While some are concerned with how they look when they get dressed for work, a large portion of the workforce has to consider the functionality of their work clothes.
For some, that means wearing flame-resistant (FR) clothing on the job.
You may be surprised to learn what some of the most flammable materials are and how often they are used by clothing manufacturers despite their flammability. It’s important to keep in mind that flammability varies based on numerous factors, such as how the fabric is made, fibre content and any chemical finishes. However, the highly flammable materials mentioned below should be avoided when fire hazards are a standard part of your work day.
According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Occupational Safety and Health Standard 1910.269, the following materials are prohibited in work clothing, whether by themselves or in blends, “unless the employer demonstrates that the fabric has been treated to withstand the conditions that may be encountered by the employee or that the employee wears the clothing in such a manner as to eliminate the hazard involved.”
Flammable materials such as nylon and polyester burn slowly, but melt when doing so and can cause molten residue.
Acetate burns very rapidly and is difficult to remove when melted onto another surface. This is particularly important for any non-FR clothing worn under FR clothing. These undergarments may not be directly exposed to heat and flames, but could experience enough thermal energy to melt.
Nylon is commonly blended with cotton and then treated to become flame-resistant. The use of nylon, when blended and treated properly, is fine.
OSHA offers additional guidelines on clothing that should be worn on the job when fire hazards are present.
Particularly untreated materials such as cotton, linen and silk not only catch on fire quickly, but burn rapidly as well. While these flammable materials do not melt the way manmade ones do, red, burning hot embers remain once the flame has been extinguished. These materials, particularly cotton, are often treated with flame retardants, making them suitable for thermal exposures, once they have been tested using one of the standard industry test methods for flammability, such as ASTM D6413.
Athletic performance fabrics
A popular performance-fabric sportswear brand was banned by the United States Marines a decade ago because of melting hazards that occur at high temperatures, such as the ones troops were encountering during service in Iraq. Since then, other branches of the military, along with many fire departments across the country, have followed suit. While the sporting brand’s praised fabric technology has garnered respect from the world of sports, it should not be worn when dealing with fire hazards at work. To keep your bases covered, it’s recommended to avoid all sports performance materials.
Always discuss the preferred flame-resistant clothing standards with your employer to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of others, while on the job.
Mark Saner is the FR technical manager with Workrite Uniform Co. in Oxnard, California. Founded in 1973, Workrite was a pioneer in FR clothing in the United States and is now a worldwide leader in safety apparel.