September 2015

Drilling advances

New takes on rig floor PPE
Jim Redden / Contributing Editor

The first line of defense against injuries to hands, heads and other assorted appendages on the rig floor also may well be the most taken for granted. Truth be told, when rig hands slip on the company-issued personal protective equipment (PPE), their regard for said gear likely does not extend beyond it fitting comfortably.

However, when it comes to gloves and hats, Ironclad Performance Wear Corp. and National Oilwell Varco (NOV) want you to know that not all PPE is alike. For instance, with work gloves, what you see definitely may not be what you get, says leading manufacturer Ironclad. “The problem is, there are no standards in place to quantify back-of-hand impact protection,” says Shawn Norfolk, V.P. of marketing for the Farmers Branch, Texas (near Dallas), company. “Anyone can say their gloves offer impact protection, but there is no way to quantify the level of protection, because there are no testing standards.”

NOV, meanwhile, cited a collision and near-fall from a drilling rig stairway as sufficient inspiration for teaming up with 117-year-old Bullard Inc. to develop a new-generation hard hat, engineered with optimal upper peripheral vision that allows workers to watch their steps while simultaneously avoiding overhead and frontward hazards.

As for gloves, Norfolk said Ironclad is pushing for the implementation of impact standards, so folks will know precisely the level of hand protection that they are receiving. While the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), for example, has standardized tests to certify the level of abrasion, punctures and cut resistance, Norfolk said no such standards exist for impact, which is a leading cause of recordable hand injuries. “We continually get RFQs (request for quotations) that specify the need for such-and-such cut level, and certain abrasion and puncture levels, and, they’ll say they also need back-of-hand impact protection. While we have standardized ANSI and CE (European standard) cut tests in place, when it comes to impact, end-users don’t know what their glove capabilities are until it’s possibly too late.”

Norfolk said the genesis of Ironclad’s push for standardizing impact resistance can be traced to 2008, when it was selected to work with the Oil and Gas Safety Committee (OGSC) to help reduce an alarming increase in hand injuries, which at the time accounted for seven out of 10 recordable incidents on the rig floor. Ironclad turned to Dr. Naira Campbell-Kyureghan, department chair of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, who has coordinated myriad studies for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and others.

“One of the things they (OGSC) absolutely insisted we do was verify peak impact force reduction,” Norfolk said. “In one of the tests, we were able to take a force of 400 lb, which if dropped on a human hand would crush it, and bring it down to 40 lb, which would basically leave a bruise. That was a 90% reduction in impact force.”

Given OGSC’s blessing, Ironclad began distributing what became its Kong line of gloves for the oil and gas industry and, predictably, competition soon followed, each claiming to offer impact-resistant gloves. Though hand injuries have dropped appreciably, the need for standards was reinforced, Norfolk said, when a major client took advantage of a steep discount offered by another glove manufacturer, but soon afterward saw recordable incidents far exceed the up-front cost savings. “The customer came back 90 days later and said it had made a mistake, as recordables were over $1 million, and all were hand-related,” he said.

“That didn’t set well with us, so we went back to Naira and said let’s do what we can to develop standardized tests,” Norfolk said. “We need impact standards in place that are mechanically qualifiable with repeated results. That way, the end-users, at least, will know exactly what they’re putting their hands into.”

Looking up. Meanwhile, NOV says its patented hard hat with expanded upper vision was conceived after a sales executive—who was focused on the hand rail while trailing a group climbing up a rig ladder—collided with a member of the party who had stopped abruptly, causing both to nearly fall. The near-fall was blamed on his forward vision being blocked by the brim of the standard hard hat he was wearing.

“What’s surprising is why this (new design) hasn’t been done before,” said NOV V.P. of Innovation Trey Mebane.” You wouldn’t dream of driving with blinders on, but with the brim on the old hats we’ve been wearing for years, you essentially walk around a rig floor, construction site or plant with a fair amount of your vision blocked out. “

The so-called AboveView protective head gear replaces the optically restrictive brim of the traditional hard hat with one that is transparent and specially designed to increase upper peripheral vision by more than 50%. The expanded upper peripheral vision, in turn, affords workers in potentially hazardous industrial settings the capacity to watch their footing, while at the same time, avoid overhead risks, such as dropped objects.

 “By opening up 50% or more of the upper peripheral vision, when you walk onto a rig floor, for instance, you can notice, at a glance, if work is being done overhead, so you walk out of harm’s way and avoid hazards. The big savings will come in reductions in the total reportable incident rates and the near-misses tied to dropped objects, which is an issue we’ve long struggled with.”

Bullard, a widely recognized hard hat designer and manufacturer, is on schedule to begin full-scale manufacturing and distribution this fall. “This is a very practical evolution of the typical hard hat, which hasn’t really changed significantly over the years,” said Melbane. “We see this as being much more than just a hard hat, and more of a technology that can make a safer world for all employees.” wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
Jim Redden
Contributing Editor
Jim Redden is a Houston-based consultant and a journalism graduate of Marshall University, has more than 40 years of experience as a writer, editor and corporate communicator, primarily on the upstream oil and gas industry.
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