Would you wear a cotton t-shirt if you were routinely exposed to flames or intense heat at the work site? And would you leave your flame-resistant (FR) inner- or undergarments hanging in work lockers or in the closet at home?
For many, the answer is “yes,”’ and for one simple
reason â€” comfort usually trumps safety, especially as
the perceived risk declines.
The good news is that the technology in FR garments
â€” especially for those worn closest to the skin
â€” has evolved.
Uncomfortable and unused
Individuals face-to-face with imminent danger will,
for brief periods, wear anything offering a safety benefit.
But when urged to wear uncomfortable clothing all
the time to guard against a lesser chance of immediate
risk â€” even though the risk and potential for serious
harm remain significant â€” they quickly find and justify
When it comes to FR clothing, that was then and
this is now.
Acknowledging that comfort had to be given equal
time and emphasis resulted in two major breakthroughs
that completely altered the path of FR garments
at the start of this millennium. Comfort needed
to include not only the feel of a next-to-the-skin garment,
but its performance as well, as measured by the
ability to wick and dissipate moisture and otherwise
optimize basic human thermoregulation.
First, textile scientists discovered that a 10 to 15
percent blend of hydrophilic (moisture absorbing)
fiber (which can, in fact, be cotton) with 80 to 85
percent hydrophobic (moisture repellent) fiber created
a new class of performance wear that has since
spawned a global industry in exercise and fitness
clothing offering performance benefits and extreme
comfort all in one.
Second, an FR variant of the patented performancewear
formula was created using a naturally selfextinguishing
hydrophobic fiber. The result: the combination
of high-performance wear with built-in FR
A new class of lightweight and comfortable, nextto-
skin garments has emerged â€” with permanent,
built-in FR protection that doesn’t decline with multiple
washings. A new generation of FR PPE for innerwear
garments is as soft, comfortable, and wearable as
cotton t-shirts and pants, mid-weight shirts and pants,
and everyone’s familiar and favorite fleece garments.
Layered systems offer options
The combination of these breakthroughs has led
to another contemporary innovation, namely the
development of a layered system of FR garments.
With fabric weight no longer a factor, lightweight
next-to-skin garments can be combined with midweight
and heavy-weight garments to achieve two
benefits. One, as layers are combined, FR ratings
show an exponential effect of protection. And two,
moisture wicking and drying times are not inhibited,
but enhanced, as outer layers of garments made
to the patented performance blend draw moisture
away from inner layers of garments also made to
the patented performance blend.
New regulations such as the National Fire Protection
Association’s 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the
Workplace prohibit cotton clothing. This means that
a person’s choice of PPE in FR garments is no longer
merely a matter of comfort, but a matter of law. Today
however, highly arc-rated FR performance wear garments,
every bit as comfortable as cotton, have been
made possible by the new technology.
The benefits extend well beyond a solution to a
single safety code or new regulation in any given
field. The new technology offers working benefits to
professionals across a wide range of occupations with
greatly varying degrees of risks and likelihoods of
incidence. In layman’s terms this means more at-risk
people will more often, and for longer periods of time,
actually wear their FR garments.
When comfort needs trump safety
March 4, 2009