The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has set standards for fire prevention and protection for more than a century. These standards have been lifesavers for workers engaged in hazardous industrial occupations where the possibility of sudden fire is ever present.
However, some safety professionals remain confused about which NFPA standard to follow when selecting flame-resistant clothing for their organizations. Many professionals believe that following NFPA 2112 is sufficient to keep workers safe. In fact, NFPA 2113 is the more appropriate standard to apply in order to provide the right level of protection.
Let's take a look at the difference between the two standards to see how worker safety can be dramatically improved by following the correct standard.
NFPA 2112 sets a minimum performance spec — NFPA 2112, “Standard on Flame-Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire,” provides a minimum performance specification that garments must achieve in order to be considered flame resistant. NFPA 2112 does not account for workplace conditions that safety professionals need to take into consideration when determining what protection workers need in a particular industrial setting.
The higher standards of NFPA 2113 — The full title of NFPA 2113 is “Standard on Selection, Care, Use and Maintenance of Flame Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire.” As you can see, the standard encompasses four critical criteria to help guide fire protection professionals in selecting personal protective equipment.
That's precisely why OSHA has cited NFPA 2113 as the national consensus standard that provides both clear guidelines and references to tools to assist with all four criteria set by the standard. The agency has deemed that 2113 is the standard to follow when determining the personal protective equipment workers should wear.
OSHA AND NFPA
OSHA issued a memo on March 19, 2010, regarding providing (or failing to provide) flame-resistant clothing in oil and gas well drilling, servicing and production-related operations. These industrial operations pose the ever-present threat of a flash fire. While these fires can be brief, their consequences to workers with insufficient protection can be devastating and result in severe burns or fatalities.
OSHA's memo on flame-resistant clothing refers to fires lasting “up to five seconds.” It is important to note that this time reference is different than the NFPA 2112 reference to a 3-second exposure time and to understand why.
NFPA 2112 certification requires fabrics to pass numerous tests. Among the tests is ASTM F1930, a thermal manikin test involving a jet fuel fire at a specified heat flux (fire intensity) and exposure time of 3 seconds. NFPA 2112 sets the performance standard for ASTM F1930 at a maximum of 50 percent body burn or less to be compliant.
Is there an important inconsistency between OSHA and NFPA? Not really. Fire durations are different from exposure times. What really matters is the assessed fire hazard at an industrial site; on this topic, both OSHA and NFPA concur.
CONDUCTING A HAZARD ASSESSMENT
Both OSHA (CFR 29 - 1910.132(d)(1)(i)) and NFPA 2113 (Section 4.2) agree that a hazard assessment is a key part of a personal protective equipment program. It is no surprise that OSHA and NFPA concur on this point because fire duration and heat flux (intensity) depend on site-specific conditions such as the type of fuel and the quantity of fuel to burn. Likewise, worker exposure times to a fire will depend on site-specific conditions such as escape routes.
Many hazard assessments at industrial facilities indicate that single-layer “daily wear” protection levels are sufficient. But daily wear flame-resistant garments can vary greatly in the protection levels at different exposure times. Selecting coveralls or a shirt/pants combination that offers maximum protection against assessed hazards over a range of exposure times can provide peace of mind and save lives.
AN ACTIVE OSHA
OSHA has, in recent years, taken a much more aggressive posture in investigating the causes of sudden industrial fires and the injuries that occur from them. The agency, which has ramped up the numbers of inspectors in the field, also revised its field operations manual to emphasize greater scrutiny of facilities where the potential for such fires exists. Companies found to be in violation of workplace safety rules face harsher prosecution. Injuries and deaths from workplace fires also can expose companies to significant damage awards in lawsuits.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
To find out if your company's facilities are compliant with NFPA 2113, conduct a hazard assessment. If your company does not have a methodology for conducting such an analysis, you can start developing one by checking out the OSHA publication “Job Hazard Analysis” at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.html.
Dan Bowen is a technical specialist at DuPont Protection Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tomas L Perez, marketing manager at DuPont Protection Technologies, can be contacted at [email protected].