Home>Fire>Fire and Rescue >Primer on PPE

Primer on PPE

02 October 2020

Flame resistant, flame retardant, fire resistant, fire retardant. Is there a difference? Which is the correct choice of ‘FR’ for your team? Reece Buchner explains some of the standards and regulations today’s organisations need to be aware of when making their decision on Personal Protective Equipment

FLAME RESISTANT. Flame retardant. Fire resistant. Fire retardant. The truth of the matter is these terms are used interchangeably. There’s no real clear standard or definition that backs up any of them. 

For their part, flame resistant fabrics are manufactured from inherently non-flammable materials. In other words, the materials have flame resistance built into their chemical structures. Fabrics made with these types of materials are designed to prevent the spread of fire and will not melt or drip when in close proximity to a flame. Given that flame resistant fabrics are not usually made from 100% flame resistant materials, it follows that they will burn. However,  they’ll do so very, very slowly and, what’s more, are often self-extinguishing.

Turning towards flame retardant fabrics, these are chemically treated to be slow burning or self-extinguishing when exposed to an open flame. The fabrics can be made from any material, but the important point to note here is that they must be treated with special chemicals in order to qualify as being truly flame retardant.

In essence, the biggest difference between flame resistant and flame retardant fabrics is to be found in the manufacture of each. Put simply, without a special chemical application, a fabric will not qualify as being flame retardant. Similarly, if it’s not produced from certain types of non-flammable fibres, a fabric will not quality as fire resistant.

Practitioners operating in hazardous environments where fire is either present or a possibility should ensure that they wear the correct flame retardant workwear at all times. Such workwear has a hugely important role to play in many industries including oil and gas, mining and manufacturing. Even if practitioners are working in an industry where fires at work may not affect them, burn-related injuries are still a common hazard.

Flame retardant fabrics will not be affected by intense heat, so are not likely to catch fire just from being near a flame. In high-risk environments, wearing the correct fire retardant workwear will help to minimise injury. If the decision made on suitable workwear is the wrong one, that could mean the difference between a minor accident and serious burns. Specification is all-important.

Specification process

What matters most when looking to choose the right ‘FR’ protection for individuals and teams is that those focused on the specifying process completely understand and then specify garments that meet the right ‘FR’ and/or related standards. Let’s take a look at each of those standards in turn.

EN ISO 14116 (Protection against flame, limited flame spread materials, material assemblies and clothing) applies to garments that protect against occasional and brief contact with small igniting flames in circumstances where there’s no significant heat hazard. Clothing manufactured to this standard is made from flame retardant materials such that, if the material comes into contact with a flame, it will only continue to burn for a limited amount of time. After removal from the flame, the material will cease to burn.

Therefore, clothing in this category should not be worn to protect against convective heat, radiant heat, molten metal or similar higher risk hazards.

Any garments that are compliant with this standard are given a limited flame spread Index of 1, 2 or 3 (in which Index 3 is highest and provides the most protection). If the Index is 1 (ie the lowest level), then the garment may not have skin contact (such as the neck or wrists) and can only be used outside a garment with an Index 2 or 3 rating.

EN ISO 11612 (Clothing to protect against heat and flame) is similar to 14116, but offers a higher level of protection for wearers by ensuring protection against risks such as molten metal. The performance requirements set out in ISO 11612:2015 are applicable to protective clothing for a wide range of uses where there’s a defined need for clothing with limited flame spread properties, and where the user can be exposed to radiant, convective or contact heat or to molten metal splashes.

It’s worth noting that EN ISO 11612 has replaced the previous EN 531.

EN 469:2005 (Protective clothing for firefighters) provides the minimum requirements for protective firefighter garments while individuals are fighting fires as well as for any associated activities such as rescue work.

The standard mainly covers how well the PPE can limit the spread of flames on both the outer shell and internal lining as well as its resistance to the penetration of heat from flames (or a radiant source) through all layers of the component material. There are two levels of the standard (1 and 2), with level 1 indicating the lower level of protection.

