In the booming Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays, it is easy for Health and Safety professionals to get lost in the sea of information regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). From assessing risk to managing it, several factors come into play when trying to make sure your people are protected. Endless lists of regulations, risks and products can make selecting the right personal protective equipment a daunting task. The following article will specifically target what to look for when selecting Flame Resistant (FR) clothing for you and your workers.
For the purposes of this article, we will assume that a flash-fire hazard assessment has already been completed in compliance with NFPA Standard 2112 and OSHA 29CFR 1910.132, and that a flash-fire risk has been established. It is important to note that, as the least effective hazard control, PPE should be the last line of defense for protection. Elimination or substitution of the hazard, engineering controls, warning alarms and training are all more effective ways to keep the worker protected.
FR clothing is defined as an article that will not support combustion after the heat source is removed. FR materials are not fireproof, meaning if the heat source is allowed to stay in contact with the material, it will burn. There are two ways to achieve flame resistance in textiles, to use inherently flame resistant fibers in the fabric and to chemically treat the fabric. Knowing and understanding the difference between these two types of technologies is extremely important for those responsible for evaluating, selecting and wearing FR clothing.
“Inherent”, as it relates to flame resistant fibers, means that the flame resistant properties have been embedded in the material since the fibers were first created. Because these flame resistant properties are an intrinsic part of the fibers, flame resistance is permanent and cannot be washed out or worn out if properly used and laundered. A key benefit to selecting an inherently FR garment is the knowledge that, as long as the manufacturer’s instructions for care and maintenance are followed, the wearer will always be protected for the life of the garment.
“Treated” fabrics, also referred to as “topically treated”, are fabrics that have had a special mixture of flame resistant chemicals added in the later stages of the manufacturing process. This bled of chemicals is added to make the final product flame resistant. Unlike fabrics made with inherently flame resistant fibers, topically treated fabrics could have their flame resistant properties diminished or removed completely depending on how they are laundered and/or what chemicals they are exposed to in the work environment. A key drawback to selecting a topically treated FR garment is that after prolonged use and laundering, there is no way to know if the flame resistant properties have been diminished or lost.
Now that the types of FR materials available have been defined, it is important to verify that the materials being used by the manufacturer have been tested to meet or exceed all standards set forth by the NFPA and ASTM, and are certified as such. Some other things to consider while selecting your FR garments are whether or not the manufacturer discloses where the fabric is made, if they follow an ongoing testing protocol, whether they can track every item back to the original roll of fabric from which it was made, whether the garments are comfortable for the user and whether or not you feel that the standards the material has been tested to address your real-world conditions.
Once you have decided on the garments that will best protect your workers from the hazards they face, it is time to determine whether you are getting the best value in your product. Some manufacturers might use the best fabrics available, but cut costs by using unreinforced snaps, fewer bar tack reinforcement stiches, or single rows of stitching on the pockets. Investigating the way seams are sewn together, the number of stitches per inch, and how well the garment is reinforced in stress areas will be good indications as to the durability of the product. The higher quality garments might cost a little more up front, but will be a better value in the long run by being able to last a lot longer than the less expensive options.
After your FR garments have been purchased and distributed to the workers, an effort must be made to train the wearer on proper use, care and maintenance of the garment. Make sure that users are aware that FR clothing can only protect them where they are covered. Making sure that all buttons are properly fastened, sleeves are secured at the wrist and collars are secured at the neck can make a critical difference when dealing with flash fires. It is also important to inspect garments before each use to make sure there are no frays, tears or holes, and to make repairs to or replace items as needed. It is equally important to make sure that all users are sure to read and abide by the manufacturers laundering instructions. Bleach, harsh detergents and fabric softeners should never be used to launder FR garments.
Hopefully this article has given some insight as to what to look out for when selecting FR clothing. For more information regarding regulations and standards for flash fire risk assessment and FR clothing, please visit the American Society for Testing and Materials website at www.ASTM.org, the National Fire Protection Association website at www.NFPA.org, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website at www.OSHA.gov.
By Chris Chadwick, Safety Products Coordinator at SunnySide Supply, Inc. www.SunnySideSupply.com
“Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.” (8 June 2011). General Requirements for Personal protective Equipment. 29CFR 1910.132. Web. 14 March 2012. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9777
“National Fire Protection Association.” (n.d.). NFPA 2112 & NFPA 2113. Web. 16 March 2012. http://www.nfpa.org.
Saner, M. (1 September 2010). “Flame Resistant Garments”. Web. 16 March 2012. http://www.ishn.com/articles/90365-flameresistant-garments.
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