Care & Maintenance of FR Clothing
Proper care and maintenance of FR/AR clothing is another important element of any effective program. Most industry standards point to manufacturer recommendations, while others provide specific instruction and guidance. Across all of the relevant standards, there are consistent rules that apply, and no special processes or equipment are needed to clean FR/AR clothing, following a few basic guidelines that will maximize protective capabilities of FR/AR clothing:
• Do not use bleaches or peroxides
• Do not use any additives, such as fabric softeners or starch, that could build up to impede FR performance
• Avoid washing in hard water as mineral buildup can negate the FR properties over the course of many launderings
• Wash FR/AR garments separately from other garments
• Wash FR/AR garments inside out to help with color retention and preserve appearance
• Use liquid detergent for best results
• Avoid extreme washing and drying temperatures to reduce shrinkage
• Soak garments in liquid detergent or non-bleach, non-peroxide pre-wash stain removers to address tough stains
• Dry clean garments with really bad stains
• Tumble dry on low settings and never over dry • Rewash garments with lingering odor
There are a few basic things to consider. First, a garment, in some cases may look clean but still smell like a flammable substance, while in other cases a garment may have a visible stain but be perfectly safe to wear. Any odor of oil, solvents, flammable chemicals, or other potential accelerants should be taken seriously as it could indicate the presence of a combustible substance. Second, washing with bleach or peroxide will harm flameresistant fabrics; don’t use these laundry products alone or as additives to detergent. Last, any kind of buildup on the surface of the garment fibers is dangerous. There are obvious clothing treatments or additives, such as starch, fabric softener, and DEET-based insect repellant, but hard water is another important thing to consider. Laundering FR clothing in hard water, if done repeatedly, leads to a gradual accumulation of mineral deposits that may ignite.
If FR clothing is damaged, it can be repaired. Holes, tears, or damaged closure systems, such as broken zippers or missing buttons can be repaired as long as the garment’s flame resistant integrity is maintained. Only flame resistant fabric and flame resistant thread may be used for repairs, and ASTM F 1449 provides specific guidance for returning FR garments to service.
Customer Policies on Use, Care, Maintenance and Retirement
The law requires that employers establish and maintain an ongoing policy for the use, care, and maintenance, of personal protective equipment. This includes FR clothing, but for many companies, compliance efforts fade once a program has been implemented. Whether workers are part of a company sponsored uniform or laundry program, or are caring for their garments at home, it is up to the employer to ensure that the status of the PPE used in the field is monitored and managed on a regular basis. Many companies require new employees to sign an agreement when they are hired. This can include a simple pledge to keep their PPE in working order, based on the manufacturers’ instructions. Others issue detailed laundry and inspection guidelines and procedures to make sure that workers understand how to care for their FR garments and are subject to a regular safety and status assessment of their PPE. In any case, employers should set and enforce an inspection timetable that addresses wear and staining and that gives guidance on laundering and repair as well as retirement and replacement once a garment should no longer be in service.
While OSHA requires that employers protect their workers from on-the-job hazards that can cause injury or illness, and that they provide personal protective equipment, it’s important to remember that using PPE does not guarantee that a worker will not be hurt. Following the hierarchy of hazard control— elimination, substitution, engineering controls, and administrative controls—is the key to mitigating a workplace hazard, while PPE, such as FR clothing, should only be considered the last line of defense. Because secondary PPE is meant for unexpected incidents, it is essential that FR clothing be worn on a consistent basis, as daily wear, wherever a worker is exposed to potential thermal hazards in the workplace. Industry consensus standards and best practices can help organizations achieve compliance with the regulations surrounding PPE, but ultimately, the responsibility rests on employers. When it comes to selection and use, it is critical that they choose the Personal Protective Equipment appropriate to the task, that they train their employees in proper use, care and maintenance, and that they implement an ongoing policy that ensures workers are using PPE efficiently and effectively to maximize safety.