OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a federal agency whose purpose is to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. OSHA inspects workplaces to ensure they are following federal guidelines. They are responsible for regulating the measures employers must take to keep their employees safe on the job including, for example, providing eye protection and offering training on how to prevent fall hazards. In terms of flame-resistant (FR) clothing, OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard requires employees utilize FR clothing when they are likely to be exposed to a fire hazard—among other requirements. Here is our handy guide to OSHA standards on FR clothing.
What is FR Clothing?
Often used as a shorthand for either flame-resistant or fire-resistant—FR clothing is an outer layer of clothing that protects against exposure to sparks, flames, and radiant heat—which can burn you if exposed to it for too long.
These specialized pieces of clothing can come in many forms. There are FR jeans and t-shirts as well as flame-resistant hoodies for those who work in colder environments. The material that these items are made from can withstand the heat and won’t melt, allowing valuable time for the person to either escape danger or receive assistance. These seemingly basic clothing items can be life saving in a workplace emergency.
Who Needs FR Clothing?
Employees working in an environment where fire hazards exist are encouraged to wear FR clothing at all times. OSHA states that, "employers must provide adequate protective clothing, including footwear, to all employees exposed or potentially exposed to hazards from combustible liquids or vapors." It is imperative that you are provided these essential items before any work begins.
Some of the industries that require FR clothing include:
- Paper Production: Paper is manufactured from wood, a classic fire-starting material. There is a heightened risk of a flash fire. Other risks include scalding and electrocution on the jobsite for these workers.
- Electric Power: On top of the possible exposure to mold, lead, and asbestos—these individuals are at risk of fire related injuries as their working environment reaches extreme temperatures.
- Oil & Gas: Manufacturing facilities that produce propane gas may require their workers to wear FR garments when around this material. This could include manufacturing plants that produce equipment used in refrigeration units.
- Chemical manufacturers: These employers often require workers dealing with chemicals—such as acetone and nitric acid—wear FR gear so they don't get burned by accident while working on any part of the production lines, including loading and unloading trucks.
To enforce the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act—requiring employers provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees—OSHA developed Mandatory Standards. These standards are required by law, not just recommended or encouraged. Violations of this Act carry strong penalties and include fines of up to $129,000. These standards cover general, construction, maritime, agriculture, and forestry industries. Beyond enforcement, OSHA provides training, education, and assistance.
OSHA requires employees to wear flame-resistant clothing when they're exposed to any of the following four hazards:
- Arc flash
- Sparks/hot work operations (such as grinding, welding, and cutting)
- Chemicals that emit flammable vapors, also known as RID (reactive industrial dust)
Clothing that claims to be FR has to be tested by a third party with an independent laboratory, and the results must be submitted to OSHA for review.
The 269 Standard
Also called the 269 Standard, the Enforcement of Apparel standard provides guidance for apparel requirements regarding flame-resistant clothing. This includes acceptable types of clothing workers can use on the job. The 269 Standard also outlines how employers should assess workplace hazards and how to keep everyone safe on the job site.
Essentially, any clothing made from 100 percent wool or cotton could be acceptable if they are appropriate for the conditions and potential hazards of the job. As heat levels rise, these materials must not melt. It is ok for the material to catch fire or even burn continuously; however, it cannot melt. The amount of heat required to ignite the material is dependent upon a number of factors, including the color of the material.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)—which provides documentation on fire related hazards—developed the NFPA 70E standard that describes how to test FR clothing. While it is a voluntary standard—meaning manufacturers may choose not to use it when producing their products—we highly recommend you check all your FR garments for this rating before buying them.
HRC—Hazard Risk Categories—measure the fabric's resistance to burning. The higher the HRC, the better the garment's flame-resistant properties. If the FR clothing you’re looking to purchase doesn’t have the previously described NFPA 70E labeling, we suggest looking for the HRC level on the care tag.
Are You in Compliance With OSHA Standards for FR Clothing?
By OSHA standards, it is the responsibility of the employer to conduct a Hazard Risk Assessment to determine what level of protection is required for the tasks performed on the job. If any of these hazards are present, FR clothing is required for your workers. Without it, you are in direct violation and can be held accountable for any injuries.
Protect yourself and your employees by following OSHAs mandatory standards and providing your employees FR clothing where necessary. For more information on FR clothing, mandatory standards, and other fire related OSHA requirements, you can visit their website to be confident that you and your employees are adequately protected.
If your employees need FR clothing and you aren’t sure where to look, you can check out our FR compliant clothing—available in a wide variety of options to suit your needs. Our stylish products provide exceptional protection and comfort—and our staff is knowledgeable and ready and willing to assist you with any questions or concerns about your FR clothing needs.
When it comes to protecting your employees’ safety on the job, we highly suggest checking out OSHAs website and keeping our ultimate guide to OSHA standards on FR clothing in mind.