Four considerations to determine the best AR/FR clothing for your safety needs
When it comes to arc rated (AR), flame resistant (FR) garments, there are many options in the marketplace. Some garments rely on marketing terminology to show they offer sufficient protection against short term thermal hazards; however, these terms can often be misleading. In creating an FR program that best protects workers, wading through what is important and what is not can be challenging. Keep these four key elements in mind when choosing AR/FR garments to help make your decision less cumbersome.
1 - Know the difference between fabric and garment manufacturers: A fabric manufacturer engineers and produces FR fabric, which the garment manufacturer then uses to create AR/FR apparel. It is up to the fabric manufacturer to create quality fabric to meet industry standards. Many of the important testing and quality assurance metrics fall to the fabric manufacturer; therefore, specifying a reputable fabric manufacturer is important, as an AR/FR garment will only perform as well as its fabric.
2 - Understand the meaning behind ‘88/12’: In recent years, brands adopted the phrase ‘88/12’ to imply a garment offers comfort and sufficient AR/FR properties. In reality, ‘88/12’ is no indication of the garment’s comfort or AR/FR properties, nor is it a fabric brand. The phrase ‘88/12’ refers to the type of fabric makeup—88% cotton and 12% nylon, before the flame resistant engineering process. 88/12 garments can certainly carry AR/FR qualities; however, it is important to read the garment label and research the fabric manufacturer to ensure the fabric meets industry requirements and balances three key properties in a fabric: flame resistance, comfort, and shrinkage control. Each of these properties directly impacts the other two, so it is important that you are specifying a fabric from a reputable manufacturer who understands the nuances of FR textiles and who balances these three considerations.
3 - Review industry standards: When designing a safety program, it is important to understand what ‘NFPA-certified’ means when included on a garment label. NFPA standards set a minimum level of criteria, which is intended to be a baseline measurement for manufacturers. For example, NFPA 2112 states that acceptable FR fabric can have up to 49% predictable total body burn when tested via ASTM F1930 manikin test method. Yet a 49% body burn is still a significant amount, so specifying a fabric that goes beyond this requirement could be greatly beneficial. The same holds true with most standards —they are an important part of our industry but are designed to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
4 - Read garment labels: AR/FR garments should all have labels to indicate their level of protection against specific workplace thermal hazards and the standards they meet. Additionally, labels will indicate cleaning instructions, fiber content, and sizing. These labels come from both the fabric and garment manufacturers and showcase quality, consistency, attention to detail, and commitment to the end user. Always be sure to inspect each label carefully to ensure the garment meets your workplace safety needs.