Job-site Stories: Flame-Resistant Clothing
For many industrial environments, flame-resistant (FR) clothing is a crucial element in keeping workers safe. You select protective items with care and take the time to train and remind your workers to keep their PPE in tip-top shape.
Storage and Care of FR Clothing - Industry standards are very specific when it comes to what garment will protect in a particular environment. Manufacturers are equally specific about how to care for these garments so they maintain their effectiveness. Storage, laundering, repair (if allowed) and many other factors need to be considered in everyday use and care.
Unfortunately, many workers take their FR clothing for granted and begin to treat it like just another piece of clothing. Some workers with FR garments crumpled in the back of their truck instead of being stored properly. The problem is that dirt, grime and even flammable substances can accumulate on these mistreated garments and compromise their effectiveness.
It prohibits the garment from doing what it’s designed to do which is resist ignition and self-extinguish upon removal of the source. While a cotton garment would continue to burn even if the person ran away from the flame source, FR garments self-extinguish as you run away. So, they don’t make you fireproof, just fire resistant—provided the garment is maintained properly.
What we call the afterflame is the amount of time the garment burns when the source has been removed. Normally, it should self-extinguish almost instantaneously. If an accelerant is on the garment, it continues to burn until the accelerant is gone, which causes a breakdown in the garment.
Life of an FR Garment - FR clothing is a big investment, and making it last while ensuring that it continues to protect employees is a huge consideration for safety managers. Some companies double-up on clothing by having workers wear their more rugged FR clothing like jeans and work shirts along with an outer FR layer of something like a semi-disposable coverall. The outer layer is used to protect your (more expensive) FR clothing, but isn’t factored in to the hazard protection.
There isn’t always a clear answer to the general question of how long an FR garment can last because a lot depends on the environment in which it’s being used. For example; A customer using a coverall in a confined space with lead exposure. When they should discard and replace the coveralls? The manufacturer’s answer is that the FR quality will last for the life of the product—but what’s the life of the product? The tag will tell you that use life will be impacted by the environment. So if you’re working in a heavy soil environment, it greatly diminishes the amount of time you can use it.
In the absence of an easy number, you have to rely on garment inspection. Wear marks, fraying of the garment, thinning of the garment, obvious rips, tears and holes. Each company is tasked with having guidelines for these things. You need to decide how big a hole can be. Is the size of a dime okay? A nickel? A quarter? What are you willing to live with?
Holes or tears don’t always mean that you have to discard a garment, but any repairs must be done according to FR standards. If a hole is bigger than your guideline, you have to patch with FR material of the same quality. You have to use the right stuff including FR thread.
Many companies give their workers several sets of FR clothing to supply workers for an extended period of time. It’s a good idea for safety managers to check in with their people to make sure they understand how they’re meant to employ these garments. For example, they get six sets from the company—five for work and one to spare. Some guys put five in their closet and wear the same one every day planning to use it until it wears out. Bad idea! You should be wearing a fresh coverall every day and laundering the week’s worn ones at some point.
There’s a common expression in protective clothing: “If you take care of your FR clothing, it will take care of you!” The care you give your FR, your attentiveness to treating it properly is a heavy factor in its ability to do what it’s supposed to do!