SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Defining FR – Flame Resistant Fabrics
Non Flame Resistant fabrics, which
make up the majority of the industrial
Today’s Industrial market has seen an increase in garments
labeled FR – Flame Resistant, Fire Retardant,
Flame Retardant etc. No matter how low the probability
of an employee being exposed to an accidental thermal
event the type of fabric that clothing is made from is
extremely important. Non Flame Resistant fabrics such as
cotton or poly cotton
blends, which make up
the majority of the
industrial garments in
today’s market, can and
do ignite, which dramatically
burn percentage and
can turn a survivable situation
into a fatality.
In fact, government
reports note that the
majority of severe and fatal burn injuries are due to the
individual’s clothing igniting and continuing to burn, not
by the exposure itself. The best way to prevent an industrial
uniform from igniting and burning is to ensure that
the clothing is made from flame resistant fabric. By
requiring industrial uniforms to be made from flame
resistant fabric you can eliminate clothing ignition from
The next logical step then becomes researching and
specifying what flame resistant fabrics are appropriate for
the industrial uniforms to be made with. There are numerous
fabrics available to the industrial community that
claim to have flame resistant performance.
Your fabric choice should be the first specification made,
regardless of the garment configuration or style, because the
fabric ultimately determines how the uniform will perform in
an unexpected thermal event and is directly related to the
degree to which the wearer could be injured or burned.
There are a number of different aspects to how a garment
performs in a thermal event, including fabric weight,
construction, fiber composition and flame resistant technology.
Some flame resistant fabrics allow a lot of thermal
energy to pass through the fabric because they are lighter
in weight with open weaves and, although the fabric does
not ignite, they have a higher degree of body burn when
tested on a thermal mannequin, yet the manufacturer can
correctly advertise them as flame resistant.
There are a number of different tests, standards and regulations
that measure the performance of fabrics for specific
industries. For example there a several fabrics available
in the market stated to self extinguish when tested to
ASTM D6413. This is a vertical flame test method that fabrics
must be subjected to in order to be defined as flame
resistant for protective clothing, but the test method
reveals no information on how the fabric will perform in a
particular thermal event. Information on how long the fabric
will be flame resistant or how insulating the fabric is to
a thermal event is not defined under the standard.
Flame resistant fabrics are designed to protect against
momentary hazards such as, Arc Flash, Molten Metal
Splash and Flash Fire Hazards. A fabric that performs well
in one or more of these thermal events may not perform
as well in a different type
of momentary exposure.
Therefore using data for
one type of thermal
event to another does
not insure performance.
Meeting the minimum
standards for Flame
Resistant fabric is not
enough. Currently the
commercial market utilizes
the NFPA 2112
standard and the ASTM F1930 test method to help evaluate
Flame Resistant Fabrics for the Flash Fire hazard.
NFPA 2112 is the standard for flame resistant garments
for protection of industrial personnel against flash fire.
Under the test method, flame resistant fabrics are tested
against a 2 calorie exposure for 3 seconds in which sensored
mannequins are able to measure the extent and
severity of body burn. They also must pass a vertical flame
test after a 100 launderings and have a “char” length less
than 4 inches. Thermal Protective Performance (TPP) also
must be tested both with spacers and without.
When tested to this standard experts find significant
variance in performance of flame resistant fabrics. A fabric
can pass and be certified to NFPA 2112 as long as it
measures less than 50% second and third degree burn.
Two fabrics, for example one that tests to 49% body burn
and a second fabric that tests to 10% body burn both
meet the performance requirements for NFPA 2112.
Due to the varied performance of fabrics, it is critical
that your flame resistant fabric choice be determined by
proven industry consensus test methods at independent
laboratories. The second critical piece in determining and
specifying the flame resistant fabric to be utilized by your
organization is market proven performance.
With the influx of generic and unproven fabrics, it is
important to note that in researching available fabrics for
your industrial operators, that the fabric manufacturer has
a proven track record of performance.
The FR fabric used to construct the garment is a critical
aspect of any protective clothing program since the fabric
is a primary contributor to the protection, comfort and
value equation. Therefore, it is important to understand
the experience and capabilities of the flame resistant fabric
manufacturer and the proven (or unproven) performance
of the fabrics in the market. Key points for your consideration
include years experience in flame resistant fabrics, guaranteed flame resistant for the life of the garment,
continually test and certify FR fabrics, experienced technical
staff, involvement in industry committees and a government
In today’s industrial community, exposure to a flash fire
through direct or indirect means can result in a garment
fire and significant injury. The only way to protect employees
from their clothing catching fire during a thermal event
is to make sure that the clothing is flame resistant. When
choosing Flame Resistant clothing it is essential that the
fabric that garment is to be made from has a track record
of proven performance in the conditions required.
Specifying what fabric the industrial garments are to be
made from should be the first and most important step in
the process of defining your industrial uniform.
today’s market, can and
do ignite - which can turn a survivable
situation into a fatality.
Guest written by Derek Sang, Business Development
Manager, Bulwark Protective Apparel. Sang has been
involved with the Flame Resistant Clothing market from
the service, manufacturing and garment sides for over 15
years. Bulwark Protective Apparel is a division of VF
Corporation, has been an industry leader for over 30
years and currently is the largest supplier of Flame
Resistant shirts, pants, jeans, coveralls, jackets and other
He can be reached at 480-540-5350, E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: www.vfimagewear.com.
For more information, click on the author link at the top of the page.