Workplace Solutions Protective clothing

How contaminants affect flame-resistant clothing

Do worksite contaminants affect FR apparel?

Responding is Scott Francis, Midwest regional market manager, Westex by Milliken, Spartanburg, SC.

Utility worksites have various contaminants containing flammable components, including insulating oil in transformers, creosote on telephone poles and hydraulic oils from machinery. The summer months present a whole new set of chemicals, such as insect spray used to fend off mosquitoes when working outdoors.

These chemical components raise questions about whether they have the ability to hinder the protective performance of flame-resistant apparel – which nearly always is required for tasks in the utility industry.

Although these worksite contaminants do not remove the base FR properties of the fabric, the new flammable contaminants can mask the FR, causing the fabric to burn until the fuel is consumed.

Interacting with worksite contaminants often is unavoidable or simply imperative to a productive day outdoors on the job. However, you can take simple steps to protect yourself and your FR apparel from additional flammable hazards.

Use bug repellent alternatives

Studies show a water-borne, Permethrin-based insect repellent does not have adverse effects on flame-resistant fabrics. When applying insect repellents to FR garments, it is recommended that you avoid applying DEET or DEET-containing insect repellents, as they can be flammable and therefore have an adverse effect on the flame-resistance of FR garments. It is important to note that DEET and DEET-containing insect repellents do not remove or destroy the flame-resistance of fabrics – they mask it. Once the garment is laundered, the DEET and DEET-containing insect repellents are removed, and the flame-resistance remains intact.

Observe care recommendations to remove contaminants

Clean FR apparel is safer FR apparel, although garment soiling with creosote, transformer oil or other common jobsite chemicals often is unavoidable on a worksite. Steps should be taken to prevent contaminant buildup on FR clothing.

Industry standards, such as NFPA 2113, state the importance of garment maintenance. “NFPA 2113: Standard on Selection, Care, Use, and Maintenance of Flame-Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Short-Duration Thermal Exposures” specifically addresses the need for routine care and maintenance of FR apparel to prevent contaminant buildup that could reduce flame-resistance.

Although you may not be able to prevent contaminants from getting on clothing, you can prevent their buildup through daily care, as noted in NFPA 2113, Chapter 6. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended temperatures when washing and drying the garment to maintain its aesthetic quality. Although the performance of FR qualities in a garment are not affected, overall appearance, dye retention and shrinkage can be adversely altered in higher-than-recommended wash and dry temperatures. Consult your FR garment manufacturer on proper care and maintenance instructions to adequately remove contaminants without compromising the attributes of the fabric.

Check apparel after each workday

Chapter 7 of NFPA 2113 emphasizes the need for organizations to implement a streamlined process confirming an employee’s FR apparel is viable. Workers also are charged with examining their individual FR apparel for any damage, soiling or potential contamination after each wear.

Employers and employees can work together this summer to review and address contaminants that the season brings. This practice then can be carried forward year-round to help ensure workers are wearing proper FR protection.

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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