Why FR garments are not NFPA 70E certified
To explain why the answer is no, first let’s talk about what it means to be certified and the actual certification process. And second, why a garment manufacturer might not get an FR product certified to a given standard.
Understanding NFPA 70E
Having a garment certified to a specific standard means the garment has gone through an evaluation process, by an independent certification organization, to determine if the garment, its components and garment manufacturer meet all the performance requirements of that particular standard.
The certification organization will review test data and/or perform their own testing to verify the performance requirements in the standard. In the case of NFPA 70E, this standard does not specify the performance requirements within the standard itself but rather requires the garment meet the performance requirements of ASTM F1506 Standard Performance Specification for Flame Resistant and Arc Rated Textile Materials for Wearing Apparel for Use by Electrical Workers Exposed to Momentary Electric Arc and Related Thermal Hazards.
NFPA 70E does specify the need to wear protective clothing with the appropriate protection level (arc rating) and includes Hazard Risk Category (HRC) classification for various electrical tasks. But for specific arc rated garment and fabric performance specifications, ASTM F1506 is the standard to look to.
ASTM F1506 requirements
Within ASTM F1506, there are numerous minimum performance requirements for the various components used to make the garment, including the fabric, thread, closures and labels.
ASTM F1506 requirements include testing fabric for breaking strength, tear resistance, seam slippage, colorfastness, shrinkage, flammability and arc rating. The sewing thread itself is required to be inherently flame-resistant and tested to verify it will not melt in a 500° F oven.
Other components, such as zippers, snaps and buttons, are required not to contribute to the severity of injury to the wearer. In particular, any closures that could come in contact with the skin are required to have a fabric layer between the closure and the skin to minimize potential thermal transfer to the skin.
The information required on the garment label is very specific, including a tracking ID system, the manufacturer’s name, garment size, care instructions and arc rating. The minimum performance for all these requirements is spelled out in various tables within the standard.
In addition to the garment components having performance requirements, the garment and fabric manufacturers have requirements as well. First they are responsible to make sure all the component requirements are met. Secondly they are required to perform regular testing to confirm the performance of the fabric is maintained. Additionally, they are required to retest the fabric whenever changes are made. These changes include changes to the fiber type, yarn type, weaving style, fabric weight, etc.
Now to the certification question — different standards have different requirements regarding certification.
As I stated above, getting a garment certified means an independent certification organization needs to evaluate the garment and its components to verify they meet all the minimum requirements of the standard. They also typically verify that the manufacturer has processes, quality control measures and proper documentation in place to make sure they will manufacture the garments with the certified components and in the same way as the garments that were evaluated and tested.
It is also likely that the certifying organization will need to perform periodic audits to verify all the components and processes stay as they were when the evaluation took place. This means that any changes related to the certified garments need to be reported and approved by the certifying organization.
Because the entire certification process takes a lot of time, a lot of documentation and the associated costs of having an outside party do the evaluation and testing, it is a time-consuming, costly process. This, as well as the ongoing documentation and controls, make this is a process a manufacturer typically only engages in when it is required.
Certification not required
The bottom line is that neither NFPA 70E or ASTM F1506 requires garments to be certified.
This is different than NFPA 2112, which does require certification to claim compliance.
Since certification to NFPA 70E and ASTM F1506 standards is not required, no manufacturer is going to go through the certification process voluntarily. But just because a manufacturer isn’t required to have their products certified doesn’t mean they are taking shortcuts or not providing garments or fabrics that meet the requirements.
In fact, I would venture to say that all the reputable FR garment and fabric manufacturers are doing all the right things and making products that meet the standard. When they label a garment as meeting ASTM F1506, they are putting their company name and reputation on the line and would likely not stay in business too long if they didn’t live up to that claim.
Look at the labels
In summary, if you want garments that meet NFPA 70E, look for labeling that states the garment meets the requirements of ASTM F1506. If you have any questions about the performance capabilities of the garment or fabric, ask the manufacturer to provide the data that supports their claims.
Finally, don’t forget that simply meeting the requirements of ASTM F1506, or any standard for that matter, doesn’t mean you have the level of protection you need for your workers. It is critical that you conduct a thorough hazard assessment to determine the level of protection you need, but that’s a subject for a future article.