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January 4, 2016

Staying Safe in Extreme Workplaces and Conditions

Worker securing logs to a trailerMany workers perform their daily job activities in dangerous environments and situations. People who work jobs such as firefighting, deep sea fishing and logging receive extensive safety training. They also wear special clothing and use equipment to protect them from the elements they encounter. This post discusses some new technologies that can help keep workers safe in extreme conditions.

Extreme Jobs in Extreme Heat or Cold

NerveRush, a site dedicated to extreme sports and other high-octane activities, lists fishing, search and rescue, mining and logging among the nine most extreme jobs. Workers in these occupations encounter cold and wet conditions at least part of the time.

Special Gear Protects Workers from Extreme Conditions

With few exceptions, professionals in extreme jobs need to wear weather-related gear to protect them from elements that can seriously injure or kill them while they do their jobs. Those who work in cold and wet weather (Alaska fishermen, offshore oil workers and lumberjacks come to mind) wear lightweight and weatherproof parkas with insulating materials, like Gore-Tex and Under Armour.

Heat Illness Prevention tips
Those who work under hot conditions, such as miners, wear cooling gear that wicks sweat away from their bodies. Many also wear lightweight rain gear in bright colors so they can be easily seen. Workers on offshore oil rigs in warm waters also need protection from rain and spray.

Omni-Freeze Zero, a new cooling technology from sportswear company Columbia, uses sweat to activate super-absorbent polymer rings. It traps 300 percent more moisture than normal fabric, according to WildernessDave, who tested several Omni- Freeze products in Phoenix's 100+ degree heat. He found it works significantly better than other wicking materials. The one improvement he hopes to see? Odor-blocking technology. 

Firefighters wear gear with chemical protectants against heat and the effects of fire. 
DuPont's Kevlar fiber is five times stronger than steel and lightweight enough to use as a liner or shell. Combined with Nomex, it offers flame resistance as well.

Headgear with built-in light sources and PPE including gloves and footwear are also important for miners and firefighters. Helmets are usually made from fiberglass and leather; leather is also used to construct gloves and shoes. Leather used in firefighting gear is treated with fire-resistant chemicals.

New Tech to Keep Extreme Workplaces Safe

Workplaces like mines and oil rigs have the second-highest percentage of fatal accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Managers at these sites are expected to follow safety regulations, train employees, post required safety signage and provide appropriate safety gear. Agencies within the Department of Interior are charged with inspecting workplaces to ensure they are following safety regulations.

The National Institute for Occupational and Safety and Health (NIOSH) recognizes companies that focus on improving mine safety. Each year, it presents a Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovation Award. In recent years, it recognized these technologies:
  • 2015: Compressed Air Foam Fire Suppression System that provides a rapid response to underground fires.
  • 2014: Helmet-CAM Technology that integrates a wearable video recorder with an aerosol monitor to deliver real-time test results on dust samples in a worker's personal space.
  • 2013: Real-Time Data Analysis of Changing Ground Conditions consolidates various data to assess and predict ground behavior and issue early alarms when needed.
Offshore oil rig technology works to prevent explosions like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon. Rigzone, an online news and job source for the oil and gas industry, highlights examples of new tech advances in the oil and gas industry:
  • An optical gas-imaging camera that detects a variety of hydrocarbon gas emissions
  • Flameproof electric motors to power various equipment
  • Virtual and simulated training, including online courses.

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