Do you have to wear flame-resistant clothing for your job? Most people in the oil and gas industry do, including contractors and service technicians. Even if flame-resistant (FR) clothing is something you only need for specific task, you may want to consider wearing it at all times.
Let’s first review what FR clothing is and why it’s so important.
FR clothing is a special kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect you from fire-related hazards. Although it’s not entirely “fire-proof,” FR clothing will reduce your risk of getting burned while on the job.
How does it work? The clothing itself will catch fire if exposed to a flame. However, it’s designed to self-extinguish almost immediately. So, it won’t continue to burn once ignited. The two main types of FR clothing are flame-resistant and flame-retardant.
And while both of these are equally safe to use, there are some differences. Let’s take a closer look.
Flame-Resistant clothing is made from material that is inherently resistant to flames and embers. Meaning that the threads and fibers will naturally self-extinguish.
Flame-Retardant clothing on the other hand, is made from materials that have been chemically treated to achieve the same self-extinguishing properties.
As you can see, the main difference in these two types of clothing are in the garment material. Both will self-extinguish. Both will reduce the likelihood and severity of burns. Either option can sufficiently protect you from fire-related hazards.
In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to tell the difference between the two. Check the inside of your tag, or follow up with the clothing manufacturer to find out which style you’re currently using.
It’s important to note that FR clothing is not the same as Arc-Rated (AR) clothing. FR clothing protects workers from things like flash fires, flames, and embers. AR clothing protects workers from electrical arc hazards.
Ask your safety specialist if you’re unsure whether FR or AR is best for you. It really depends on the scope of your work, and which types of hazards you’re regularly exposed to.
How to Choose the Best FR Clothing For Your Job
One thing that might help you decide between flame-resistant and flame-retardant materials is the laundering and maintenance requirements. Let’s take a look.
Chemically treated, flame-retardant fabrics will only retain their FR qualities for a certain number of washes. There are also strict guidelines for laundering the FR clothes. Check the tag and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper care and maintenance.
Flame-resistant fabrics also have specific laundering guidelines. But remember, these clothes are made from materials that are inherently flame-resistant. So they retain their quality much longer than treated fabrics.
Garment material is not the only thing you need to think about when purchasing FR clothing. There are other factors to consider as well, such as cost, comfort, and protection level.
Flame-retardant clothing is usually more affordable than flame-resistant clothing. But, it is a trade off.
Would you rather spend less on flame-retardant clothing, and have to replace it more often? Or would you rather spend more on inherently flame-resistant clothing, and have it last much longer?
These are questions you need to ask yourself when weighing the cost of different garment options.
As for protection level, all types of FR clothing will come with a label that specifies the degree to which it will protect you. Below is a chart that helps you understand the different ratings.
National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) put this chart together to help workers determine what level of protection they need for their job. FR clothing will come with a label that identifies its Hazard Risk Category.
In general, lower hazard tasks only need Category 1 or 2. Electrical workers often need to wear at least a Category 3. Again, check with your supervisor or the company’s safety specialist to find out which rating you’ll need for your job.
The best kind of FR clothing will not only protect you from hazards, but will also be comfortable too.
Why is comfort so important?
FR clothing has gotten a bad reputation for being too hot and bulky. That’s because when FR clothing first came out, the options were limited. And, the technology wasn’t very advanced.
Now, manufacturers have the ability to create soft, lightweight fabrics that still provide adequate protection.
Comfort levels will still vary, of course. It depends on the brand, size, material, and several other factors. When at all possible, see if you can get a sample from the vendor before you make a purchase. You want to make sure it’s comfortable for you to wear on a regular basis.
Comfort is so important because you’re more likely to wear something that isn’t bulky or heavy. If it’s too hot, restricts your movement, or makes you frustrated — you might be tempted to just leave it behind and wear something else.
Obviously we don’t want that. Find yourself some clothes that are comfortable and lightweight.
Here are some additional benefits of having comfortable FR clothing:
Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses
Lightweight garments can reduce your risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses. How? Bulky garments add extra weight. Combining heavy garments with hot, humid working conditions can be a recipe for disaster. Choosing comfortable, lightweight garments is a much better option.
Avoid Cold-Related Illnesses
Did you know that those same lightweight garments can help you manage and prevent cold-related illnesses too? You can accomplish this by wearing moisture-wicking garments as a base layer.
Even when working in cold winter weather you can still sweat from working too hard. Some fabrics, like cotton, can trap sweat between your skin and the clothing. And that’s not good, because it can result in a drastic drop in body temperature when you start to cool off.
Moisture-wicking garments avoid those types of problems. They help regulate body temperature by allowing you to dry quickly after heavy perspiration. This prevents you coming down with hypothermia and other cold-related illnesses.
When working in cold environments, you’ll still want to layer warmer FR garments on top of the moisture-wicking base layer.
Improve Your Productivity and Morale
Obviously your safety is important. But, so is your happiness! Being forced to wear bulky or uncomfortable clothing is only going to make you angry and frustrated. Being comfortable allows you to focus on your work.
That can lead you to be more productive. That should make your supervisor happy, too!
These are all great reasons why comfort is important when picking out your FR clothing. Comfortable, cost-effective, and quality gear will offer you protection from fire-related hazards on the job.
Types of Protective Clothing You Might Need
Not every worker in the oil and gas industry requires the same PPE. Even those who are all wearing FR clothing might each have something a little bit different. That’s because there are a wide variety of clothes that come with FR qualities.
Working in the hot summer sun? Find yourself some lightweight pants and a tee-shirt. Or, make it easy and purchase a coverall suit. Does your job or employer require long-sleeves? No problem. You can find a whole range of different styles of long sleeve FR shirts.
In the winter, you’ll probably want a heavy-duty flame-resistant jacket. You might be more comfortable in pants still, but FR jeans are available and look much more modern than ones from years ago. Choose additional accessories like hats or beanies, gloves, and more for added protection.
You may also need to look for specialty FR clothing, such as:
- Base Layers
In the oil and gas industry, you know how important it is to stay visible. There’s often heavy equipment running around, and you need to make sure that operators can see you.
You actually have a lot of choices when it comes to high-visibility FR clothing. Vests, bibs, jackets, tee-shirts, you decide which clothing option is best for you.
Did you know that there are FR rainwear products to keep you safe and dry during wet, stormy conditions? Often times the visibility is poor during a rainstorm. So, you might want to look for a high visibility rainsuit that also has FR properties. That way, you’re covering all the bases.
We already discussed how base layers can be used for temperature control. They’re also great for keeping you comfortable. If you have an FR jumpsuit or coverall, you probably want to have a base layer on underneath anyway. It’s a best practice to wear FR clothing as a base layer, even if your outermost clothes are flame-resistant.
The Best Kind of FR Clothing
Wrapping it up, the best kind of FR clothing is going to be different for every worker. You need to decide which types of clothing are best for you.
Take into account things like cost, comfort, maintenance requirements, and protection level. Decide if having inherently designed flame-resistant fabrics is important to you. And, get the gear you need based on your unique job requirements.
Shop our FR Clothing catalog, or contact an RMI representative for more information about the best FR solutions for you.