When comfort needs trump safety

March 4, 2009
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Would you wear a cotton t-shirt if you were routinely exposed to flames or intense heat at the work site? And would you leave your flame-resistant (FR) inner- or undergarments hanging in work lockers or in the closet at home?

For many, the answer is “yes,”’ and for one simple reason — comfort usually trumps safety, especially as the perceived risk declines.

The good news is that the technology in FR garments — especially for those worn closest to the skin — has evolved.

Uncomfortable and unused
Individuals face-to-face with imminent danger will, for brief periods, wear anything offering a safety benefit. But when urged to wear uncomfortable clothing all the time to guard against a lesser chance of immediate risk — even though the risk and potential for serious harm remain significant — they quickly find and justify wardrobe alternatives.

When it comes to FR clothing, that was then and this is now.

Acknowledging that comfort had to be given equal time and emphasis resulted in two major breakthroughs that completely altered the path of FR garments at the start of this millennium. Comfort needed to include not only the feel of a next-to-the-skin garment, but its performance as well, as measured by the ability to wick and dissipate moisture and otherwise optimize basic human thermoregulation.

First, textile scientists discovered that a 10 to 15 percent blend of hydrophilic (moisture absorbing) fiber (which can, in fact, be cotton) with 80 to 85 percent hydrophobic (moisture repellent) fiber created a new class of performance wear that has since spawned a global industry in exercise and fitness clothing offering performance benefits and extreme comfort all in one.

Second, an FR variant of the patented performancewear formula was created using a naturally selfextinguishing hydrophobic fiber. The result: the combination of high-performance wear with built-in FR protection.

A new class of lightweight and comfortable, nextto- skin garments has emerged — with permanent, built-in FR protection that doesn’t decline with multiple washings. A new generation of FR PPE for innerwear garments is as soft, comfortable, and wearable as cotton t-shirts and pants, mid-weight shirts and pants, and everyone’s familiar and favorite fleece garments.

Layered systems offer options
The combination of these breakthroughs has led to another contemporary innovation, namely the development of a layered system of FR garments. With fabric weight no longer a factor, lightweight next-to-skin garments can be combined with midweight and heavy-weight garments to achieve two benefits. One, as layers are combined, FR ratings show an exponential effect of protection. And two, moisture wicking and drying times are not inhibited, but enhanced, as outer layers of garments made to the patented performance blend draw moisture away from inner layers of garments also made to the patented performance blend.

New regulations such as the National Fire Protection Association’s 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace prohibit cotton clothing. This means that a person’s choice of PPE in FR garments is no longer merely a matter of comfort, but a matter of law. Today however, highly arc-rated FR performance wear garments, every bit as comfortable as cotton, have been made possible by the new technology.

Extended benefits
The benefits extend well beyond a solution to a single safety code or new regulation in any given field. The new technology offers working benefits to professionals across a wide range of occupations with greatly varying degrees of risks and likelihoods of incidence. In layman’s terms this means more at-risk people will more often, and for longer periods of time, actually wear their FR garments.

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