Flame resistant (FR) clothing is a must in the oil and gas industry, as well as for electrical workers. The most common misconception about theses garments is that they won’t burn at all – which isn’t the case. Rather, flame resistant clothing will not melt or drip and will self-extinguisher once removed from the source of ignition or flame.
Flame resistant clothing in Canada should follow two separate standards: NFPA 2112 which covers the minimum requirements for design, construction, evaluation and certification of the clothing, and CGSB 155.20 which includes further material testing set by the Canadian General Standards Board.
Flame resistant clothing should also provide at least a low level of arc flash protection so looking out for CSA Z462 and NFPA 70E is also good practice. There should be a calorie rating on the clothing which signifies the protection factor for an arc flash. You can read more about calorie ratings here.
There are two different types of fabrics classes for FR clothing with slightly different properties:
Inherent fabrics get its flame-resistant properties when the fibers are created without any sort of chemical coating or treatment. Aramid fibers are the most common type with the most well know being Nomex. However, there is also Tecasafe, Glenguard and Kermel to name a few others. Materials do not have to be a 100% blend of inherent fabrics in order to be considered flame resistant and can be mixed with a low amount of cotton, nylon or spandex. By adding secondary fabrics, the comfort, durability, moisture management, breathability and stretch can be greatly improved.
Treated fabrics are typically made of 88% cotton and 12% nylon or polyester which gives them the commonly used name of 88/12. Cotton itself is flammable so the fabric needs to go through a process where the fabric is treated or dipped with a flame-resistant chemical. This efficient flame resistant treatment produces the same flame resistance protection as inherent fabrics.
Treated cotton garments get a bad rap of having the flame resistant properties washing out of the garment but if you purchase a treated cotton coverall made by a reputable company like Ultrasoft by Westex, then there should be no concerns if cared for properly. Treated cotton garments tend to be more breathable and are more cost effective compared to inherent garments.
The weight of a fabric is also another important consideration when purchasing FR garments. This refers to the thickness of the fabric material itself that is measured in ounces. Heavier garments made of the same material will last longer and provide better warmth compared to the lighter weight counterparts. It is important to choose correctly for the type of working conditions you will experience.
FR Garment Care
While it is true that treated cotton garments cannot be washed with bleach because it can destroy the flame resistant properties of the chemical treatment, it is also worth noting that you shouldn’t be washing your inherent garments with bleach either. Bleach will make the fabric more brittle and decrease the lifespan of the garment. Regular detergent without bleach is best for long-term care of your protective FR garments.