When you’re working in an environment where flash fires, electric arc flashes, and combustible dusts pose a safety risk, you need to know that you're wearing the right type of coveralls.

But if you feel a bit puzzled by all the talk of hazard rating categories and arc flash ratings, you’re not alone. This article will clear things up and help you choose the right flame-resistant (FR) coveralls for your job.

Understanding Flame Resistance

Flame-resistant clothing is protective clothing made of materials that resist ignition or self-extinguish when the ignition source is removed. It is designed to keep the predicted body burn area under 50 percent, which has been shown to significantly improve the survival rate for burn victims.

Let’s be clear about that: flame-resistant coveralls aren’t intended to prevent burn injuries, only to reduce them.

Most FR clothing is designed to protect workers from two specific workplace hazards: flash fires and electric arc flashes. Electric arcs are one of the most serious hazards for workers, as the flashes can reach temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun in just a fraction of a second.

In case of either of these events, flame-resistant coveralls do not burn when exposed to flames and actively reduce the amount of heat that penetrates through and reaches the skin to cause burns. The fabric acts as a barrier between the skin and the fire – and the thicker the material, the greater the degree of protection.

Common Applications for FR Coveralls

Statistics indicate that explosions and fires account for 3 percent of workplace injuries and have the highest fatality rate of any type of workplace accident. Where possible, flame-resistant coveralls (and other clothing items) offer a barrier to mitigate the seriousness of these injuries.

Any job that might put a worker in contact with flash fires, electric arcs, or combustible dust explosions requires the use of flame-resistant coveralls. Some frequent applications include:

  • Petroleum work and refineries
  • Chemical or pharmaceutical plants
  • Electricians
  • Utility line workers
  • Food processing plants
  • Pulp and paper processing
  • Working with molten metals

Standards to Remember

OSHA’s general duty clause tasks employers with providing their employees a safe working environment that is free from all recognized hazards known to cause death or serious harm. This includes, of course, flash fire and electric arc flash hazards.

OSHA does not specify particular standards for flame-resistant PPE. The NFPA, however, has two:

  • NFPA 2112: Standard on Flame-Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire – Outlines the minimum performance requirements and test methods for flame-resistant fabrics and components, as well as the design and certification requirements for garments that are intended for use in areas at risk from flash fires.
  • NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace – Outlines electrical safety requirements that protect employees working on the installation, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electrical conductors and equipment

6 Steps to Choosing the Right Coveralls for the Job

When selecting flame-resistant coveralls, there are a few variables you need to take into consideration. Following these steps will help you make the best choice when it comes to protecting your workers.

1. Identify the Hazards Before Assessing Your Options

You simply cannot begin selecting FR coveralls before you fully understand the hazards that your workers are up against.

Are they at risk for flash fires? Electric arc flashes? Both?

Are there any other hazards (for example, chemical spills) that they must be protected against?

The answers to these questions will narrow down your search by eliminating options that don’t meet your specific needs (for more advice, see 4 Steps to Conducting Effective Job Safety Analyses).

2. Review Standards and Regulations

There’s nothing worse than purchasing a large quantity of PPE, only to learn that it doesn’t meet the safety requirements set out by OSHA or the NFPA. By reviewing the standards immediately after identifying your hazards, you’ll have a solid idea of what characteristics your chosen FR coveralls must have.

3. Determine the Required Level of Protection

Not all FR coveralls are made equal, and some offer more protection than others. To remain compliant, make sure the coveralls you select meet the minimum required level of protection for the identified hazard(s).

Use this chart to help you determine what you need.

Hazard Risk Category

Clothing Description

Required Minimum Arc Rating (cal/cm2)

1

FR shirt and FR pants or FR coveralls (1 layer)

4

2

Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants (1 or 2 layers)

8

3

Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants plus FR coveralls or cotton underwear plus two FR coveralls (2 or 3 layers)

25

4

Cotton underwear plus FR shirt and FR pants plus multilayer flash suit (3 or more layers)

40


(For related reading, see 4 Key Types of Protective Clothing to Know and Understand.)

The arc rating refers to the amount of energy required to pass through a fabric to cause a 50 percent probability of second or third degree burns. The value is measured in calories per centimeter squared (cal/cm2), and the higher the arc rating, the greater the level of protection. Manufacturers are required to display this value on flame-resistant PPE.

Free Download: Your Guide to Choosing a Disposable FR Garment

4. Assess and Evaluate Garments that Meet Your Needs

Once you’ve defined your requirements, you can begin assessing your options. Review wear trials that were conducted and, if possible, try them out for yourself.

For each coverall, you’ll want to consider:

  • Physical and thermal protective characteristics of the fabric
  • Garment design and construction
  • Avoidance of static charge build-up
  • Placement of high-visibility striping, if applicable
  • Conditions under which the garment will be worn
  • Comfort of both the fabric and the garment (including ease of movement)
  • Cleaning and maintenance

If you have any questions about the product, speak with the manufacturer.

5. Select the Best Option(s) for Your Context

Based on your assessments and evaluations, you can now make a decision about which coveralls best address your needs and the identified hazards.

In some instances, you might find that you require different FR coveralls for different parts of your business. The main thing is ensuring that the item you choose adequately addresses the hazard and mitigates the risk to workers.

6. Develop a Training Program

Buying the right coveralls isn't enough to keep your workers safe. It’s critical that they also understand the hazards, safe working practices, and how to properly care for their flame-resistant clothing. Creating a training program that specifically addresses these topics not only helps prolong the life of the garments, but creates a stronger culture of safety and helps employees take responsibility for their own well-being at work.

Topics could include:

  • When FR coveralls must be worn
  • Limitations of FR protection
  • Proper use, care, and maintenance
  • Use of undergarments or over garments with FR coveralls

Conclusion

Flame-resistant coveralls aren’t the first line of defense for workers ­– that falls to engineering and administrative controls. But they are a critical part of the safety plan for workers who could be exposed to flash fires, electric arcs, and combustible dusts while on the job. Making sure your workers are adequately protected starts with understanding how to choose the right gear.