Determining what’s best when it comes to flame-resistant work wear can be challenging at the best of times, but cold winter weather ups the ante. Every FR winter work outfit has two key goals:
- Keep the employee warm
- Meet the required hazard risk category (HRC) and arc thermal performance value (ATPV) ratings
In this article, we’ll break this down and teach you how to put together the perfect FR work outfit for the chilly winter months.
Layering for Comfortable Winter Work
It’s certainly possible to create an FR outfit using just a winter coat and a non-melting base layer, but this is far from ideal for a few reasons. The main one is that FR outerwear can be heavy and bulky, creating mobility issues and discomfort for the worker. Layering helps manage these challenges and is a cost effective, functional way to ensure protection and comfort while on the job.
There are three key elements to a cold weather FR layering system:
- Base layer
- Weather protection
In addition to the hazard protection, the base layer offers an added degree of warmth to guard against the cold. For this reason, it’s important to select one made with a material that wicks away moisture and sweat.
Base layers don’t have to be FR-rated, but it’s always best if you can purchase ones that are. Doing so allows you to use the layer to achieve the necessary HRC and ATPV ratings. One thing's for certain, though: base layers must be non-melting. Synthetic base layers can be extremely dangerous because synthetic materials can ignite and continue to burn, and might even melt onto the skin. Only use clothing made from 100% natural materials (no blends) like wool, cotton, or silk.
The insulating layer is worn on top of the base layer and provides additional warmth and protection to the wearer. The thickness and rating of this layer will depend on specific work requirements and the climate, but common winter options include FR turtlenecks and FR sweatshirts.
The weather protection layer is the final piece of a complete FR winter outfit. It consists of an outer layer that keeps the user protected from the elements. FR winter jackets are one of the best and most common options. In climates that aren't too frigid, however, a heavy FR sweatshirt or vest might be sufficient.
There are two major considerations when it comes to this layer:
- Ensuring that it meets all FR requirements (it is, after all, your first line of defense against fire and arc flash hazards)
- Movement and comfort (bulky winter wear is neither comfortable nor flexible)
To ensure the user's comfort, the outer layer of a winter FR outfit should be breathable while offering protection against wind, rain, and snow.
Other Cold Weather Considerations
While layering clothing to protect the body is critical, no winter outfit would be complete without accessories to protect other exposed body parts, including the hands, feet, face, and ears. Here are some important items that you’ll want to consider.
Depending on the weather, you may opt for something that covers the entire face or just the ears and top of the head. There is a variety of FR balaclavas, beanies, hoods, and other hats available to meet these needs (learn about 4 Problems with Traditional Arc Flash Head Protection).
Hands frequently are frequently exposed to hazards, so it's important to make sure the gloves you select have the right FR properties. Be sure to also choose gloves that allow enough dexterity to perform work tasks with ease.
Socks are an often overlooked – but important – part of a winter FR outfit. Wool is a great option here, since it’s naturally flame-resistant and offers plenty of warmth.
The winter season brings its own challenges and hazards to the workplace, but by layering FR clothing properly, you can be sure that your workers are protected year 'round.