Dirty Laundry: Tips for Maintaining and Taking Care of Flame-Resistant Clothing

Arc blast and arc flash are among electrical workers’ most dangerous hazards. The intense heat generated by electrical arcs can momentarily surpass the sun’s temperature, and the resulting explosion can cause significant harm, such as emitting hot gases and molten debris. The extent of injuries, ranging from mild to severe, heavily depends on the protective clothing worn by the individual during the occurrence.


Proper Usage

Workers must utilize and maintain adequate flame-resistant (FR) attire. According to OSHA CFR 1910.269(l)(6), workers must be educated on the risks associated with electric arcs and the fires they can initiate. OSHA forbids workers from donning clothing that could exacerbate injuries in the presence of an arc, such as catching fire, persisting to burn, or melting onto the skin. Therefore, employees cannot wear clothing composed solely of or mixed with synthetic materials, including acetate, nylon, polyester, or rayon.

As per the OSHA eTool “Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – FR Clothing,” suitable FR clothing should be chosen carefully. Clothing that is made entirely of cotton or wool can be appropriate if its weight corresponds to the flame and electric arc conditions the worker might encounter. Although these materials do not liquefy under high heat levels, they can ignite and keep burning. The degree of heat required to initiate combustion in these materials depends on multiple factors such as the fabric’s weight, texture, weave, and color.

It is the responsibility of the employers to make sure that the clothing worn by the workers is suitable and appropriate for the conditions that they might encounter.


Cleaning FR Garments

Flame-resistant (FR) clothing is crucial for preventing severe injuries, but it must be maintained correctly to ensure that it provides adequate protection to the workers. Workers should be acquainted with the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning procedures.

If an industrial laundry service is used, washing all FR garments separately in soft water with a mineral content of fewer than 4.0 grains is essential. Hard water contains mineral salts that can harm the clothing’s integrity.

When it comes to cleaning solutions, nonionic formulas are typically the most effective for this type of clothing. Natural soaps and chlorine bleach should never be used. In cases where the clothing is heavily soiled with particles or abrasive dirt, it can be rinsed with water at a temperature of 105°F at the beginning of the cycle. This can help minimize abrasion in the wash wheel.

When drying FR clothing, it is vital to ensure that the dryer temperature does not exceed 280°F. Starch should not be used, and fabric softeners must be avoided as they can accumulate between fibers and become flammable. Garments that require pressing should be ironed at temperatures below 280°F.

In case a worker opts to clean their FR clothing at home, they should turn the garments inside out and wash each item separately using a regular or cotton cycle with water temperatures up to 140°F. Most home laundry detergents are acceptable for use, but avoid tallow soaps containing animal fats that can be flammable and accumulate between fibers. Using conditioned or soft water can aid in removing contaminants from FR clothing.

When the garments are heavily soiled, it is crucial to remove all dirt and other contaminants. Using stain-removal products or presoaking the garments is acceptable.

If the garments can’t be completely cleaned at home, they can be sent to the dry cleaner. Employers and employees must also follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dry cleaning. If FR clothing gets contaminated with flammable substances, it must be immediately removed and replaced with uncontaminated FR apparel. If the flammable material can’t be removed, the garments should be disposed of.


Repair and Maintenance

Lastly, two standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials International address the upkeep and repair of FR garments. These standards are Standard F 1449: “Guide for Industrial Laundering of Flame, Thermal, and Arc Resistant Clothing” and Standard F 2757: “Guide for Home Laundering Care and Maintenance of Flame, Thermal and Arc Resistant Clothing.” They offer guidelines for the proper care and maintenance of FR garments at home and in industrial laundering. It’s important for employers and employees to be familiar with these standards. The standards state that any repairs made to FR clothing should use materials that are equivalent to the original clothing materials.

If you would like more information on the importance of FR clothing and how to properly clean, care and maintain it, visit www.osha.gov.

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