How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
Well, did you think your protective garments made you invincible?
Nothing is foolproof. More importantly, flame-resistant does not mean flameproof (or fire-proof). The entire goal of wearing flame-resistant (FR) garments is that they’re designed to protect you from arc flash or flash fire. The goal isn’t to make you superhuman. It’s meant to self-extinguish and limit the amount of body burn you experience. In other words, it gives you a chance to survive.
Let’s start with one simple fact. All FR clothing is not created equal. One of the most common mistakes that people make when selecting their safety gear is thinking that it’s broad level protection and they can use the same equipment across different applications.
If you’re working with electricity and there’s a risk of arc flash, you need clothing that meets the requirements under NFPA 70E. So, what is arc flash? It’s when an electric current leaves its path and travels from one conductor to another and leads to an explosion. These are some common causes:
- Crossed wires
- Faulty installation
And when working with materials that could ignite in a flash fire, you need something that protects. You need FR equipment that meets NFPA 2112. A flash occurs anytime air and a flammable substance mix to ignite. These fires have intense heat and are usually cataclysmic. Think Star Wars and the Death Star, the empire’s weapon that could blow up an entire planet. Yeah, cataclysmic like that. That’s a word you never want to hear when it comes to a safety incident. So, you might want to make sure you have the right gear in the first place.
Here are some other reasons why you may have gotten hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing.
1. You didn't have a systems approach for FR clothing.
It’s not as simple as throwing on a FR jacket and getting to work. Every layer of clothing you have should have flame-resistant capabilities. You can have FR overalls, gloves and a jacket on, but what if your tee shirt is a cotton/polyester blend? When that cool tee shirt gets heated up, it basically can get shrink-wrapped to your body. Ever think of that? You don’t want any gaps in your protection, so make sure you have a systems approach to layering safety garments.
2. You didn't follow manufacturer guidelines.
Remember that time you tossed your FR overalls in the washing machine? Yeah, that’s not recommended for quite a bit of safety equipment. The properties of things like laundry soap, softener, oil, bug sprays, sunscreen can compromise the integrity of your FR garment and make it less effective. So, make sure you always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the care and maintenance of your items.
3. You needed 8 cal protection, but worse heavy 40 cal gear. And then sweat like a beast.
Yup, you thought a little body odor was your biggest problem? Turns out that sweat can significantly decrease the Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV) rating. ATPV is the amount of protection a garment provides and it’s measured in calories. When you mess around with the properties of the garment and lower the ATPV, the longer the clothing will burn – which means the more your skin can burn as well.
So what do you do to protect yourself?
The best way to look at your flame-resistant apparel for work is that it’s there to minimize the extent of potential injuries you could face. It’s meant to give you a chance to get the heck out of there alive. It should never be regarded as a failsafe in the event of arc flash or flash fire. There’s only so much protection that it can offer. When we talk about body burn, we’re talking some serious stuff. Aside from the pain and discomfort, any kind of serious injury like burns can wreak havoc on our mental state. And the road to recovery is a long one, and not always guaranteed. Even if a worker survives an event like flash fire or arc flash, a high percentage of them die from infection.
Listen, the testing requirements for these garments is basically a pass or a fail. If there’s evidence of less than 50% body burn, it passes. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like those odds.
Long story short, always make sure to assess the risks and remove as many hazards from the job as possible before relying on any kind of personal protective equipment (PPE). Talk to safety professionals about the hazards you’re trying to avoid – ask for their recommendation. And buy legit safety equipment from people you trust. There’s a bunch of companies out there that are just slapping any old flame-resistant labels on clothing, even if it won’t protect. Do yourself a favor and take a look at some of your PPE. Make sure it’s designed to protect you when you need it the most.
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