10 best practices for Reviewing or Implementing a Flame Resistant/Arc Rated protective clothing program
- Identify workplace hazards / Most all companies have at least 1 hazard in their workplace and many can have multiple hazards. Anytime employees are working with or around volatile liquids or substances (NFPA 2112) or certainly anyone working on energized electrical equipment (NFPA 70E) should always wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) including FR/AR protective clothing. These hazards can range from Flash fire, Arc flash, combustible dust, welding operations and others.
- Perform a Hazard Risk assessment / After identifying all the hazards that exist in workplace, perform hazard risk assessments for each danger and determine the minimum performance level of protection needed for all personal protective equipment including FR/AR clothing. If your company has multiple hazards, such as a flash fire concern and the possibility of arc flash, view each job task separately due to the fact that some flame resistant fabrics (and the finished garments they are made from) perform extremely well in flash fires but will NOT protect you in an arc flash. This is due to the vastly different amounts of heat that are discharged during the two very different events. A typical flash fire may burn as hot as 1800°F but an arc flash can create up to 30,000°F.
- Identify potential FR/AR fabrics to wear test / Review the fabrics that meet your needs based on your completed hazard assessment. You should only consider fabrics that will protect your employees from your specific hazards and exposure levels but you may also want to consider many other variables as well. Since FR/AR fabrics are woven from many different types of synthetic and treated natural fibers, you can experience a varied degree of protection, comfort, wear life and cost levels between the different fabrics and there are other considerations as well. During the fabric identifying process, only consider fabrics that are certified to the proper NFPA standard and manufactured at fabric mills who can support your program. Make sure they carry the fabric you are considering “in stock” so there is never an availability issue in the future and ask them “what other companies are in that specific fabric” for reference purposes and contact those companies. Try not to choose more than 5 different fabrics to wear test with actual employees by several strong fabric manufacturers. Considering more than 5 different fabrics can create more difficulty in choosing a final selection.
- Identify garment manufacturers / Educate yourself on the strengths and weaknesses of potential garment manufacturers and their ability to service your program if awarded the business. Some manufacturers do not actually make their own clothing and have them made in “contract” facilities or “farm out” some, if not all, of the manufacturing. Make sure the garment manufacturers you are considering are 3rd party certified (U.L. is the most common certifier) so you can be assured they are a quality manufacturer. Also determine the relationship between the chosen fabric and fabric manufacturer and the garment manufacturer you are considering to be assured they have a good working partnership. For larger companies with big workforces needing FR/AR garments, view this process as a 3-way relationship between you, the fabric supplier and the garment manufacturer and take the time to meet with all parties in that supply chain. Do not just take a fabric or garment manufacturers salesman’s word that his particular fabric or garment is the “best”. If your FR/AR protective clothing program is very large, you may want to consider two garment manufacturers for program serviceability reasons.
- Wear Test garments with selected fabrics by multiple garment manufacturers / All manufacturers of FR/AR clothing fits differently due to all having their own patterns the garments are made to. When wear testing the different fabrics and garments, try to only have each employee wear one different garment each day during the hottest time of year in the South and coldest in the Northern regions. Wear testing FR/AR clothing in Texas in January will tell you nothing about the actual comfort level of those garments in the heat of August. Have the test individuals fill out daily a short questionnaire in regards to garment fit, comfort, the fabric’s ability to pull moisture away from the wearer and amount of wear to the garment itself. Typically, the wear test is a relatively short duration process lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending upon how long it takes to make a quality educated decision and usually the longer the test runs the more employee test data will be created to help with the specification decision.
- Evaluate tested garments, fabrics and wearer responses / Determine which fabrics and garments fit best, are most comfortable, and try to determine the amount of wear on the garments to ensure they bring value to your program and will not wear out too quickly and need replacing.
- Specify fabric and garment manufacturer / This is very important to ensure that through the purchasing process you buy and receive exactly what you have chosen. There are many fabric suppliers and garment manufacturers both in North America and abroad with a large variety of quality and service levels. Without a true specification, you may have quality or service issues once the program is in place.
- Determine best procurement and distribution method / How would your company prefer to manage the protective clothing program and the actual distribution of the garments to your employees? If your employees are handling potentially hazardous materials, you may consider an industrial laundry program using FR/AR clothing you rent or lease which is cleaned for you. These types of programs are managed by the industrial laundry which alleviates the need for self- management. You will pay for this management service in the cost of the garment program but your company does not have to deal with day to day activities of running a FR/AR program. You can also purchase the garments through a protective clothing or PPE distributor and if your company determines a need for laundry service, you may still utilize an industrial laundry program for only the cleaning of the garments. Many distributors also have the ability to manage a protective apparel program for the day to day needs of your employees.
- Educate affected employees on new program / Train your employees on the importance of wearing the protective clothing to protect them and how to wear it properly. (See my article on proper way to wear FR/AR clothing at http://www.frcpros.com)
- Roll out new program and make changes to your corporate safety specifications if needed to bring current.