Have you heard the term “FR clothing” and asked yourself, “What does the ‘FR’ stand for?” The ‘FR’ in FR clothing means ‘flame resistant.’ By definition, flame resistance is the ability of a material, in this case clothing, to self extinguish once the ignition source is removed. It also prevents the spread of flames.

NFPA 70E and OSHA’s 1910.269, Maintenance Standard, require anyone working within a flash protection boundary to wear flame-resistant protective clothing. Anyone working in an area exposed to flash fire, electric arc or combustible dust explosions, or anyone working near energized electrical equipment, falls into the category where FR clothing is required. This includes a number of workers, such as electricians, utility linesman, refinery workers, and even pharmaceutical professionals.

Below are some answers to typical questions regarding FR clothing. For guidance and direction in selecting the best FR-rated clothing for your employees, consider partnering with a comprehensive safety equipment supplier.

What are Hazard Risk Categories?

Hazard Risk Categories, or HRC, are specified in the NFPA 70E standard by specific jobs. There are five categories that apply, starting at HRC 0 through HRC 4. These categories specify what types of clothing are required as well as how many layers you are required to wear for each risk category.

For example, HRC 0 allows a worker to wear one layer, which can be an untreated cotton material, whereas HRC 4 requires a worker to wear cotton underwear, an FR shirt and pants, as well as a multi-layer flash suit with a total of three or more layers.

What is ATPV?

ATPV stands for Arc Thermal Protective Value. The ATPV signifies the amount of incident energy that would cause the onset of second degree burns. It also signifies the amount of protection the clothing affords when an electrical arc comes into contact with the fabric. ATPV is measured in calories per centimeter squared (cal/cm2).

What level of protection is required?

OSHA’s 1910.132, General Duty Clause, mandates that an employer must identify workplace hazards and protect employees from those hazards. Protective clothing worn by an employee must be based upon the incident energy associated with the task being performed. Typical protective clothing systems are listed in Table 130.7(c)(ii) of the NFPA 70E standard. It is the employer’s responsibility to know the workplace or work-related hazards and determine the level of protection required.

Flame resistant vs. fire retardant: Is there a difference?

Yes. Flame-resistant material is inherently flame resistant. The fibers of these materials are derived from and possess the quality to be flame resistant. Inherently flame-resistant materials are not affected by proper laundering.

Fire-retardant material does not possess the same inherent qualities as flame-resistant material. Fire-retardant material is made from flammable materials, such as cotton or nylon, which are treated with a combination of chemicals to allow the material to resist burning. A manufacturer will use specific combinations of chemicals and will soak or spray the material so it will have the ability to self extinguish after being exposed to flames. Unlike a flame-resistant garment, fire-retardant materials can lose their fire-retardant properties after several washings.

When should I remove FR clothing from service?

Any garment, flame resistant or fire retardant, that has any visible holes or tears, should be repaired or removed from service immediately. Fire-retardant clothing can lose its FR properties before physical damage is noticeable. This presents a challenge for the wearer. The only way to determine if the clothing has become compromised is to perform a destructive test, such as the vertical flammability test. The two main garment performance standards for FR clothing are NFPA 2112 and ASTM F1506. These standards do not address all factors related to garment durability, but rather only specify the minimum performance levels of the garment.

How should FR clothing be laundered?

To avoid compromising the life and service of FR clothing, here are a few do’s and don’ts for laundering your FR garments:

  • Do not use hard water. Hard water can leave behind salts. Salt residual on the garment can compromise the FR properties.
  • Do use a phosphate-based detergent; this is gentler on FR clothing. Avoid using fabric softeners, chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide bleaches during the laundering process.
  • Do rinse all fabrics adequately to remove chemical residue. Follow all manufacturer washing instructions.

Myth vs. fact

These myths and facts help to clear up confusion for FR clothing users.

  • Myth: It’s perfectly safe to roll up the sleeves on your FR clothing if you get hot.
  • Fact: FR clothing can only provide protection to the wearer when it is covering them. If a sleeve is rolled up, the exposed arm is not protected from the potential ignition source and could experience the same injuries as if not wearing any protective clothing at all.
  • Myth: I don’t need FR clothing if I haven’t had an accident.
  • Fact: An accident can happen at any time, regardless of past performance. Personal protective equipment, such as FR clothing, is the last line of defense if an accident occurs.
  • Myth: Cotton materials provide sufficient FR protection from electrical hazards.
  • Fact: Cotton is 100-percent flammable. It will ignite and continue to burn even after it is removed from the ignition source. Untreated fibers such as cotton, nylon and polyester all have the potential to burn or melt. They do not provide adequate FR protection.
  • Myth: FR clothing is stiff and uncomfortable.
  • Fact: While this may have been true in the past, FR clothing is now manufactured to be softer and more flexible. Improvements of new fiber blends of cottons and inherently FR fibers allow the clothing to be more comfortable today.