Rescue activities

Let’s now take a look at ISO 18639 (PPE ensembles for firefighters). The ISO 18639 series of standards specify requirements of PPE specifically designed to protect firefighters from injury and/or loss of life, while engaged in specific rescue activities. ISO 18639 is specific to firefighters and does not cover PPE used to protect against chemical and biological hazards, except against short-term and accidental exposures while engaged in rescue activities.

Due to the fact that this standard covers so much, it’s split into several sections, each of them covering the specific requirements for different firefighter PPE garments. ISO 18639-1 focuses on general overarching guidelines, while ISO 18639-3 specifies test methods. ISO 18639-4 is all about gloves, ISO 18639-5 details requirements for helmet and ISO 18639:6 concentrates on footwear.

EN 1149-5 (Protective clothing with electrostatic properties) applies to garments worn by operatives who encounter risks of explosion (ie ATEX Environments), such as in petrochemical refineries and fuel distribution companies. The standard ensures any garments provide the wearer with electrostatic dissipative clothing with reduced risk of sparking (the outer fabrics of these garments are made from antistatic materials and components).

The garment should be used as part of a total earthed system to avoid combustible discharges. Importantly, the outer fabric of the garment must be anti-static (AST) and must also cover all other non-AST layers permanently. 

EN ISO 11611:2015 (Protective clothing for use in welding and allied processes) is important to consider when specifying PPE for any workers that are to carry out welding and other allied processes with comparable risks.

This standard ensures garments provide protection against small splashes of molten metal, and brief contact with flame, only when a worker is undertaking welding or similar processes. 

Under this standard, garments are categorised into one of two classes. Class 1 protects against less hazardous welding techniques and situations which cause lower spatter and radiant heat, whereas Class 2 protects against riskier welding techniques and situations realising higher levels of spatter and radiant heat.

Focusing on footwear

EN 15090 (Footwear for firefighters) specifies minimum requirements and test methods for the performance of three types of footwear for firefighters, specifically general purpose rescue (F1), fire rescue (F2) and hazardous materials emergencies (F3). 

The requirements for each category differ from each other so it’s important to know the difference when looking to purchase footwear. The key difference between this standard and the previously mentioned ISO 18639-6 is that ISO 18639-6 doesn’t cover special footwear for use in other high-risk situations such as structural firefighting.

Footwear that’s classed as Type 1 (F1) is suitable for general-purpose rescue, fire suppression and firefighting suppression involving a fire in vegetative fuels such as forests, crops, grass and farmland. These garments are not required to protect against penetration, offer toe protection or protect against chemical hazards. That said, these properties are optional.

Type 2 (F2) footwear is suitable for fire rescue, fire suppression and property conservation in buildings, enclosed structures, vehicles, vessels or similar properties that are involved in a fire or emergency situation. This footwear provides toe protection and protection against penetration, but does not protect against chemical hazards.

Type 3 (F3) footwear applies to emergencies involving hazardous materials and the release (or potential release) of hazardous chemicals that can cause loss of life, injury or damage to property and the environment. This category of footwear is also suitable for fire rescue, fire suppression and property conservation in aircraft, buildings, enclosed structures, vehicles, vessels or similar properties, as well as all fire suppression and rescue interventions. Type 3 footwear provides toe protection, protection against penetration and also protection against chemical hazards.

Hand protection

EN 659 (Protective gloves for firefighters) states the minimum performance requirements for protective gloves in all firefighting situations. More specifically, the standard details requirements for resistance to water and chemical penetration, making it applicable not just for firefighting, but also workers on chemical sites and oil refineries as well as various other high-risk situations that are not covered by ISO 18639-4.

The key difference between EN 659 and ISO 18639-4 is that the latter only relates to specific specialist rescue activities, such as road traffic crashes and urban search and rescue, while EN 659 covers all firefighting situations.

EN 443 (Helmets for firefighting in buildings and other structures) covers firefighting helmets for uses in building and other structures. This European-wide standard is in place to specify the minimum requirements for helmets to protect against the effect of impact, penetration and heat and flames.

Reece Buchner is Technical Sales Manager at FlamePro (www.flame-pro.com)