At some point during the life of any FR garment, it is necessary to consider removing it from service due to basic wear and tear. Although most recognized brands of FR fabric are made to maintain their flame resistance for the life of the garment, physical damage may also dictate the need to remove them from service. For most practical purposes, garments may be removed from service based on subjective evaluation if, after regular inspections, the garment is found incapable of effectively protecting the wearer. Ultimately, it is the end user’s responsibility to retire FR clothing.
Part of the garment’s ability to protect is the simple fact that the fabric provides a barrier from the thermal hazard. The weight or mass of the fabric can make a difference in the level of thermal protection provided as well. The following items, identifiable by visual examination, may diminish the effectiveness of FR workwear and are cause for removing them from service — or at least evaluating them for possible repair.
1. Worn appearance – Replace garments that have thin spots, holes, or excessive wear and abrasion, such as elbow or knee areas that can no longer be repaired.
2. Mechanical damage – Evidence of cuts, rips, tears, open seams and nonfunctional closures that can no longer be repaired indicate a garment needs to be replaced.
3. Noticeably altered – Garments that have been modified or altered in a manner that differs significantly from the original design should be removed from service.
4. Improper fit – If the garment is either too big or too small for the wearer, it should be replaced. If the garment is too big it can be a physical hazard, and if the garment is too small it loses some of its thermal protection. FR clothing should have a looser fit to allow the air gap between the wearer and the garment to help with insulation.
5. Heavily soiled – If there are flammable substances on a garment that cannot be removed by cleaning — such as solvents, solids, oils and other petroleum products — those substances represent a flammability risk. The presence of a petroleum or chemical odor can be evidence of a flammable substance. Clothing soiled with combustible or flammable chemicals should be handled by qualified individuals, using techniques approved for such materials, and in accordance with pre-established procedures. Failure to fully remove these chemicals could compromise the FR effectiveness of the garment.
If the garment has obvious damage that could be repaired, being able to properly repair a damaged garment can be an effective way to reduce expenses. However, a few basic guidelines should be followed to effectively repair FR clothing:
1. Always make repairs using fabric consistent with the garment’s original fabric. Other fabric types may react differently to both thermal exposure and laundering.
2. Use inherently FR thread for any repair. Use of non-FR thread can compromise the performance of the garment. Non-FR thread can burn quickly, allowing the sewn area to come apart and expose flammable under-layers or bare skin, which could lead to burn injury.
3. When adding or repairing other components, such as zippers, buttons, knit cuffs, draw strings, reflective tape, etc., they should also be rated as FR or — in the case of buttons — at least high-temperature rated. These components may seem minor, but non-FR versions can compromise the effectiveness of the garment during an exposure. For example, non-FR reflective tape can ignite and cause burn injury through the FR fabric to which it is attached.
Done properly, repairing FR garments can extend their useful life. If there are ever any questions about the care and maintenance of FR clothing, contact the garment manufacturer or supplier for specific instructions.
In addition to protection, the appearance and comfort of the garment should also be considered. If wearers know their FR garments are guaranteed to be flame resistant for life — even if they are threadbare, have holes or tears, or don’t fit properly — they might find such garments unpleasant to wear, or they may think the company doesn’t care. Having fully functional, clean, well-fitting FR garments makes for a safer workplace, with workers who take care of their garments as well as other PPE.
Make sure to inspect your FR garments on a regular basis, repair them when necessary, and replace them when they are irreparable and fail to serve their primary purpose of protecting the worker.