Workplace Solutions Protective clothing

Avoid flame-resistant clothing mishaps

What are some common errors workers make regarding flame-resistant clothing?

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Photo: Workrite Uniform Co.

Responding is Mark Saner, technical manager, Workrite Uniform Co., Oxnard, CA.

When worn correctly, flame-resistant clothing can provide lifesaving protection against a variety of workplace hazards, including arc flash, flash fires and molten metal splatter. However, if worn improperly, the clothing is not only out of compliance with industry standards, but it also becomes far less effective.

To help clarify some of the mistakes workers make in wearing FR, here is a list of ways FR clothing is improperly worn. This information will help you receive the full safety benefits of FR workwear – and it may even save your life.

Top 5 ways FR clothing is improperly worn:

  1. Wearing it with a non-FR outer layer: In bad weather, it may be tempting to wear a non-FR jacket over your regular FR clothing. Even if you are wearing flame-resistant clothing, a non-FR outer layer can still ignite and burn, putting you in danger. When faced with cold-weather conditions, it is important to invest in the proper FR outerwear.
  2. Wearing it with a non-FR synthetic under-layer: Performance T-shirts made from polyester or other synthetic materials are often worn to help with moisture management, but they are not flame resistant and can actually melt to the skin. Ideally, the under layer would be FR. This not only resolves the melting issue, but it also won’t ignite and continue to burn if accidentally exposed to the hazard.
  3. Rolling up sleeves: Rolling up your sleeves may seem like the perfect way to beat the heat; however, this leaves the arms exposed and should be avoided. This is particularly important for arc flash exposures, as the arms will likely be closest to the event and therefore see the most thermal energy. Instead, look for FR clothing made with lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics that provide a greater level of comfort without sacrificing safety.
  4. Unzipping coveralls or unbuttoning shirts: Just like rolling up your sleeves, unzipping or unbuttoning FR clothing can expose the skin or (as noted above) a non-FR under layer that could ignite and burn. Again, look for FR clothing made with lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics that provide a greater level of comfort without sacrificing safety.
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  6. Not tucking in the shirttail: If the tail of your shirt is not properly tucked in, heat and flames can travel under the bottom of it and cause greater injury. Invest in FR clothing that’s purposely constructed with long shirttails to prevent this from happening.

So, to make sure your FR clothing is in compliance and ready to keep you safe, remember: Wear FR outerwear, avoid synthetic under layers, and roll it down, zip it up and tuck it in.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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