Your company has decided that its employees need to be in flame-resistant clothing (FRC), but how do you achieve and manage this task while keeping costs under control and workers happy? What FR garments do your employees need — coveralls or shirts and pants? What type of fabric is best for your working environment? Who will manage this program?

There are two key aspects to an FR clothing program: 1) choosing the fabric and garment(s); and 2) managing the program. Let’s take a good look at both of these.

Table 1

Choosing fabric and garments

Choosing the fabric and type of garment(s) for an FR program requires addressing protective performance, durability, comfort, availability and standards compliance.

Hazards — Before a fabric can be selected, you must first know what hazards your employees are exposed to. Table 1 identifies some of the most common flame-resistant fabrics, the hazards for which the fabrics are suitable, and the types of industries that use these particular fabrics.

Durability — FR fabrics and garments should have a high level of durability. Find out the products’ estimated wear life and how many industrial and home launderings the garments and fabric will withstand.

Comfort — If your employees aren’t comfortable wearing the clothing they may resist and be left unprotected. By conducting a wear trial with your employees, you’ll allow them to provide input, which helps in gaining their support of the program.

Availability — Choosing fabrics and garments that are widely available will help reduce turnaround times.

Standards compliance — The one standard that each FR garment should be compliant with is ASTM 1506. Compliance with this standard ensures the quality and integrity of the flame resistance of the garment. It means the garment fabric was tested at an independent lab, has passed a vertical flame test and has an ATPV rating on the label. Other important standards are NFPA 70E for electric arc flashes and NFPA 2112 for flash fires.

Managing the program

Once you’ve decided on the fabrics and types of garments, you must determine the type of program that will best suit your company. Do you have the internal resources to dedicate to the program, or do you need an outsourcing company for proper program management? Here’s what to consider when making this decision:

Laundering — Who will launder the garments and where will they be laundered? Consider the following:

  • If an employee launders the clothing at home, is there concern about take-home toxins or contaminating the garments with flammable materials from the home?
  • Will the laundry process used remove flammable contaminants from the FR fabrics?
  • If the employee cannot take the garments home, is the company prepared to establish an in-house wash facility?

Inspections — Just like other safety gear, FR garments should be inspected. NFPA 70E states that the garments should be inspected before each use. Does your company have the resources and knowledge to carry out inspections regularly?

Repairs and replacements — Repairs should be in accordance with industry standards, which state that garments should be repaired with like materials and components that do not melt, drip or ignite. Again, does your company have the ability to make repairs of this type? If garments are not repairable how will you replace them?

New hires & turnover — A system will be needed to ensure that new hires have proper protection when they begin working. Similarly, when an employee leaves the organization, a system will be needed to retrieve the garments. Then the question arises of what to do with these garments. Basically, it is excess inventory that someone needs to manage.

Outsourcing = flexibility

Managing an FRC program requires a huge commitment from the company, the employees and management. As a result, many businesses choose to use an outsourcing company, which can provide a garment rental program or garment lease program. A garment rental program includes weekly or bi-weekly delivery of the garments, inspection, laundering, repairs, replacements, employee size changes, new hires and employee turnover. A lease program includes all of these services, except delivery, inspection and laundering and is ideal for organizations with employees that travel.

Outsourcing provides companies flexibility — allowing you to focus on your core business.