Burning behaviour of textiles used in operating theatre


Operating theatres know a healthy dislike of flammable materials. For example, the use of high-energy lasers in combination with various flammable gases, liquids and materials can lead to dangerous situations. Not in the last place for the patient.


Fire safety is a very important item on the agenda, leading to various construction and design-technical requirements and many user protocols. Next to that, operation theatre textiles also must comply with the relevant product standards. For example, surgical drapes, gowns and clean air suits have as a key requirement to be bacteria-proof and non-linting. These requirements can be found in the EN 13795.


Often, users ask for a certain degree of comfort. In which the conventional solution is the use of clothing and covering materials made of polyester filament, whether or not in combination with a specific antistatic fibre. Due to this choice of materials, manufacturers have been able to achieve the required bacterial density, particle-release and permeability. Moreover, these fabrics can be cleaned industrial, which includes the necessary sterilisation.


Nevertheless, a point of further investigation is the fire behaviour of these materials. Polyester is, by definition, a high flammable fibre and technically speaking we are only able to control the burn rate, the flame propagation speed. Fire-proof polyester does not exist. Polyester with a slow flame spread does.


Fire resistant or flame retardant?

For a good understanding, it is important to make a clear distinction between fire resistant fibres and fire retardant fibres. Fire resistance materials are materials that, under the specified fire conditions (type of ignition source, duration of ignition, temperature of the source of ignition, air flow, oxygen content, etc.), do not burn or immediately stop burning after the ignition source is removed.

Fire retardant materials have the tendency to continue burning in some extent when the ignition source is removed. The speed of the flame propagation and the moment of extinguishment are important characteristics to determine in what extent the material is fire retardant.


It is therefore clear that if one wants to impose requirements on the burning behavior of the operating theatre textile, it should obvious under which conditions and in what the extent flame retardancy is required. The first is mainly related to the risk assessment on the spot while the latter looks at the reaction time in case of an unexpected fire. Therefore, previously mentioned polyester operating theatre materials can be very interesting and useful.


In drawing up specifications for these materials, one has to measure the fire retardant properties, which should indicate the corresponding requirement. However, at this point there is too little expertise. There are many international testing standards for the measurement of the fire behavior, and a good understanding of the test parameters is of great importance.


A matter of expertise

Fire behavior of operating theatre textiles is much more complex than it appears at first sight. Therefore, when purchasing and using operating theatre textiles, it is important to start with an inventory of the fire risks, of the level of fire retardancy required to ensure the security and of the relevant testing and product specifications of the offered textiles. For this survey one can also enable external expertise. For example, Vaassen Textile Consultancy offers the necessary testing facilities and expertise.



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