You have just completed an exhaustive review of all applicable regulations and standards dealing with protective clothing requirements. OSHA is on your speed dial, and you are ready to look for a uniform supplier to offer apparel for every level of protection. You want to be ready.

When deciding what garments to choose, there can be so many factors to consider. The best advice is to go back to basics. Any flame- and thermal-resistant garment must provide the wearer with the expected degree of protection for the use life of the garment. This is critical and must be your primary concern. You must know that your employees are protected from the hazards identified in the workplace.

So how do you choose the correct protective garments? Here are five basic tips that will help you decide:

1) Comfort / Appearance

Since these factors are by definition subjective, they require employee input. It is impossible to convince a person that he is comfortable if he doesn't believe it. It's just as difficult to convince them that they look good in their uniforms.

Uniform policy enforcement is a last resort, but if an employee committee has been involved from the beginning and actively promotes their new uniforms, the success of the program is well underway. The same applies from the company standpoint: Do the uniforms promote the proper image of your company in the community, as well as providing protection to the wearers? With both company and worker buy-in you are more than well begun.

2) Product & program support

Just as important as employee and company acceptance of the program are the issues of product availability and program support. The active participation of the garment supplier in the installation of the program and the ongoing garment reorder/replacement process is critical to the program's success.

You may encounter questions related to the performance of the garments after the program has been installed. You need to consider both the quality and technical support systems of your supplier. Service after the sale must be a reality, not just a slogan.

3) Special requirements

Be sure to consider all of the tasks that are needed. For example, you may decide to go with durable high-tech aramid garments for most workers, but you may also have requirements for welding and flame-cutting that would be better served by flame-resistant-treated, 100-percent cotton garments.

If chemical risks must be considered, this further complicates your decision. Having multiple types of garments available will allow you to accommodate special requirements.

4) Cost

This is a more complicated question than it first appears, because it not only relates to acquisition cost but also to durability and laundry maintenance. Initial cost is obviously a key consideration, as is how this cost is to be borne. However, focusing only on initial cost overlooks the issue of the garments' durability, and sidesteps the question "how long are they going to last?"

It is impossible to determine how long any individual garment will last. However, information is available from your suppliers to give you general guidance on relative service-life expectations. Based on service life, you need to calculate your total costs over the life of the program. This may present a different picture than you get from installation costs alone.

5) Maintenance

Cost is also related to maintenance procedures. How and, more importantly, who is going to clean these garments?

The first question to address is whether you want a rental program, a lease program or a direct purchase program? Proper laundering is essential to the longevity of your garments and to overall cost control in the program.

A successful program

Flame resistance for the life of the garments is a given. Comfort, appearance, durability, available support and cost control are the other essential requirements for a successful program.

You can educate yourself on this type of information through industry resources such as Industry Update, an annual report published by my company. This brochure seeks to increase awareness of the need for and function of protective and flame-resistant apparel by providing a fair and balanced evaluation of the fabrics available to the industry. The more you know, the safer your employees will be.