Contrary to popular thought, gum does not take seven years to digest, bulls do not hate the color red, Einstein did not fail math — and standard blue jeans do not provide adequate protection against arc flash. The world is full of misconceptions, and the notion that denim pants are appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for environments with arc-flash hazards is one of them.
Until OSHA recently changed its standards for electric power generation, transmission and distribution work (29 CFR 1910.269), heavy denim was often the apparel of choice for workers who faced the risk of arc-flash exposure. It was thought that jeans of a high enough fabric weight offered sufficient protection. However, experts knew, and testing has shown, that denim that isn’t flame resistant (FR) can ignite and continue to burn in the event of an arc flash.
With the updated OSHA requirements that took effect in 2015, employees are now required to wear protective clothing with an appropriate arc rating for their particular workplace. This means that when there is the potential for arc flash, regular denim, which was never safe, is no longer acceptable.
The NFPA 70E standard, for electrical workers outside of utilities, provides additional guidance on the specific types of PPE and arc ratings that are necessary for various environments and arc-flash energy exposure levels. The standard also outlines four PPE categories, based on the circumstances and level of protection needed. These PPE requirements take into account the task being performed as well as the condition and type of equipment being used.
To meet either OSHA or NFPA 70E requirements, it is essential to perform a thorough hazard assessment and ensure each employee has protective apparel built for the potential arc-flash exposure.
FR denim options
Fortunately, providing the proper FR protection does not mean forgoing denim altogether — numerous FR options are now available. While early FR denim did not always offer the level of comfort and style workers sought from their workwear, a variety of innovations have been made in recent years to create better options that provide the necessary protection without sacrificing the look and feel of a good pair of jeans.
For instance, many FR denim fabrics are now built to offer excellent flexibility and mobility — just like we have all come to expect from non-FR jeans. Certain fabrics also provide reduced shrinkage and can even withstand industrial laundering. There are even stretch fabrics that provide FR protection along with a better fit and improved ease of movement. And most importantly, you can now find FR denim fabrics that offer guaranteed flame resistance for the life of the garment.
Beyond the fabric alone, FR clothing manufacturers are also helping improve the comfort, functionality and look of FR denim through new design innovations. A wide selection of FR jean style choices — from classic favorites to modern styles and from tailored cuts to relaxed fits — are now available to meet the needs of each individual workplace and worker. Many of these styles have been developed based on popular non-FR jean styles. There are even FR denim options that have been designed specifically for women by women to enhance comfort and provide the best possible fit. These styles include features such as a lower rise and improved fit through the seat, waist and thighs.
Not only does FR denim now deliver the same level of comfort and style as non-FR products, but it can also be especially durable. While heavy FR denim fabrics are inherently strong, certain manufacturers take this natural durability one step further through their construction techniques. For instance, some FR denim pants feature bartacks at stress points and triple-felled stitching at key seams for added reinforcement and improved long-term durability. By lengthening the life of the garment, this enhanced durability helps optimize cost-effectiveness over time.
FR denim often is the best choice
Of course, OSHA’s arc-flash protection requirements can also be met with non-denim FR clothing. However, in many cases, denim is still the best choice. FR denim often provides a heavier weight and higher arc rating than other FR fabrics, maximizing durability and protection. In addition, the exceptional level of comfort and style FR denim now offers can also help improve wearer compliance. If employees like their FR clothing, they are more likely to wear it consistently and correctly — and FR jeans are something they’ll want to wear both on and off the job.
Don’t be fooled by the misconceptions surrounding denim and arc flash: regular denim won’t provide the proper protection, and FR denim isn’t uncomfortable or unattractive. In fact, FR jeans are one of the best ways to protect employees against arc flash, comply with OSHA’s regulations and gain the added benefits of exceptional comfort, style and durability. And in case you were wondering, FR denim isn’t just for arc flash — it can also help protect against flash fire and support compliance with NFPA 2112.