If you are choosing fire resistant (FR) garments to protect workers from fire and high temperatures, then you need to know the facts. Primary, FR clothing such as Nomex® is a costly investment for any company. These garments are manufactured with heat- and flame-resistant textiles. Primary FR garments are thick but the tightly woven fibers will not conduct heat well. Also, when the material comes in contact with a flame, it ignites but will stop burning when the heat source is removed. These two properties of primary FR give workers a chance to remove themselves from danger as it takes some time for heat or fire to travel through the fabric.

Can You Reduce PPE Costs With Disposable FR Clothing

Many companies have a set budget for personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE). When primary fire-resistant suits such as Nomex® are a part of those requirements, the costs to purchase FR clothing can be very high. A study has looked at the overall cost of company-owned FR suits that are used as primary protection in work locations that pose a fire hazard to workers.

It was calculated that the average cost of a primary FR garment program can increase by as much as 15 to 20 percent each year! This is primarily due to 3 factors that will affect every workplace:

  1. Dirty and Damaged FR that must be replaced when exposed to high levels of flammable materials, like fuel, grease and oil.
  2. Wear and Tear from normal duties around heavy machinery or tight spaces means FR uniforms take a beating.
  3. Employees that retire, leave the company, or move to different departments is an unavoidable replacement cost.

To reduce your PPE costs for fire resistant clothing, disposable FR garments are used to extend the life of primary FR outfits and reduce the financial load on PPE budgets. Here we will look at the important facts for choosing disposable FR clothing that performs well for the level of protection needed, and are a cost-effective solution for your company's PPE budget.

Read more about the true cost of Reusable Versus Dispsoable Protective Clothing at International Enviroguard.

Fire-Resistant vs Fire-Retardant?

An important fact to know is that FR clothing is not fire-proof. FR clothing reduces fire related hazards for employees when they are wearing one or more layers of either flame resistant or flame retardant fabrics. Fire-resistant clothing is self-extinguishing and will minimize burn injuries caused by flames or embers. Industries where workers are exposed to flash fires, sparks, or electric arc include many manufacturing facilities, hazmat operations oil and gas, and electrical workers

Fire-retardant clothing typically starts with cotton or a cotton-blend fabric which is then treated with special chemicals. These garments will also cause burning material or flames to self-extinguish. Both types of FR overalls will protect workers from catastrophic burn injury. It is more important to consider the manufacturing specifications of a FR garment. These include the choice or combination of fibers, coatings, and other treatments.

The Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) has published a glossary of FR Clothing terms that is helpful.

Why Layer FR Garments?

Wearing multiple layers of FR clothing can serve two main purposes. Disposable FR overalls will protect your investment when you purchase expensive FR garments like Nomex®. The outer, disposable FR coverall is to be thrown away after each use. Consider a disposable FR product like PyroGuard FR®. These FR garments a lightweight solution to layering of FR apparel. They are made with a breathable material and will protect primary FR garments from workplace dirt and grease that can put a primary FR garment out of service.

The National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP) discusses the benefits of layering FR garments instead of wearing one thick and very heavy FR piece. The thicker FR garments limit the workers ability to move and stay cool. Lighter layers are more breathable, will wick moisture from the skin, and minimize odor. The base layer closest to the skin should be a non-melting material while the outer layer can be a flame-retardant or flame-resistant disposable FR garment.

PPE for Flame and Chemical Protection

Working around chemicals and flames may demand a disposable FR outfit that has sealed seams to against liquid and chemical penetration. Sealed seams will make sure the stitch holes in FR garments prevent liquids from entering. These watertight FR coveralls can offer a broad range of chemical protection when fire-resistant tape is securely covering all seams.

Many work environments contain sources of electrical spark and ignitable chemicals that will demand these type of disposable FR outfits. When flammable and combustible materials are not handled properly, these liquids can come into contact with faulty electrical equipment. Primary FR garments like Nomex ® along with secondary chemical and fire resistant coveralls may be needed in the following industries where chemicals and electricity exist side by side"

  • Oil and gas
  • Food processing
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Environmental remediation
  • Nuclear energy
  • Semiconductor facilities
  • Pharmaceuticals

Avoiding Heat Stress in FR Coveralls

For most manufacturing industries, safety managers will consider the complete protection of workers. A complete FR outfit will include standard FR coveralls, cold weather gear, and extra accessories which may include FR rated gloves, hood or other headgear, and heat-resistant, safety boots. While full FR outfits can decrease the percentage of body burn, they can also be a source of heat stress. The goal for your FR garments should include keeping the worker's core body temperature down.

Lightweight FR coveralls will provide workers with full body protection in one FR garment. For hot environments or working around hot equipment, provide breathable, disposable FR clothing that keeps moisture off the skin.  

If the worker's duties involve sparks or radiant heat coming from only one direction. Consider adding a protective front or sleeves to a lightweight, disposable FR garments. Welding jackets or aluminized leg chaps

Can FR Suits Be Washed?

Flame Resistant fabrics like Nomex® can be washed but the manufacturer's FR storage, inspection, and care instructions must be carefully followed. Often, these garments will have many limitations on what not to do when cleaning, such as:

  • Do not use chlorine bleach or detergents with bleach
  • Dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or starch is not to be used
  • Flame resistant clothing must be washed separately from other garments
  • Natural soaps or detergents that contain animal fats should be avoided

There are two reasons why laundering of primary FR clothing is so restrictive. First, these laundry products can change the FR performance of the outfits. And secondly, certain detergents can leave a residue on FR clothing that acts as a fuel when the employee is exposed to flames, sparks, or embers. Disposable FR clothing is to be worn once, and only once. They should be discarded after the employee removes the garment at the end of the workday. 

Nomex is a registered trademark of heat and flame resistant textiles made by the DuPont Corporation.