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People working in any industry that has a hazard of clothing igniting should wear flame-resistant clothing. The bottom line is that FR clothing saves lives!
Most serious burns from industrial mishaps are caused by regular work clothing igniting and burning off the wearer's back. Thousands of clothing-related injuries due to fire occur each year. The most severe burns are often not caused by the original hazard, but rather are the secondary result of clothing igniting. FR clothing does not ignite and continue to burn. Even single-layer FR work clothing can significantly protect employees..
FR clothing is essentially worn as insurance. In the unlikely event of a flash fire or electric arc flash or other catastrophe, FR work clothing reduces burn injury, provides escape time, and increases chances of survival. Even though a person caught in a flash fire or electric arc will likely have some injuries, FR clothing can dramatically reduce their severity. This can mean the difference between life and death.
Survivors often consider burn injury treatment to be worse than the burn itself. Treatment and recovery is extremely painful and can take months if not years. Burn victims can be severely debilitated and permanently disabled. A survivor's quality of life is dramatically affected by the extent and severity of burn injury. FR clothing not only increases the chances of survival, but can significantly enhances the quality of life after the injury.
Flame Resistant clothing costs more than everyday work clothing, but some FR fabrics last longer and can be a great investment that saves money long term. Often, the cost of a single burn injury can exceed the cost of a complete FR clothing program.
The cost of a serious burn injury can be staggering. Direct costs include medical, prolonged recovery and rehabilitation, disability, and job retraining. Indirect costs include workers compensation, lost work time, increased insurance premiums and potential liability.
One electric utility company reports the total cost of a single burn injury before FR clothing at over $2 million, and after FR clothing at less than $50,000 for a comparable arc exposure. In the first incident before FR clothing, the employee never returned to work. In the second incident after FR clothing, the employee lost minimal work time..
FR clothing programs help protect employees from injury and death, but they also protect the company. State and federal OSHA organizations require employers to protect employees from hazards in the workplace. OSHA has cited and fined numerous companies for not providing FR clothing under 1910.132 "Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Personal Protective Equipment." OSHA deals specifically with FR clothing in the 1910.269 "Maintenance Standard" for electric utilities. OSHA expects to add more stringent requirements for FR clothing in future regulations, including revisions of existing laws.
In addition to laws, numerous voluntary consensus standards address the need for FR clothing in a variety of environments and industries. Standards are publishe by such well-respected organizations such as American Society for Testing of Materials (ASTM) and National Fire Protection Associations (NFPA). While compliance is voluntary, OSHA considers a good-faith attempt to comply with standards as being evidence of an employer trying to protect its employees. Further, OSHA bases future laws in part on published standards, so what's voluntary today can become law tomorrow..
Often, industry practice is the best guide for companies considering a FR clothing program. For many industries, FR clothing has become the norm, just like safety glasses and hard hats. A company can experience many benefits by following industry practice, including improved employee morale, safer employees and reduced liability.