Introduction to Flame Resistant Clothing Standards
Workplaces with significant fire or electrical hazards must provide employees with the appropriate protective gear at no cost. The FR clothing doesn’t eliminate all the risk, but it should reduce the severity of possible injuries.
When purchasing FR clothing, you’ll encounter a number of terms from various organisations. These define the performance and testing standards the FR clothing must meet.
Protection Against Flash Fires
Flash fires are sudden, intense fires ignited by air and flammable substances. They’re short-duration, high-temperature fires that move rapidly.
Here are a few of the more common standards you’ll encounter for FR clothing that protect against flash fires and injury:
- NFPA 2112: The US industry standard for flame-resistant clothing, which specifies the performance of the apparel and how to evaluate them.
- NFPA 2113: Following the 2112 garment requirements, 2113 focuses on choosing the correct protective apparel for the situation and how to properly wear and maintain these.
- EN ISO 11612: The international standard for FR clothing. Within ISO 11612 you’ll also see A1, B1, C1, D3, and E3 — these denote the specific criteria the protective apparel complies with (e.g. surface ignition vs molten iron splash)
- EN ISO 14116: Standards for materials with limited flame spread.
- EN ISO 11611: Standards for protective apparel for welding environments. Guards against incidental contact with molten splatter, UV, and flames.
Protection Against Arc Flashes
Arc flashes differ from flash fires mainly in duration and intensity. Both are short, but arc flashes typically last only a fraction of a second and can burn 4x hotter than the sun.
For that reason, all AR clothing is flame-resistant, but not all FR clothing is AR.
AR clothing primarily resists ignition. Clothing that ignites and melts (e.g. polyester) causes much greater injury to the wearer than the initial hazard.
These are a few of the standards you’ll encounter for AR clothing:
- ASTM F1959: The testing standard to evaluate arc ratings (AR) for FR fabrics. The results indicate how much heat a certain material will block from arc flashes. You should see the ASTM F1959 test results for garments that meet ASTM F1506 or ASTM F1891 requirements.
- ASTM F1506: The minimum clothing performance requirements for arc flash protection.
- ASTM F1891: Minimum physical and thermal performance standards for arc-rated FR rain gear.
- NFPA 70E: The US industry standard for clothing protecting against the thermal hazards of electric arcs.
- EN IEC 61482: The equivalent international standard for the same hazards.
Who Washes the FR Clothing?
If employees are washing the FR clothing themselves, the employers must train them in how to properly care for the clothing to maintain their protective properties. In many cases though, the employer will engage a specialised launderer to do the job.
What should employees wear underneath FR clothing?
Employers must also train their employees on what not to wear underneath FR gear, as flammable fabrics worn underneath could still increase the extent of injuries.
In general, workers should:
- Avoid synthetic fabrics for inner layers
- Make sure their clothing is fully covered by FR gear (i.e. tucked in, zipped up, buttoned up)
- Wear a flame-resistant shirt and pants if you’re using an FR coverall
Certain materials such as 100% cotton may still ignite. It’s still preferable to wearing synthetic materials though — synthetic fabrics will melt and stay on your skin, leaving second and third-degree burns.