Layers of FR protective clothing
Why does two plus two often equal five when it comes to a layered personal protective equipment clothing system?
Much like outdoor enthusiasts have adopted a layering approach to protect themselves from the elements, industrial workers are recognizing the benefits of using multiple layers to protect against exposure to flame and high-heat hazards.
It’s widely known and accepted that dressing in layers is the most effective method for keeping warm in cold conditions, but it’s less common knowledge that layering has the same insulating effects in keeping high heat away from the body during an extreme thermal event.
With a layered clothing system, two plus two often equals five when it comes to thermal protection. Air is a great insulator, and a small pocket of it can be between even the tightest layers. This additional insulation creates a compounding effect when it comes to heat and flame protection. When lighter-weight or lower-rated garments are layered together – with just a miniscule amount of air between them – they can often provide the same or better protection than a single, heavier protective garment. The layered approach can be adapted to any situation across multiple applications and industries – be it hot or cold.
Flame-resistant jackets, aluminized coats, insulated coveralls, bibs, etc., are most frequently worn as a primary layer of a PPE ensemble. The exact PPE chosen is dependent on the particular work environment. A comfortable and highly protective base layer provides a uniform and solid foundation on which other layers of protection can be added to achieve a greater level of safety against high-heat exposure.
When workers are exposed to extreme conditions involving flame, molten metal, arc flash or other thermal hazards, primary protection layers can break down at some point, as the levels of exposure can be intense and unrelenting. In these dangerous situations, having a highly protective base layer can provide additional lifesaving seconds to allow one to escape with a reduced likelihood of multiple or serious injuries.
Base-layer garments made of a carbonized fiber blend offer the highest level of protection, as they’re inherently nonflammable. They won’t burn, melt or ignite when exposed to direct flame; are impervious to molten metal splash; and have exceptional electrical resistance. These fabrics are comfortable, dry quickly and wick moisture efficiently.
Comfort doesn’t need to be sacrificed for protection (or vice versa) with a layered clothing approach. Layered PPE solutions are now lightweight and comfortable enough to allow for good maneuverability, fit and styling relative to job function and activity level.
Greater comfort leads to increased compliance. Increased compliance means safer workers and fewer burn injuries. Fewer burn injuries result in fewer workers’ compensation claims and greater cost savings.
Layering FR PPE saves money and, most importantly, can save lives.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the authors and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.