Protecting What is Built to Protect: Maintenance of AR/FR Workwear
As a safety professional, you’re no doubt familiar with the industry-guiding standard of NFPA 2112. This crucial set of guidelines ensures that workers are protected from flash fire in an industrial environment by flame resistant (FR) work wear.
It not only provides minimum performance criteria and establishes clear guidelines for work wear testing, it also makes a distinction between rating flame resistant fabrics versus the garments themselves. It’s a crucial distinction, as often times the efficacy of FR work wear is determined by how well the protection is built into the garment (e.g. inherent vs. treated).
But once you’ve gone through the work of deciding what kind of AR/FR work wear is best for your team, how do you ensure that you’ll make the most out of your investment? How do you keep your workers safe and compliant for as long as possible?
Created to support NFPA 2112, the guidelines for care and maintenance of AR/FR gear are spelled out in NFPA 2113. In order to be used properly, these kinds of garments must be maintained properly, too. Care and maintenance helps keep your safety program in compliance with OSHA 1926.95(a), which states that all PPE “shall be provided, used & maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition.”
To accomplish that, this regulation lays out a few key directions and requirements. For starters, AR/FR garments must be visually inspected before each use and immediately following any incident suspected of having caused damage. If the garment is determined to be damaged, it must not be allowed to be used by any employee.
Garments must also be stored in a manner that is conducive to care and damage prevention. This means refraining from stuffing shirts into a crowded bin or exposing them to harsh sunlight or industrial conditions, where they could degrade or become compromised over time.
When it comes to laundering these garments, AR/FR garments should be generally washed separately from daily wear, using the specific suggestions unique to the garment for water temperature. This is to prevent contamination and lint, which may reduce the AR/FR garment’s effectiveness.
Additionally, extra chemicals like bleach, fabric softeners, or starch must be avoided, as they can lead to breakdown of protective measures within the garment (though this is primarily true for treated FR garments).
When minor repairs are warranted — and do not constitute a breach of the overall integrity of the garment — they must be made in accordance with the fabric/garment manufacturers guidelines. Critically important is the standard that all repairs must be made with certified flame-resistant thread, and any “patching” must employ fabric of the exact same rating as the garment being repaired (e.g. a CAT 1 4.5 oz swatch should not be used to repair a 5.3 oz CAT 2 garment).
In light of the critical guidelines for maintaining the integrity and safety of worker PPE, many safety programs are choosing to opt for garments made from inherently FR fabric. Whereas many garments are treated for flame-resistant qualities by applying a chemical finish to fiber or fabric once it’s been woven or knitted, inherent FR fabrics have protection manufactured into their DNA.
For that reason, these types of garments are much easier to maintain and preserve over treated FR fabrics. The FR protection is part of the core of the fiber itself, and therefore cannot be washed away or chemically altered.
By selecting more durable, high-performance PPE and following the NFPA 2113 guidelines, your workers’ PPE can stand up to the rigors of hazardous workplace conditions, keeping your team safe, compliant and comfortable.