: Was the launch of the FR product line an organic transition for RASCO FR, which built upon its existing knowledge base?  Or did RASCO FR have to bring in external resources to launch the FR product line?

RASCO FR: Our intimate understanding of work wear, coupled with our commitment to fit for purpose and reliable work wear, was highly advantageous. However, we knew that in order to create sustainable garments that performed optimally and safely in the presence of electric arc flashes and flash fire hazards, required bringing in external resources. This was key in furthering our understanding of the FR industry.  I must add that it took a tremendous amount of work, as well as research and development, and product testing, prior to launching our first FR product line.

Figure 3: Hot work being conducted offshore (Source: LPM | Dreamstime)

RU: We think the launch of RASCO’s FR gear—specifically tailored for women—is key as the oilfield continues to globally diversify in culture and technology: can you detail how this came to be?

RASCO FR: The more involved we became in the FR field, the more we realized that there was a need for FR clothing to be designed for women. This was echoed by women in the industry, who made it clear that they were dissatisfied with wearing men’s clothing, and the limited options available for women’s FR clothing. By internalizing and building on this, it allowed us to further define our vision for women’s clothing, leading to the Cool Girl FR product line. For this reason, Cool Girl products are specifically tailored to be in tune with women’s fashion sensibilities. Our goal: to provide FR clothing that women actually want to wear, while ensuring the garments worn meet all safety and industry standards.

RU: In terms of markets to target, what emphasis does RASCO FR place on the oil and gas industry?

RASCO FR: Focus wise, our emphasis on the oil and gas industry is high. This is due to the fact that the oil and gas industry as a whole continues to place a safety first philosophy to all facets of operations, which has resulted in field personnel wearing FR clothing when conducting field work at a host facility, for example. Because of this, the oil and gas industry has become one of the largest purchasers of RASCO FR’s clothing. We will continue to keep moving parallel to the Oil and Gas industry, as the safety first philosophy is further ingrained within the industry.

RU: Were there any changes made at RASCO FR after the Macondo incident of 2010, in terms of adapting to a climate that is further taking a safety first approach? Were these changes immediate?

RASCO FR: An important part our culture is to ensure that we always take a safety first approach, at all levels of our organization. The Macondo incident of 2010 served as an important reminder of the importance of a safety first philosophy, and the importance of adhering to all standards.

RU: Where any improvements or developments made with RASCO’s FR clothing as a result of Macondo?

RASCO FR: Macondo did not directly affect how RASCO FR designs its clothing, per se. The last update of NFPA 2112—one of the standards all our garments adhere to—was made in 2012, two years after Macondo. It will be interesting to see if any new changes to the NFPA 2112 standard will be based on lessons learned from this incident.

RU: From an engineering standpoint, how does RASCO FR validate the integrity of new materials prior to introducing them in to the market?

RASCO FR: Prior to implementing new materials in to our FR clothing, all new materials are subjected to extensive testing by way of RASCO FR’s research and development group; and via multiple third party labs.

RU: Is there any new products, or technological developments that you would like to share with us?

RASCO FR: We briefly touched on the Cool Girl FR product line: I will further expand on it here. We strongly believe that Cool Girl FR is going to change how the oilfield views women’s FR clothing. This is due to the fact that the cool girl line combines safety with fashion. The result: women’s clothing that is certified to NFPA 2112 and ASTM F1506. Furthermore, all Cool Girl products are tested and approved via a 3rd party such as UL.

In addition, RASCO FR just released its new Outwear line, which is designed to keep its wearer protected and warm when working in cold climates. RASCO FR’s new Outerwear equally adheres to all applicable standards. Because of this, the Outwear product line provides additional protection from electric arc flashes, and flash fire exposure, while keeping its wearer warm and comfortable. 

RU: What is Rasco FR’s vision for the future, and where does RASCO FR see FR clothing and technology 10 years from now?

RASCO FR: We want to continue to be recognized as a market innovator in the FR clothing industry, while providing the highest quality FR clothing at the best available prices. 

Ken Baldwin's Bio 

Ken Baldwin has over 19 years of experience in the FR industry, giving Ken a unique 360 degree view of the FR industry. His experience includes the development of FR clothing, as well as overseeing the selling and purchasing of FR clothing. Ken has consulted while developing the FR product lines for Carhartt, Miller International (Cinch FR), VF Jeanswear (Wrangler FR). He has equally served in a managerial capacity for Baskins Holdings and Acquisitions—as the industrial sales manager and buyer—where he oversaw the purchasing of FRC for over 30 locations, as well as handling the marketing program for said locations.