Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment performs optimally when worn and used correctly, cared for and stored properly and replaced when required. PPC/E cannot be expected to provide the correct protection if it is very soiled or has been laundered incorrectly. Improperly caring for PPC/E will compromise the protective qualities of garments and shorten their lifespan. Highly specialised safety wear requires specialised care, and that is why CHARNAUD® provides their customers with aftercare guidelines for their PPC/E.
How Does Laundering Affect Arc-Rated PPE?
Before testing for arc-rating, a fabric, material or garment may be laundered. Laundering the fabric before testing can demonstrate whether the fabric’s performance capabilities are negatively affected by washing, washing additives/powders/liquids, as well as reveal any dimensional change or shrinkage of the fabric. All these elements can affect the protective qualities of a fabric, material and/or garment, which is why testing fabrics/garments before and after laundering is included in the test methods for arc-rating.
It is also important to understand how different kinds of contaminants affect garment performance, and how to remove these contaminants from the garments in the laundering process.
- Common dirt, like non-flammable dust (e.g. mining dust) can increase the protective capabilities of an arc-rated garment, but only up to a point. Despite this, the best practice is to always “dress to the numbers” by wearing the right kind of PPE with the correct level of protection for the hazard one faces.
- Wet contaminants, including water, rain, sweat and other non-flammable liquids can diminish or reduce the protective qualities of arc-rated clothing.
- Flammable liquids and contaminants, including diesel and transformer oil will drastically reduce the protective qualities of arc-rated PPE.
Is All Arc-Rated Safety Wear the Same?
Genuine arc-rated clothing and so-called ‘arc-rated’ clothing may appear to be the same thing but are not. An arc-rated garment should be properly and conspicuously labelled as such; the objective of the labelling is to inform the wearer that they are wearing the correct level of protection for the hazard. Furthermore, if a garment is “FR”, it should be certified as such. Beware of bogus labels that make claims such as, “FR until washed/dry cleaned” or “FR Treated”, especially polyester, nylon and acrylic fabrics. It is also extremely important to remember that the arc-rating of an outer layer does not mean that the impact rating of the AR under layers is increased. Layers (outer and under) must be tested as a system in order to ascertain what their arc-rating is; it is dangerous to assume that non arc-rated layers will add more protection if they have not been tested.
The term “FR” has been so grossly misused that it has been removed altogether from the NFPA 70E standard and replaced by the term “arc-rated”. To enhance the safety of workers, there are a few simple arc flash protection principles which begin with layering – outer layers must be FR and arc-rated and underlayers should be arc-rated or non-melting.
These principles are:
- As much of the body should be covered as possible
- The garments must fit properly and not hang loosely at the closures
- Equipment must be maintained and laundered according to the manufacturer’s guideline; and no bleaches or fabric softeners must be used as they diminish the protective qualities of the garments
- Garments must be inspected for tears, frays and holes as these will compromise the safety of the wearer.
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