FR Clothing Delivery Method: A More Important Factor Than You May Think

How various sourcing methods of flame-resistant (FR) clothing can impact worker safety and your bottom line.

As a safety professional, your organizational leadership is looking to you to find ways to cut costs without sacrificing safety. In this belt-tightening environment, direct-cash outlays for personal protective equipment (PPE) purchases might be scrutinized by your business's financial officers more frequently. How you provide that PPE can impact not only safety, but your company's bottom line as well.

Safety professionals choose to implement FR clothing programs for various reasons, ranging from simply protecting workers from ignition risks such as arc flash to trying to avoid OSHA citations. Whatever the reasons are, organizations should be aware that they have options in how to source protective apparel.

PURCHASE

The first, and perhaps the most straightforward method, is “purchase.” A safety professional may decide to buy FR clothing outright. This option has several pros and cons.

The pros include:

Variety — In a purchase program, you have a wide variety of styles, fabrics and sources from which to choose.

Simplicity — When FR garments are purchased, you know exactly what you're getting. For example, if you order five shirts, you will get five shirts — nothing more, nothing less.

The cons include:

Increased chance for improper care — In a purchase program, workers usually have the responsibility of caring for their own garments. This increases the possibility of improper laundering. Use of bleach and fabric softeners can compromise the protective capabilities of some fabrics. Garments easily could be mended improperly as well. It's essential that the garment be cared for to the fabric manufacturer's specifications.

Cost fluctuations — Costs can swing wildly depending on employee turnover, required garment replacement or size changes. When clothing is purchased, these factors make expenditures very difficult to predict.

Inventory management responsibility — In efforts to help manage costs, some companies have required additional headcount just to manage the inventory created from turnover and garment exchanges.

RENT

For a company exploring uniform program options, the second sourcing option is renting. This type of program (also known as “full-service laundry”) is exactly what it sounds like. Businesses rent garments from an industrial laundry supplier in exchange for weekly payments. Typically, a uniform supplier will furnish 11 sets of garments per employee; five worn during the week while five others are laundered and one to be worn on the delivery day. There are several pros and cons to this option as well.

The pros of renting FR clothing include:

Assurance of proper care — When garments are turned into a supplier for laundry, the wash formulas usually are based on the fabric manufacturer's specifications. If you are establishing a rental program for your FR clothing, be sure that your provider's laundry process follows those guidelines.

“It's important to recognize that the thermal protective properties of any flame-resistant fabric can be compromised by the presence of contaminants,” says Scott Margolin, international technical director at Westex Inc. “Any contaminated garments need to be removed from service and cleaned properly according to the manufacturer's recommended instructions. Industrial laundries have been recognized as one of the most effective ways to launder soiled garments.”

Accommodation for employment fluctuations — As your headcount rises and falls, garments typically can be returned or added for little more than the incremental increase for the additional sets of uniforms being rented. Garments also are easily exchangeable if an employee's size changes. This can save employers hundreds of dollars alone.

Consistency — Garments typically are upgraded as needed to maintain a consistent look and level of wear. Moreover, some rental providers (industrial laundry companies) manufacture the FR garments themselves, which can improve the consistency of look and fit.

Repairs — If a garment is identified as needing repair, the rental provider can mend the garment to the fabric manufacturer's specifications. You should ensure these guidelines are followed when establishing a rental program.

Convenience — Delivery is made directly to your business site each week. Leading industrial laundry companies typically have deep inventories of common styles, meaning that new garments can be delivered within a week.

Predictable expenses — Cost is spread over a long period of time, rather than following the model from the “purchase” option, which requires large cash outlays and peaks and valleys for expenses.

“My customers are very satisfied with our uniform rental program because they can allocate cost over time,” said Dale Chittum, national account executive for AUS. “It's an sensible approach that management likes and the daily cost per wearer can be less than if they were to buy the worker a cup of coffee.”

The cons of a rental program include:

Commitment — Rental agreements typically require commitments that the company and rental provider maintain a service relationship for several years.

Limited styles — Rental providers typically have extensive inventories of their most popular styles to help improve delivery time and quality of service. However, that investment means that rental program product selection may be smaller than for a purchase program.

Many times, companies choose to adopt a combination of the two programs. They often see value in rental programs for daily wear, such as shirts, pants and coveralls, and buy seasonal and task-related clothing like outerwear and arc flash suits.

Whether you source FR clothing through a purchase or rental program, it is your responsibility to make an informed decision. Be sure to do proper research. Consider your business situation, but most of all, consider how your choice could impact the safety of your workers.


Chris Richmond is director of national account sales — Protective Apparel, for ARAMARK Uniform Services.

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