When thinking of wearing FR workwear during the summer months, most people envision clothing that is hot, heavy, clingy, and doesn’t move well. These negative connotations and actual experiences are a root cause of work uniform non-compliance - not wearing your FRC when required. Yet this is entirely avoidable. Modern FR workwear garments breathe, move moisture, dry quickly, and protect the wearer from the elements.

The base layer or "only layer"

The base layer, or the fabric that touches a person’s skin, is the most important FR clothing item within the summertime PPE wardrobe, since it is often the only layer worn to protect a person’s upper body, excluding the hands, neck and head. Highly technical outdoor industry-inspired fabric choices build garments that keep workers cool, calm and protected during the summer months.

A sweat-laden unbuttoned FR shirt with rolled up sleeves (possibly hanging on a toolbox and not being worn at all) could be the difference between minor and major burn injuries in the event of an arc flash accident this summer. It’s critical that workwear be at least somewhat comfortable during hot conditions to ensure that it is worn - and worn properly - even when nobody is watching.

Just wearing your FR shirt might not even be enough to ensure your safety during an arc flash, which occurs while working under hot conditions. A recent comprehensive arc flash study showed that wet FR fabrics suffer a potential 50 percent reduction in Arc Thermal Protection Value (ATPV) when saturated with moisture1.

Wearing your PPE and staying dry might make the difference between going home to your family or going to the hospital after one of these accidents. Look for garments that are lightweight, breathable, and move moisture away from the skin. These are three key elements of moisture management.

Managing moisture

Moisture management is defined in terms of how well a garment will pull moisture from the skin and move it away from the body, ultimately moving it completely out of the garment through the processes of moisture transport and moisture evaporation. Moisture evaporation functionality is enhanced by the air exchange between the wearer and the outside air, and can be measured by the air permeability of the fabric (ASTM D737 test method).

In general, the higher the air permeability, the faster the garment will dry, taking into account other factors, such as the fabric weight and the percentage of the fabric made from hydrophilic yarns and fibers (heavier and higher percentage hydrophilic = slower dry times). Fabrics that use hydrophobic (water-hating) fibers in conjunction with hydrophilic (water-loving) fibers can facilitate moisture transport and quick-drying. The two fiber types create a pull/push effect for moisture, preventing the garment from becoming fully saturated with moisture and sweat in the first place.  

The Goldilocks Effect

What you’re looking for is a Goldilocks effect: garments that hold onto enough moisture to help your body’s natural cooling process via convection, but on the other hand, do not ever become fully saturated and soaking wet with sweat and moisture.

 For comfort and to reduce heat-related perspiration, additional fabric considerations such as choosing a lightly colored garment versus a darker colored garment can make a meaningful difference, especially when working outside in the sun. Once you have made an informed decision and have chosen the “right” fabric and clothing FR brand, look to marry that with the best garment design.

A tagless shirt using “flat lock” seams made in a fashionable design blurs the lines between workwear, casualwear and athletic apparel. If the clothes fit well, look good and feel good, even when it’s hot, you’ll be doing your part to help ensure the people you’re responsible for are better protected on the job from arc flash and flash fire hazards.

Visibility, comfort and style

The days of the human highlighter are dead.

 As summer heads into full swing, workers are doing more work on energized equipment outside, which can put them in harm’s way of motor vehicle traffic. Making these workers more visible is essential. High visibility FR clothing for summertime features include hybrid garments with color blocking -- the combination of multiple fabrics and even colors into a single garment.

An example would be using a dark color fabric in places that get dirty quickly, such as the lower sleeve, trim and bottom section of the garment, while using high visibility fabric for the body of the garment.

The stiff reflective tape of yesteryear has been upgraded with segmented FR tape. It can make a big difference in the stretch performance of a garment when combined with fabrics such as FR knits and stretch wovens. These advances in garment design in addition to the development of performance Athletic/Outdoor industry-inspired FR fabrics for high visibility clothing lines has led to the creation of comfortable and stylish safety apparel.

Know your options

With the summer of 2016 likely bringing us a mixture of heat waves, changing weather and who knows what else, it’s important to have the right clothing options available for any situation. FR workwear, PPE by definition, is equipment or a “tool,” so make sure that you have what you need on hand to get the job done safely and comfortably.

Modern athletic industry-inspired textiles deliver garments that will keep you comfortable, compliant and looking good. If you have not updated your uniform choices in a few years, take a look at the some of the new choices that are available in the market today. And don’t forget to “look under the hood.” Choosing a trusted performance fabric brand is just as important as choosing the garment brand itself. You wouldn’t buy a Corvette with a Hyundai motor in it, would you?

1 Source Addressing Comfort and Contamination in Arc Rated Clothing, February 2014.  Hugh Hoagland and Mikhail Golovkov