Flame retardant materials may seem like a self-explanatory concept. After all, the name suggests this type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protects its wearer against all forms of fire hazards. However, when you consider an Arc Flash incident exposes you to temperatures hotter than the sun, it pays to know what you’re buying when it comes to protective clothing.

Mark Lant, technical sales manager at ProGARM, specialists in Arc Flash protection, explains the difference between ‘treated’ and ‘inherent’ flame-retardant fabrics so you can make the right choice and keep you and your workforce safe at work.

What is an Arc Flash?

Hotter than the sun and louder than a bullet, an Arc Flash is when an arcing fault releases dangerous levels of radiant energy, which vaporizes metal that spews from the arc. The air is super-heated causing pressure waves that can throw individuals across rooms and create a deadly molten shrapnel. They can be caused by voltage spikes, worn connections, cable strikes or gaps in insulation, and are a risk even in low-voltage set ups.

Treatment for those that survive an incident can require years of skin grafts, hospital stays and rehabilitation – they may never recover sufficiently to regain their lifestyle, so it’s safe to say that choosing the appropriate PPE is key when it comes to Arc Flash safety.

The difference between treated and inherent fabric

The two phrases regularly used when shopping for appropriate PPE clothing are ‘treated fabric’ and ‘inherent fabric’. Treated fabric is made from fibres which are not flame retardant by nature but have undergone a chemical process to add a fire resistance quality to them. The protection given by a treated fabric relies on that treatment not being degraded or worn off in any way during its lifetime. However, washing or long-term use can reduce the protection these safety garments offer, which is why this type of clothing is generally cheaper.

Inherent fabric, on the other hand, refers to material which has fire retardant properties as part of its natural make-up. In other words, they needn’t undergo a chemical process to become flame-retardant, as the polymers which make up the clothing are inherently so. Inherent fabric does not lose any of its protective qualities after long periods of wear or washing but does tend to be more expensive due to its durability.

What should you look for?

It’s important to weigh up your priorities when purchasing PPE clothing. Compromising on quality could be detrimental when understanding the real risk and danger of Arc Flash. When looking at numbers on a spreadsheet it’s difficult to see beyond the figures to the overall value of a product, meaning it can be tempting to buy the cheapest flame resistant clothing, but there’s a reason why the old saying goes, “buy cheap, buy twice”.

We’d always urge those in charge of the purse strings to think about what price they’d put on a colleague’s life and how it’s actually far more cost effective to buy products less frequently due to their durability, quality and ability to keep colleagues protected.

The most important quality to look for in your PPE clothing is that it is not only fire-retardant but specifically protects you against Arc Flash. Companies such as ProGARM ensure all their clothing uses inherent fabric, has an EN certification relevant to the intended use and/or industry and complies with domestic and industrial washing standards.

For more information, visit www.progarm.com/arc-flash-protection/