Selecting personal protective equipment is a function of hazard and task analysis, along with a close eye on relevant laws, standards, acts, regulations, and codes.
In researching this article, however, it's the other side of the equation – the legal side – that struck me. The list of regulations and standards that apply to flame-resistant (FR) rainwear is quite extensive and continuously updated. Every safety professional needs to stay on top of this aspect of PPE selection to ensure due diligence.
Just looking over the regulations isn't enough. You also need a sound working knowledge of the various testing methodologies and certifications that apply to this kind of PPE. When it comes to arc and flame protection, you should become familiar with the following:
- ASTM F1959 - Arc Testing
- ASTM D6413 - Vertical Flammability
- AATCC 61 Method 2A - Colorfastness
- ASTM D3786 - Bursting Strength
- ASTM D1424 - Elmendorf Tear
- ASTM D5034 - Breaking Strength
- AATCC 135 - Dimensional Change
This table will give you a look at the various documents associated with PPE that include references to AR/FR rainwear. In each case, make sure you are reviewing the most current version of the standard, code, act, regulation, code of practice, best practice, or testing protocol.
Does Selecting FR Rainwear Have to Be Complicated?
I know what you're thinking. You clicked on this article because you just wanted a simple way to figure out what kind of gear your workers will need. Instead, I'm throwing standards and testing methods at you.
Well, selecting the right gear means paying attention to what the products are tested for, and what that testing really means in terms of its certified performance. The electrical utility industry requires a familiarity with things like arc rating and the break-open threshold.
That can seem a bit intimidating, but it all starts with asking yourself the right kinds of questions to identify your needs and narrow your selection. Besides the obvious fact that you need gear that is suitable for foul weather, the list of questions that are part of your analysis should include:
- What jobs are the workers going to be doing?
- What hazards might these workers be exposed to?
- What type of environmental conditions might the workers encounter?
- Cold, damp, or humidity?
- Rain, sleet, or snow?
- Will some or all of the work be done outdoors?
- How good is the lighting and is it reliable?
- What type of features might the workers need from their protective gear?
- High-visibility or reflective clothing?
- Wind resistance?
- Breathability, insulation, lining?
- Are rain suits needed or are rain jackets sufficient?
- Pockets for certain tools?
- Chest pocket?
- Work site specific requirements for FR PPE that you need to be compliant with (for instance, some oil production facilities may insist on FR PPE made from Nomex)
- Does the supplier meet our needs?
- What is the price point?
- How good is the availability and how fast the delivery?
- Does the supplier offer good customer service?
Asking these questions will get you to the point of understanding of the features of the products you need.
(Find out How to Ensure Outdoor Worker Visibility.)
Fit and Comfort
When it comes to selecting any kind of PPE, style, fit, durability, and worker comfort are not optional.
Comfort can be especially hard to achieve in foul weather. Working in the rain safely and comfortably may require breathable, arc-rated, flame-resistant gear that is waterproof and wicks away moisture. Otherwise, your workers might find themselves too hot or too cold, sweaty or shivering, and wet inside their raingear.
FR rainwear also shouldn't impede the user's movements. Workers should be able to reach, lift and carry tools, crouch, kneel, and bend down comfortably without having to take off the raingear.
Closures, snaps, zippers, ties, and other types of fasteners need to be durable and functional and can be opened and closed without having to take off work gloves.
When sizing raingear, keep in mind that workers may have to wear two or even three layers of FR clothing under their rainwear. Make sure to account for that.
My personal preference is for rainwear with big, tough zippers and waterproof closures. Cargo/radio pockets with an over-flap and Velcro or snap closures are also preferable. I recently bought a brand-name FR rain jacket and had the small plastic zipper at the front break on the first day, and then I tore holes in the mesh pockets on the next. So, it pays to shop around and make sure you're getting top quality gear.
Asking your workers for input is a great way to avoid some of these problems.
To my knowledge, there aren't any single-use FR rain jackets on the market. Make sure you get something durable.
Durability means reuse, and reuse means cost savings. Price point is always an issue, but look for the best available option within your budget. When you buy cheap, you get cheap. Buying higher end products usually means putting out more money up front, but if they last longer you can end up spending less in the long run.
Plus, every safety professional knows what can happen when PPE fails. Incidents and injuries are the real costs of low bid purchasing.
In addition to the gear itself, consider where you're getting it from. Building a good relationship with a quality supplier, manufacturer, or distributor can save you lots of headache. They can help you with selection, purchasing, delivery, and service.
So, how do you select the right gear? It all comes down to due diligence, including documenting your process. Carefully consider the risks, hazards, and task challenges that the gear must meet to allow your people to get the job done.
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