The Evolution of AR/FR: Understanding Fabric Choices
FR foul weather gear has come a long way since the treated polyester in the 1980’s. FR raingear would “self-extinguish” when the vertical flame was removed and was inexpensive, but did not provide much beyond those basics. The 90’s brought Polyurethane on FR Cotton, Neoprene on Nomex and other FR laminates. These FR laminate fabrics passed the arc and flash fire testing offering better protection, but they offered no breathability. The 2000’s introduced breathable arc rated and flash fire rated fabrics. Manufacturers took high-vis shirting fabric that was treated with a water repellent and then laminated to a waterproof membrane with an FR knit fabric on the inside, to create a tri-laminate, waterproof, breathable fabric.
While it was an improvement from earlier options, the problem with this “old style” breathable, waterproof technology was that the fabric performance is limited because we have to use shirting fabrics that contain hydrophilic fibers, instead of being able to use true waterproof rainwear fabrics made of 100% hydrophobic fibers.
The water repellent finish on the shirting fabric, will eventually break down in storm conditions. And then those hydrophilic fibers do what they're made to do; they absorb water, up and then they plug the little tiny microporus openings that are designed to let moisture vapor escape from the garment. When moisture is trapped inside and water vapor is not getting out the wearer is wet, leaving an opening for discomfort and in extreme weather heat stress or cold stress Having a whole layer of water on the outside surface of your garment will also add to fatigue as it will increase the weight of the garment dramatically.
The good news is all of this discomfort can be avoided with FR foul weather gear GORE-TEX Pyrad®, the leading fabric technology used today.
In the evolution of breathable AR/FR Foul Weather Gear GORE-TEX PYRAD® is a game changer; revolutionary fabric that offers next generation performance comfort in wet conditions. Gore, the leaders in waterproof and highly breathable technology, took the best hydrophobic fiber polyester and they created a no melt, no drip fabric. This truly amazing fabric is lightweight, highly breathable and shake dry, and the technology has superior flame resistance - different from anything that came before it. No other FR fabric available offers this same value story of waterproof, breathable, incredible comfort with amazing protection.
Selection Options for FR Foul Weather Gear: Price – Value Continuum
When you make the choice based on price alone, you have the lowest upfront costs. However, be aware of hidden costs such as lost productivity due to worker discomfort, which can lead to distraction and can compromise safety. Low cost also leads to a disposable mentality. Even with a lower upfront cost, you're using multiple garments per year, and over years of wear, that cost can add up. Alternatively on the value end of this spectrum, you have innovative fabrics that have higher upfront costs, but a longer payoff such as increased productivity and increased safety due to the lack of that distraction. There is also greater employee satisfaction and compliance. Because the garments are comfortable, they're more likely to wear it.
Goal: Improve Worker Safety by eliminating the distraction of physical discomfort
Selection Based on Price
The fabric options for the lowest cost price point would be PVC on nonwoven aramid, or PVC on Nomex. Neoprene on Nomex, which tends to be a stiff fabric; wears like iron, so it's very durable. The Neoprene on Nomex option however, does not meet the ANSI standard for fluorescence. Polyurethane on FR cotton would be considered the top option in terms of protection. It tends to have a softer hand and be a more flexible fabric while wearing it. All of these laminates DO NOT offer breathability. Many are stiff or heavier and more bulky than other choices. They have lower flame protection levels than the options at the high end of the value continuum. Items such as these are treated more like a throwaway item, creating a larger carbon footprint. Even among these low-cost options, not all fabrics offer the same protection.
Selection Based on Features: Comfort & Value
"Comfort is such an important part of the selection process because studies show that workers are more likely to wear their PPE if it fits well and it's comfortable." – Dionne Murray, Business Development Manager at National Safety Apparel
The GORE-TEX PYRAD® technology offers so much more protection and performance. Garments made with PYRAD® are going to have a highupfront cost than traditional heavy jackets or non-breathable rain wear solutions; however, it does deliver a better value. The GORE-TEX PYRAD® fabric is highly breathable, shake dry technology with a 100% hydrophobic textile. This fabric is changing the definition of gear because it can handle all foul weather types, and it's comfortable to wear all day. This ability to transition with the worker throughout the day creates a true foul weather gear system we outlined earlier. In colder conditions you could add an insulative layer, and then you have an outer shell that's waterproof, wind proof and releases moisture. All of this is accomplished without the bulk of some of the other options that are out there.
There are numerous benefits of selecting gear that delivers superior worker comfort and safety which can lower a company's overall costs. Additionally, a noticeable improvement in worker comfort and worker satisfaction. Increased Value also comes from multiple years of wear, because of the quality and durability of the garments as well as their ability to be machine washed and dried. Field and factory repair options, as well all lower the cost of ownership over years of wear.
NSA arc and flash fire rated premium kit comes standard with a jacket and bib overall all bundled up in a mesh rainwear bag.
Comfort, Safety, Productivity, Value
Selecting the right foul weather gear creates value for the wearer. When worker comfort is satisfied many aspects of safety, productivity and value are affected.
Workers who are not distracted by physical discomfort are able to concentrate on productivity and safety. Invest in foul weather gear that incorporates:
- Water & Wind proof garment design
- Highly breathable textile
- Lighter weight fabrics that shake dry
- Garment designs that allow for freedom of movement
When workers are wearing their PPE, they're more protected, and that results in higher levels of safety. Keeping comfort in mind when making your selection can not be overlooked when it comes to the increased benefits of safety, productivity and worker acceptance. These benefits can also change the culture from a disposable rainwear concept to an important tool for all foul weather. PPE garments that are genuinely comfortable, reliable and offer the needed level of protection, ultimately saves costs and create a positive environment of value and worker satisfaction.
This blog series has been adapted from the National Safety Apparel webinar: Selecting Arc Rated Flame Resistant Foul Weather Gear in partnership with Safeopedia. You can view the full presentation and power point as well as additional Q&A and resources at: https://www.safeopedia.com/reg/selecting-arc-rated-flame-resistant-foul-weather-gear/7598?utm_campaign=NSA&utm_source=NSA&utm_content=Webinar
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dionne Murray brings more than thirty years of experience in safety product knowledge and training. Starting in the family business, Safety & Supply Company in the 80s, Dionne developed her passion for product knowledge and training. She served the industry on the Washington State Construction Safety Council, ASSE and Labor & Industry. She has conducted training programs in fall protection, respiratory fit testing, gas detection and calibration and hearing conservation and has assisted users in many industries in proper selection and application of fall protection systems, gas detection systems, arc-rated / flame resistant clothing and rainwear and high visibility safety apparel. Dionne joined National Safety Apparel in 2013, bringing her passion and knowledge for High Visibility and FR fabrics to a Product Manager position.
Today, as Senior Product Manager for High Visibility and Rainwear at National Safety Apparel, Dionne develops new products, provides field sales support and product training. With her team, she collaborates to improve customer experiences by providing solutions to the ever-changing needs in flame resistant and standard workwear high-visibility and rainwear. Dionne is currently serving on the ISEA High Visibility Products Group (ANSI 107 Committee) and the ASTM F23 Committee on Personal Protective Clothing & Equipment.