Which garments provide the best protection against molten metal?”

This question is frequently posed by safety managers, purchasing officers and union officials. Because there are so many products available, purchasers often take the easiest course: rely on the appropriate industrial standard and select the cheapest product on offer. Unfortunately, the easiest way is not always best.

European and International standards are, indeed, a good starting point for evaluating the level of protection, but they fail to cover all the aspects that should be considered when purchasing protective clothing. The conditions on a shop floor, for example, are often very different than those imposed by the testing methods carried out under laboratory conditions. Therefore, it pays to have some knowledge of the clothing product’s characteristics as well as the relevant standards.

Hostile and dangerous

Industrial sectors that pose the risk of molten metal splashes are some of the most hostile and dangerous working environments. Workers are not only exposed to a high level of radiant and convective heat, but also splashes of molten metal and cryolite, and, at times, electric arcing. This has presented the textile industry with a real challenge: develop protective garment solutions with performance requirements that include the following:

1) The ability to shed molten metal and cryolite;

2) Resist exposure to flame without flaming and shrinking;

3) Provide insulation against radiant and convective heat;

4) Give protection against electric arcing;

5) Comfort & functionality;

6) Exhibit color fastness and have good mechanical properties; and

7) Acceptable costs.

Long road

It’s been a long road for FR garments, but things have come a long way. The first garments designed to give protection against molten metal splash were made from very heavy wool fabrics. These were eventually treated with non-flammable products such as Zirpro. However, there was increasing incompatibility between the protective agent and the fabric.

Meanwhile, the non-flammable treatment gave rise to allergies due to the presence of chemicals such as Circonio salts. Although the level of protection was improved by increasing the weight of the fabric and the introduction of new treatments, garments still needed to be used selectively if they were to resist the impact of some specific molten metals. As a result, through the 1980s and into the 1990s FR-treated fabrics had their fair share of limitations.

By the end of the 1990s, a completely new range of fabrics became available. Blends of Lenzing FR® (inherently flame-resistant cellulose-type fiber) and wool offered a new dimension of safety and comfort to end-users. Such fabrics are proving ideal for use in the tailoring of protective clothing for workers exposed to molten aluminum and cryolite splash.

In conclusion, there is a range of fabrics designed to be used for protective clothing that will guard against the hazard of molten metal. However, safety should never be compromised when choosing the right fabric.