WILMINGTON, Mass., Sept. 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Earlier this year, a worker in Pennsylvania died from injuries sustained as a result of an accidental flash fire at a natural gas site and, in Minnesota, four utility linemen were badly burned by an arc flash after an underground cable was mistakenly energized. In both these incidents, OSHA heavily fined and cited the employers for not ensuring their workers were properly outfitted in flame resistant (FR) protective work clothing.
FR workwear is designed to resist ignition and to be almost immediately self-extinguishing upon removal of an igniting flame source to help prevent or limit the severity of body burns.
In recent years, OSHA has cited and fined numerous companies for not providing at-risk employees with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including appropriate FR clothing, under 1910.132 Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Personal Protective Equipment. (OSHA deals more specifically with FR clothing in 1910.132(a) and 1910.269 in addressing the clothing needs of workers in the electrical utility and oil and gas industries, respectively.)
Adam Soreff, Director of Marketing at UniFirst Corp., a provider of FR apparel and work uniforms to companies throughout North America, explains that any selection of FR work garments must begin with an employer's own hazard analysis of potential on the job risks to employees from arc flashes or flash fires.
In the case of arc flash hazards, the most commonly used risk assessments assign a Hazard Risk Category (HRC) to at-risk job types, with HRCs ranging from zero to four—the higher the number, the higher the ATPV value required of the safety apparel (the greater the job risk). An HRC 1 task, for example, might involve simply removing electrical circuit breakers, while an HRC 4 job might be voltage testing of energized circuit parts. In determining HRC, companies often turn to the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
Once such a risk analysis has been made, Soreff says, appropriate arc rated FR work clothing can be matched with the job risk category. "All UniFirst FR garments are labeled with their Arc Rating, their Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV). This is their maximum protective level against arc flashes."
Beyond offering flame resistant and arc rated apparel with designated ATPV safety values, Soreff says uniform suppliers like UniFirst also keep wearer comfort and style in mind by offering FR clothing in a variety of protective fabrics, fabric weights, and softness levels—all designed to have the contemporary look and feel of everyday workwear. Under its Armorex FR® line of branded apparel, for example, UniFirst offers such proven safety fabrics as Tecasafe® Plus, CXP®, Nomex®, UltraSoft®, and 88/12 FR fabric (cotton blend). Some are inherently (naturally) flame resistant, while others are chemically treated for flame retardancy.
Mike Lipsey, Manager of Health, Safety and Environment at CapStar Drilling, a Texas-based company that provides hydraulic drilling rigs for the oil and gas industries, says worker safety is paramount at his company, which is a division of Oil States International, Inc. "We outfit all our workers in FR shirts and pants from UniFirst. The apparel has the protective qualities we require to help keep our team safe, plus their lightweight and contemporary designs contribute to our employees wanting to wear their safety workwear. It's a winning combination of FR garment attributes."
Over time, uniform fabrics can begin to degrade due to wear, abrasion, UV exposure, and improper home laundering. Soreff says that's why many businesses, such as CapStar Drilling, opt for uniform "rental" programs from a workwear provider like UniFirst. UniFirst launders, inspects and maintains all the work clothing, and even repairs and replaces clothing as needed, to help maximize performance and business image. "We handle it all for our customers, and we eliminate the administrative headaches," he explains.
Although the "human" toll that arc flash or flash fire burns can take on individuals and their families can be difficult to calculate, costs related to a business' bottom line are much easier to quantify. The National Safety Council reports that burns from a major flash fire or electrical arc can ultimately cost businesses upwards of $30 million—once fines, medical costs, litigation, lost business, and equipment losses are all added up.
About UniFirst: UniFirst (NYSE: UNF), a North American leader in the supply and servicing of uniforms, workwear, and protective clothing, outfits more than 1.5 million workers each business day. The company's most popular brands include UniWeave®, SofTwill®, UniWear®, and Armorex FR® UniFirst also offers Facility Service programs including floor mats, mops, and restroom products. For more information, contact UniFirst at 800-455-7654 or visit www.unifirst.com.