There are many areas of industry in which flame retardant (FR) clothing is a necessary requirement. In some, especially those where the individual is working with electricity or flammable materials, it can be a legal requirement too.
FR clothing is designed to give the wearer protection for a certain amount of time, and to protect against arc flash, flames and more. There are different ratings of FR clothing designed for greater protection, and also products for more specific protection purposes. The demand for FR and PPE clothing has never been higher, so what chemicals are in your FR clothes?
There’s been a lot of press about flame retardants and other chemicals in clothing being potentially harmful to our health, especially where young children are controlled, so does this apply to FR clothing? Let’s look in more detail at how FR clothing does its job, and what is put into the material to make it active.
What Makes it Flame Retardant?
Before we go on, it’s important to understand the situation that FR clothing is expected to work in. It’s mostly used in the electrical industries – or in industry where electrical equipment is maintained – and is to protect against arc flash. It’s important to understand the potential dangers of arc flash to get to the point. These are as follows, although this is not a comprehensive list:
- Very high temperature for short periods
- Hot gases
- Pressure waves from the explosion
- Molten metal particles and shrapnel.
An arc flash is, in effect, a brief yet powerful explosion, and one that can cause a lot of damage. So, FR clothing has to protect against all of those, which brings us to the subject of the material that it can be made from.
As they will likely melt in the heat, nylon, polyester, rayon and acetate are never used alone for FR clothing. They will not only melt onto the skin in the intense heat but will ignite and continue to burn. Even these materials when ‘treated’ – more about that in a moment – may be dangerous.
The ideal materials for FR clothing include 100% cotton or wool. Bear in mind, however, we mentioned different ratings, as some such garments may not be suitable for certain situations. Some manufacturers use special combinations of materials – such cotton and nylon – that have been treated. This selection of products offers some good examples of such products, and these are high quality shirts at sensible prices.
What Does Treated Mean?
So, what is your FR clothing actually treated with? Many manufacturers have their own combinations, and some are trademarked – Nomex® for example is a registered trademark for a very popular material used in many products – and all will use a chemical that has properties known to repel heat and flame. The use of materials that will char rather than burn is the aim, and that’s where the chemicals come in.
There is no one answer to the question as there are many different proven products that do the job. One chemical used as a flame retardant is dialkylphosphonamide that has been heat cured.
This is proven to be effective in hight temperature situations. Others include a family of chemicals known as phosphonium salt precondensates. What you really need to know is that the garment you are buying is rated for the level of potential danger in your job, and that it comes from a reputable source.
It is essential that you read up further on FR clothing if you are to get the right gear, so check out the range we mentioned above, and you’ll soon be on the right track.