Workplace Solutions Arc flash Electrical Protective clothing

FR apparel in cold weather

What do workers who are required to wear flame-resistant clothing need to consider when layering for cold weather?


Responding is Paul Pinto, North America sales director, Westex: A Milliken Brand, Youngstown, OH.

For workers who face flame-related hazards on the job, proper layering is arguably the most important consideration to take into account during the cold-weather months.

If workers don’t layer their clothing correctly, they’re at risk of negating the protection that flame-resistant/arc-rated clothing provides. For example, if an employee has proper FR/AR clothing on but chooses to throw on a non-FR hoodie to help keep them warm, they’ve invalidated the protection from the hazard by altering the way the FR clothing can perform. Setting up consistent communication with your team members and having an open line of communication about their needs is important to make sure that any decisions about apparel are done with comfort and, more importantly, safety in mind.

Layering provides workers with the flexibility to adapt to fluctuating weather conditions and their various activity levels throughout the day – a huge advantage in cold weather. But the on-and-off nature of layering can lead to complacency or forgetfulness.

One way to combat these issues is to outfit your team members with FR/AR daily wear so they can rest assured that no matter what – or how much – they’re wearing throughout the day, they’re protected.

Material selection is another important consideration for safety managers when evaluating their cold-weather personal protective equipment offerings. Insulation can offer warmth and thermal protection from chill and other cold-weather outlets, so look for outerwear that uses FR/AR lining combined with FR/AR exterior shells. And certain performance characteristics, such as moisture management, become even more important to help workers control their body temperature and stay warm.

Finding garments with a durable water repellant can go a long way to adding comfort and protection when employees are working in rainy or wet conditions. Finding a non-PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) water-repellent solution is a great place to start when considering fabrics, as many options on the market contain PFAS chemistry, which can have harmful effects on the environment.

Another risk factor with layering is garment fit and mobility. Additional layers of clothing can affect the way a worker does their job and, at times, lead to shortcuts around PPE to do the task at hand more effectively. Providing garments that not only fit but are designed with mobility in mind can decrease the likelihood of improper use. Consider base layers that are tight-fitting so that outer layers can fit comfortably on top.

Equally important to staying warm and dry is staying compliant with industry standards for FR/AR apparel. Although the NFPA 70E standard doesn’t specifically address layering FR/AR clothing for cold weather, it does state that FR clothing should be selected based on the environmental conditions the worker will face, which include temperature, humidity and wind speed.

Lastly, don’t forget about the need for high-visibility outerwear with hi-vis reflective tape, which can become more important in cold months. With shorter days, these garments can improve the visibility of employees when they’re working in dark areas, at night, at dusk or dawn, and near active roadways. It may also be required by law, so you should ensure any additional hi-vis garments needed follow FR requirements.

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

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