August 3, 2012
Flame resistant (FR) clothing has become a product category which many safety and health professionals are very familiar with. EHS managers in a wide variety of industries are now educated about this type of protective clothing as the adoption of standards set forth by NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)70E, NFPA 2112, and NESC (National Electric Safety Code) have drastically increased in the last two decades. The good news for industrial safety professionals is there are more options in FR clothing today than ever before to comply with these standards. This leaves a simple question: which FR clothing option is best for a specific company? The only way to determine the optimal FR clothing choice for any facility is to administer a proper wear trial. This article will discuss best practices to ensure a wear trial results in the best flame resistant clothing choice for industrial workers.
Evaluate Protection Levels Needed
FR Clothing varies greatly in the protection levels provided, from fabric to fabric and from garment to garment. The first step in the process is to clearly understand the hazards workers face in a particular facility or working environment. NFPA 70E, the code for electrical safety in the workplace, classifies these hazards in five Hazard Risk Categories (HRC), ranging from 0-4. The Arc Thermal Protection Value (ATPV) of a particular garment determines which HRC level the garment falls into. A thorough arc-flash analysis will indicate which arc-rated garments qualify to provide the safety protection workers must have in a particular facility. NFPA 2112 on the other hand is the guide for which EHS Managers in Oil, Gas, and other flash-fire prone industries use to determine their FR clothing options. This standard is much more straightforward, as a garment either passes or fails the standard depending on the predicted body burn percentage a worker is exposed to while wearing the clothing. There are a myriad of resources and services available to S&H Professionals to help narrow the FR clothing choices for a wear trial based on safety requirements.
Evaluate Working Environment and Tasks
Once the required protection levels are established, the next step in narrowing choices for a FR clothing wear trial is to evaluate the environment and tasks of the workers required to wear the garments. Are the conditions hot and are workers exposed to heat-related illness? If so, seek lightweight and breathable fabric options to minimize the risk of heat stress. Do workers require several tools or devices to complete tasks? Research garment options that offer utilities such as deep pockets, loops, and easy access. What durability is needed? A maintenance worker who performs welding and grinding duties has different durability needs than an electrician performing his or her tasks in the same plant. It's common to see different needs based on environment and tasks within the same facility. EHS Professionals can administer wear trials with garments that meet all needs if the safety requirements are met by researching all FR manufacturers.
Determine Best Employees To Participate In The Wear Trial
Once FR clothing options are funneled based on protection level, working environment, and tasks required by the wearers, choose the best workers to participate. The ideal participants have experience wearing flame resistant or arc-rated clothing, are knowledgeable about all tasks and varying environments their co-workers are faced with, and are known for providing valuable feedback to management on a variety of topics. They are opinionated and don't hesitate to give their sincerest points of view. These veterans have experience and are respected by management and co-workers alike for the work they do and the leadership they provide. These types of individuals are the best candidates to provide unbiased results for Safety Personnel to evaluate at the conclusion of the wear trial.
Administer The Wear Trial In An Unbiased Fashion
Once garment selections and participants are set, produce the most accurate wear trial results by establishing a few parameters. Choose a timeline as an example a drilling contractor in South Texas should run the wear trial in the intense heat of July instead of the cold month of January to evaluate the comfort of workers in high temperatures. If durability is a great concern, choose to do the wear trial during a plant turnaround when heavy mechanical duties are required. Make the timeline succinct by establishing a specific wear trial start and end date. The participants chosen should wear the garment selections one day at a time and should wear and wash each garment choice the same number of times within the given timeframe. It's important that each participant wears all garment choices if employee A wears one garment and employee B wears another, accurate results cannot be achieved. Lastly, select a measurement device. Most reputable U.S.-based FR manufacturers should provide a standardized survey which allows management to evaluate the results. Otherwise, develop an internal survey that gives precise metrics based on a specific working environment. Combine these metrics with subjective feedback from the participants to gather the end results.
Decide On The Product Of Choice
The results provided by the wear test survey, combined with the verbal feedback provided by the participants will reveal the best FR clothing options for an industrial company. Safety Management and Purchasing should then evaluate the final selections' total cost of ownership for a period of several years by taking garment replacements, employee turnover, and longevity of the garments into consideration. The cost of FR clothing can vary greatly depending on fabric, comfort value, and garment life. The flame resistant clothing choice a company ultimately makes, however, depends on the value it places on the safety, comfort, and feedback of its employees.
-The TECGEN Talker