Choosing the Most Effective Flame-Resistant Garments for Your Team

It’s important to balance safety and comfort when selecting uniforms and PPE.

By: Nick Warrick, Contributor

Are you giving your team the protective gear they deserve? In the electrical industry, many jobs expose workers to the risk of fire. Electricians and other professionals may not face the same frontline risks as, for example, firefighters, but they require clothes that would protect them from harm ranging from light to full flames. Here is how to choose the most effective flame-resistant gear for your crew.

START BY IDENTIFYING THE HAZARDS

As tempting as it may be to start shopping straight away, it’s rarely the most effective option for selecting flame-resistant (FR) clothing for your team. Taking a step back and assessing the potential risks individuals might become exposed to at work will help you make better choices.

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate this. If your company works mainly on home electrical installations, your team will likely be called out to older properties from time to time. Any property built before the 1950s is particularly at risk for electrical fires. Contractors dealing with electrical faults in older homes face higher risks than those working in newer properties.

Less stringent wiring standards are part of the reason for those higher risks. In addition, pre-1950s homes were not built with all of today’s modern appliances in mind. Most older homes can handle 30 amps of power, whereas modern properties demand between 100 and 200 amps. Overloading wiring systems can put homes at risk as well as the contractors working in them.1

When your team enters an older home, they may be at risk from heat, sparks, and other related hazards for several reasons:

  • Incorrectly installed wiring
  • Outdated or defective plugs, outlets, and switches
  • Overloaded extension cords and circuits
  • Poorly maintained lighting

This list is not exhaustive, and while some hazards are obvious, others are harder to spot even for an experienced contractor. Working on bigger installations, for example on construction sites, could expose electricians to even greater risks.

REVIEW SPECIFIC COMPLIANCE STANDARDS FOR FR GARMENTS

Aside from assessing the individual hazards your team may be exposed to, you can also take advice from industry standards and regulations. When it comes to fire safety in the electrical industry, there are three main regulations to consider:

  1. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) 2112 standard determines minimum requirements for FR garments in industrial environments.2
  2. NFPA 70E deals specifically with flame-resistant clothing that is used to address electrical safety issues in workplaces.3
  3. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has two levels of regulations addressing FR garments. Regulation 29 CFR 1910.132 deals with general industry applications, and 29 CFR 1910.269 is specific to protection from flames and electric arcs.4,5

Adhering to the standards set by those regulations not only ensures your company protects its workers. You will also limit your liability in case of accidents and avoid fines for non-compliance. Understanding the minimum requirements for the type of work your company does helps you develop consistent policies.

Adhering to or exceeding those standards will help develop your reputation as a trustworthy, safety-conscious contractor and employer.

EVALUATE THE COMFORT AND BREATHABILITY OF FR CLOTHING

Should you choose FR clothing with the highest-possible fire safety rating? You may be tempted to answer yes but think about it for a moment. A high degree of flame resistance will inevitably have a detrimental effect on features like comfort and breathability.

As an employer in the electrical industry, you’re trying to balance both requirements – safety and comfort. If your contractors will be working outdoors in the heat with minimal risk of fires, they simply don’t require the same level of protection as anyone exposed to flammable substances.

Modern fabrics have come a long way in combining flame resistance with comfort and breathability. Having broken down risk levels by team or individual employee as well as consulted industry regulations, it will be easier to find suitable uniforms and FR clothing for your team.

DETERMINE THE REQUIRED LEVEL OF PROTECTION

So far, we’ve talked rather generally about the level of protection your team may require. If that has left you a little unsure, this breakdown of FR clothing into four categories of flame resistance should help. 6

1. Basic FR Garments

Anything made from naturally heat-resistant materials like wool falls into this category. These clothes may be enough to protect workers from light flames, but they will succumb to long-term exposure to high heat or full flames.

2. Arc Flash Rated Garments

This category includes anything marked as ASTM F1506 compliant. These garments have no metal parts and protect from high-heat arc fires for a short time. There is rarely much warning before an arc fire. If your team may be exposed to this hazard, they should be in compliant clothing as a standard.

3. Flash Fire Rated Garments

Flash fires burn longer and at lower temperatures than arc fires. They generally burn flammable substances like liquid mists, gases or dust. Clothing in this category needs to be more flame resistant than heat resistant.

4. Heat Resistant FR Garments

These protective garments are made for people working in high-temperature environments with a low risk of flames. High temperatures may be enough to cause materials to ignite, so these garments are made to resist ignition as well as keep heat away from the body.

ASSESS AND EVALUATE GARMENTS THAT MEET YOUR NEEDS

Based on the information above, shopping for FR garments for your team should become easier. Here’s another tip: if your company is only just starting to provide FR garments or you’re looking for a new supplier, consider ordering samples from different lines.

This will give you a chance to assess the quality and suitability of the clothing you’ve chosen. It will also allow your team to offer feedback on the FR garments’ performance and comfort. Remember, in many cases, you’re expecting your employees to spend a big part of their day in these clothes working in various conditions. There’s no one better placed to contribute to the selection process and create a safe, happy working environment. ESW

References

Nick Warrick is the Sales Manager at All Seasons Uniforms. With over 15 years of experience in the work uniform business, he has worked with over 100 clients across 20 different industries. Holding bachelor’s degrees in both Business Administration and Information Technology, Warrick revamped the company’s online presence, offering its customers a new uniform shopping experience. Learn more at: https://www.allseasonsuniforms.com/.

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