News & Media

Wildland Personal Protective Clothing

By: Euan Ferguson

  12.18 PM 26 February, 2015

Views: 4035

Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC) commissioned CSIRO to conduct research to assess contaminants in the PROBAN® treated cotton PPC.

 This research identified a potential concern of formaldehyde levels in some test results of PROBAN® treated product. The research reports can be found below:

In response to CSIRO’s concerns AFAC issued an Industry Safety Advice (pdf 407k) on 24 February 2015.

The research was conducted in a laboratory environment and the results indicated that further testing is required. Further testing will ensure the results take into account the operational environment and establish any potential exposure for our members.

PROBAN® is a chemical additive and process that is applied to fabrics (such as cotton) to provide flame retardant capability.

PROBAN® is currently found in:

• CFA – technical rescue overalls and wildfire jackets/pants and overalls
• MFB – wildfire jackets and trousers              
• DELWP – wildfire jackets and pants      
• VICSES orange coveralls and two piece

Formaldehyde is naturally present in the air we breathe and in the food and water we eat and drink. In addition, a wide range of human domestic and industrial activities are responsible for both direct and indirect release of formaldehyde into the atmosphere. It dissipates quickly when left in a well-ventilated environment.

It is considered by Safe Work Australia to be a probable human carcinogen when exposure is above the current occupational exposure standards. Further research is required to extrapolate these findings to an operational environment. Based on the CSIRO results and our operational practices, it is not considered a health hazard for our members. However, it is important that further research is conducted.

Until further investigations are completed it’s recommended the AFAC recommendations are applied.

AFAC Recommendations
1. Agencies to advise members of the dangers of breathing in fumes that are emitted from PROBAN® treated PPC that has been stored in a confined space, e.g. a kit bag. Wherever possible, PROBAN® treated PPC should be stored in a well-ventilated environment but if this is not possible precautions should be taken to avoid breathing in the fumes (gases) emitted when opening the confined space.

2. Wherever PROBAN® treated PPC is stored in a sealed or confined space, ensure that it is opened in a well-ventilated area and allow a short time to pass before removing.

3. Agencies instruct personnel to wash separately PROBAN® treated cotton garments before they are worn for the first time and after each use.

4. Agencies advise members that direct skin contact with PROBAN® treated PPC may cause skin irritation. The known incidence of skin irritation time (over 30 years) that PROBAN® treated cotton has been used in Australia is minimal. Where there is evidence that skin irritation is occurring when a PROBAN® treated over-garment is being worn, individuals should wear long sleeve shirts and long pants underneath these garments.

5. Agencies instruct personnel not to shake PROBAN® treated garments as a means of removing dust and particulates before washing.

6. Agencies instruct personnel to wash separately PROBAN® treated cotton garments after each use so as to minimise the amount of dust and particulate matter trapped in uniforms.

Further research and investigation on the impact of this safety advice issue will be undertaken by the agencies, and CFA will provide this information as soon as it becomes available through either AFAC or CSIRO.

Agencies have sought the advice and consulted with relevant unions and volunteer organisations in the preparation of this Safety Alert. 

(Text is as per CFA Safety Alert No. 36 - pdf 60k)

Last Updated: 10 December 2015