What you need to know about FR Fabrics

Today’s Industrial market has seen an increase in garments labeled FR – Flame-Resistant, Fire Retardant, Flame Retardant etc. If you need Flame Resistant, Flame Retardant goods FAST….you need to visit www.MinnesotaWorkwear.com. No matter how low the probability of an employee being exposed to an accidental thermal event, the type of fabric that is used in FR garments is extremely important. Non Flame-Resistant fabrics such as cotton or poly cotton blends, which make up the majority of the industrial garments in today’s market, can and do ignite.  These non FR fabrics dramatically increase body burn percentage and can turn a survivable situation into a fatality. In fact, government reports note that the majority of severe and fatal burn injuries are due to the individual’s clothing igniting and continuing to burn, not by the exposure itself. The best way to prevent an industrial uniform from igniting and burning is to ensure that the garment is constructed with flame-resistant fabric. Requiring this can eliminate clothing ignition from the equation.

The next logical step then becomes researching and specifying what flame-resistant fabrics are appropriate for industrial uniforms. There are numerous fabrics available to the industrial community that claim to have flame-resistant performance.  Your fabric choice should be the first specification made, regardless of the garment configuration or style. The fabric ultimately determines how the uniform will perform in an unexpected thermal event and is directly related to the degree to which the wearer could be injured or burned.  There are a number of different aspects to how a garment performs in a thermal event, including fabric weight, construction, fiber composition and flame-resistant technology. Some flame-resistant fabrics allow a lot of thermal energy to pass through the fabric because they are lighter in weight with open weaves. Although theses fabrics do not ignite, they have a higher degree of body burn when tested on a thermal mannequin, yet the manufacturer can correctly advertise them as flame-resistant. There are a number of different tests, standards and regulations that measure the performance of fabrics for specific industries. For example there a several fabrics available in the market stated to self- extinguish when tested to ASTM D6413. This is a vertical flame test method that fabrics must be subjected to in order to be defined as flame-resistant for protective clothing, but the test method reveals no information on how the fabric will perform in a particular thermal event. Information on how long the fabric will be flame-resistant or how insulating the fabric is to a thermal event is not defined under the standard.

Flame-resistant fabrics are designed to protect against momentary hazards such as, Arc Flash, Molten Metal Splash and Flash Fire Hazards. A fabric that performs well in one or more of these thermal events may not perform as well in a different type of momentary exposure. Therefore using data for one type of thermal event to another does not insure performance. Meeting the minimum standards for flame-resistant fabric is not enough. Currently the commercial market utilizes the NFPA 2112 standard and the ASTM F1930 test method to help evaluate flame-resistant fabrics for the Flash Fire hazard.  NFPA 2112 is the standard for flame-resistant garments for protection of industrial personnel against flash fire. Under the test method, flame-resistant fabrics are tested against a 2 calorie exposure for 3 seconds in which sensored mannequins are able to measure the extent and severity of body burn. They also must pass a vertical flame test after a 100 launderings and have a char length less than 4 inches. Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) also must be tested both with spacers and without.  When tested to this standard experts find significant variance in performance of flame-resistant fabrics. A fabric can pass and be certified to NFPA 2112 as long as it measures less than 50% second and third degree burn. Two fabrics, for example one that tests to 49% body burn and a second fabric that tests to 10% body burn both meet the performance requirements for NFPA 2112.

Due to the varied performance of fabrics, it is critical that your flame-resistant fabric choice be determined by proven industry consensus test methods at independent laboratories. The second critical piece in determining and specifying the flame-resistant fabric to be utilized by your organization is market proven performance. With the influx of generic and unproven fabrics, it is important to note that in researching available fabrics for your industrial operators, that the fabric manufacturer has a proven track record of performance. The FR fabric used to construct the garment is a critical aspect of any protective clothing program since the fabric is a primary contributor to the protection, comfort and value equation. Therefore, it is important to understand the experience and capabilities of the flame-resistant fabric manufacturer and the proven (or unproven) performance of the fabrics in the market. Key points for your consideration include years experience in flame-resistant fabrics, guaranteed flame-resistant for the life of the garment, continually test and certify FR fabrics, experienced technical staff, involvement in industry committees and a government certified laboratory.

In today’s industrial community, exposure to a flash fire through direct or indirect means can result in garment ignition and significant injury. The only way to protect employees from their clothing catching fire during a thermal event is to make sure that the clothing is flame-resistant. When choosing flame- resistant clothing it is essential that the fabric that garment is constructed of has a track record of proven performance in the conditions required. Specifying what fabric the industrial garments are to be manufactured from should be the first and most important step in the process of defining your industrial uniform.