In thousands of manufacturing facilities all over the United Sates the threat of combustible dust is very real. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administraion (OWHA) has identified more than 15,000 companies that are considered high risk for combustible dust explosions and/or fires. The concern is significant enough that OSHA created a National Emphasis Program (NEP). The market segment receiving the largest number of inspections, and by default the most citations, is the wood manufacturing industry. By the numbers alone, OSHA has identified wood dust and manufacturers that create wood dust as a prime concern. Over 200 inspections have been made under the NEP and over 150 citations have been issued to companies in the wood products industry.

Since 1980 over 900 people have been injured or killed in combustible dust explosions and fires. Injuries range from minor to severe 2nd and 3rd degree burns. The injuries are logical when you consider the dynamics of a combustible dust explosion are very often initiated by a flash fire and/or followed by a flash fire. It has been clear that flame resistant clothing - the last line of defense - can protect workers who are exposed to flash fire hazards - this realization was evident when Imperial Sugar adopted a plant-wide FR clothing program after the accident that claimed 13 lives and injured many others when it was determined that the burns many of the injured received could have been prevented by FR clothing.

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 increases body burn percentage and can turn a survivable situation into a fatal one.

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 is flame resistant fabric. By requiring Industrial uniforms to be made from flame resistant fabric you can eliminate clothing ignition from the equation.

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.

Flame-resistant fabrics are designed to protect against momentary hazards such as, arc flash, molten metal splash and flash fire zazards. 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.

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.

When tested to these standards experts find significant variance in performance of flame resistant fabrics. For example, 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 decision in determining and specifying the flame resistant fabric to be utilized by your organization is making sure is has market proven performance. This includes making sure the garment manufacturer has years of experience in flame resistant fabrics, guarantees flame resistance for the life of the garment, regularly tests and certifies FR fabrics and has an experienced technical staff.

Derek Sang is business development manager of Bulwark Protective Apparel of Nashville, TN. He has been involved with the Flame Resistant Clothing market from the service, manufacturing and garment sides for more than 15 years. Over the past six years Sang has worked closely with Fortune 1000 companies as they look develop PPE programs to protect employees from the hazards of flash Fire and electrical arc flash. He has developed and conducted more than 150 educational and informational seminars. He can be reached at Derek_Sang@vfc.com.

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