The success of your flame resistant (FR) clothing program depends heavily on the fabric used to construct the garments. Both arc rating and flash fire “2112” testing are done by fabric brand and weight; the fabric brand is also the key factor in durability of FR properties, initial and long term comfort, shrinkage control, wear life, and more. For these reasons, it’s very important that you take an active role in specifying the fabric used to produce finished garments. Here are a few questions to consider when evaluating fabric manufacturers:
- Are the fabric’s FR properties guaranteed to last the life of the garment (and if so, by whom, and with what qualifiers)? Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion about the difference between “inherent” and “treated” FR fabrics. These terms refer to the methods used to achieve a fabric’s flame resistant properties. And while some manufacturers would like you to believe that this issue is important, it’s important to remember that these terms have no basis in textile science. A better approach to choosing the right fabric is to look for data and performance characteristics that prove how well it performs in the real world, over time. Irrefutable facts like number of years in the market or the results of multiple independent laboratory evaluations are the only sound basis for a safety decision. It’s not how the flame resistance is engineered that counts, it’s that it is FR for the life of the garment.
- Is the fabric comfortable? Let’s face it — no one on your team is going to want to wear an uncomfortable, stiff garment that shrinks a size or two as soon as you get it near a washing machine. In order for your FR clothing program to be successful, it’s critical that the garments you select are made from durable, yet comfortable, fabric that your employees will want to wear. Learn as much as you can about the fabric’s feel against the skin and susceptibility to shrinkage.
- Is the fabric’s brand reputable? You get what you pay for; so don’t be afraid to pay for quality—it’ll pay off in the long run. Generic and off-brand fabrics often claim to provide excellent protection, but their bargain basement prices should definitely make you think twice about their claims. A marginally lower up-front investment on a low-quality product is a high risk that could lead to employee injuries, program dissatisfaction and/or significant additional costs downstream.
When safety is involved, the fabric is critical. Use this guide to choose your manufacturer wisely.