Burn injuries not only hurt employees but also hurt companies' bottom lines.
One single serious burn injury in which an employee was not protected by flame-resistant clothing can cost a company more than $2 million once medical care, rehabilitation, disability and retraining costs are factored in, according to Mount Vernon FR.
Compare that to when an employee is wearing proper protection and the costs are closer to $50,000 and the company hasn't needlessly put an employee at risk.
Whether opting for a flame-resistant clothing program because of safety regulations or as a company-driven initiative to protect workers, creating a program requires doing the right assessments.
Employers need to consider what level of protections employees need based on the potential hazards of the job and choose appropriate clothing that will both protect and provide comfort to employees.
That's why EHS Today reached out to Mike Woods, vice president of FR fabrics for Mount Vernon FR, to discuss how to create a sustainable flame-resistant clothing program and what to expect from the ever-growing flame-resistant clothing market.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in managing a flame-resistant clothing program?
Managing an effective FRC program is a challenging task, as there are a variety of factors that must be considered. Based on a study commissioned by Mount Vernon FR, including 400 safety, health and environmental professionals, we found that the greatest challenges include the need for more durable FRC to help companies better manage program costs and to ensure worker safety; the challenges posed in the care and maintenance of FRC, especially during industrial laundering; the selection of FRC suitable for women, such as appropriate styling and sizes; the selection of FRC for inclement weather, such as rain gear; and the selection of FRC for hot weather conditions.
What should a company look for when choosing FR clothing?
When purchasing FR clothing, buyers should first do a hazard assessment to evaluate and understand the hazards workers may encounter on the job. Is it arc flash, flash fire? Do you need a certain arc rating? Buyers should also be aware of required standards.
Secondly, consider the environment in which workers will be wearing the garments. Is heat stress a factor? Are there extremely low temperatures? Buyers should consider if there are certain features they may need in their garments, whether that's reflective striping for high visibility, or certain fabrics that feel lighter in weight, retain heat, protect against water, etc.
Finally, buyers should survey garment manufacturers to be sure their garments and the fabrics they use meet requirements.
How should employers encourage employee compliance?
Employers can encourage employee compliance by providing employees with more choices of flame-resistant garments, as one individual's needs may be different from the next. In addition, providing FRC that is comfortable is helpful in encouraging employees to comply with FRC requirements, as comfort increases the probability that workers will wear garments correctly and reduces the risk of injury due to improper wear.
What are some of the changes in FR clothing in recent years?
In the past few years, we've seen an increased focus on comfort. We're always aiming to provide new fabrics and finishes to our customers that provide solutions to industry demands, but as a manufacturer of flame-resistant fabrics, our No. 1 priority always has to be protection. Over the last few years, we've looked for ways to meet protection needs while also maximizing comfort, which can often be overlooked in protective garments. We've also seen an increased desire for flame-resistant denim in the industry, as well as more stylish fits, washes and finishes.
What do you see as the future of FR clothing?
We anticipate that we will continue to see innovations that provide solutions to keep workers safer, regardless of industry, environment or gender. Future developments will accommodate the specific needs of various industries, different environments and weather conditions, such as FRC made from fabrics that feel lighter weight, insulated fabrics and FRC that strikes the ideal balance of comfort, durability and protection without any tradeoffs.
Special features such as water resistance will also continue to play a role as companies look for FRC that has added value. Innovation is key to success in this industry as our customers continue to demand more from their FR garments, which means we have to continue to develop new fabrics that provide optimum physical performance and provide our customers with value-added products and benefits.