We are seeing record high temperatures across the U.S., and even when warm weather is not at peak temperatures, heat can be dangerous for those working in the outdoors. It is important to protect employees from heat exhaustion with the proper protective equipment (PPE) and clothing.
When workers need to guard against fire or flame, protective gear is more difficult to come by and tricky when it comes to keeping cool in those hot temperatures. That being said, it is possible to find FR clothing that can be comfortable in rising temps.
The Risks of Heat Exhaustion
Before we discuss clothing, let’s talk about heat exhaustion. According to OSHA, when hot, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. The body’s heat relief process is primarily accomplished by circulating blood to the skin via sweating. If the body cannot get rid of the excess heat, it will be stored. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases.
Heat exhaustion takes many forms and affects workers differently. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heat stroke, heat syncope, heat rash and heat cramps are all afflictions resulting from the body overheating. Dehydration can cause all types of heat exhaustion and stress, resulting in dizziness, fainting, muscle spasms and nausea.
Heat stroke is the most dangerous form of heat related dangers and should be dealt with immediately upon observation of symptoms. When heat stroke occurs, the body loses its ability to regulate heat or sweat to cool down. Victims of heat stroke often experience body temperatures rising as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit in only 10 or 15 minutes; therefore, identifying a troubling condition and responding immediately is absolutely crucial.
Symptoms of Heat-related Illnesses
- Loss of concentration and difficulty focusing on a task
- Irritable and sick, loses desire to drink
- Accelerated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Elevated body temperature
- Dehydration/body water loss
Anyone exposed to extreme temperatures should have established protocols in place to avoid heat-related illnesses. OSHA provides guidance on measures to help prevent heat-related illnesses:
- Drink plenty of water (4 cups/hour)
- Monitor vitals
- Maintain frequent breaks
- Wear sunscreen
- Know the symptoms of heat stress
- Ensure proper ventilation in work areas
- Use cooling techniques, clothes, etc.
- If possible, take breaks in air conditioned or shaded areas
- Provide workers with a means of building up a tolerance to working in heat
- Have a plan for the heat and for potential emergencies
Planning Ahead: Preventative Measures are Best
While a swift response is important, preparing in advance for such a scenario and equipping workers with the proper gear to decrease the likelihood of heat exhaustion occuring is smarter. As previously noted, work sites requiring employees to wear flame resistant clothing present additional concerns for supervisors. Flame-resistant gear is notorious for its heavy insulation, which creates a less breathable fabric. It is also important to note that wearing loose-fitting clothing, which the CDC recommends for workers in hot environments, is a poor choice for anyone who may be exposed to flames.
The solution? Flame-resistant garments specifically designed to keep workers cool in hot climates, weather or work sites. For these clothing items, the total heat loss (THL) rating should be high, which means the fabric emits more heat, leaving the wearer cooler. Both conductive (dry) and evaporative (wet) heat is taken into consideration when calculating the THL. In addition, all flame-resistant clothing receives an arc rating. Arc ratings refer to the amount of heat energy that can pass through the fabric before second degree burns could result. An energy break open threshold is also calculated for flame-resistant gear if flames cause holes in the fabric during arc testing. This number is expressed in calories per centimeter squared.
Remember to Stay DEET-free in Your FRC
Here are a few tips to help make sure you’re protecting yourself without compromising your FR safety gear:
- Most insect repellents including sprays, lotions and even those handy-looking wristbands use DEET as the active bug-off ingredient.
- DEET is highly flammable, which poses a safety hazard for anyone working where there is a risk of arc flash or flash fire hazards.
- Look for a repellent that is nonflammable, kills ticks and mosquitos and provides protection against insects and other disease-carrying bugs.
- Any FR clothing sprayed with DEET-containing bug spray has the potential to ignite and continue burning.
- Remind employees not to spray insect repellent intended only for skin application on FR clothing.
- THE MAIN TAKEAWAY: Do not use DEET on your FR clothing—period.
Take Care of Your FRC
FR garments can be washed in a home washing machine. Before washing anything, consult the inside tag to determine the precise washing instructions based on the specific garment being washed and the manufacturer. There are, however, a few general care guidelines to follow.
- Use soft water to assist with removing contaminants and any standard household detergent.
- Get the garments dry cleaned if standard washing is not sufficient (just make sure the dry cleaner does not use starch, as instructed below).
- Fabric softener
- Hard water
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!: Beat the Heat and Stay Safe
Stay Safe and Cool in Flame Resistant Clothing
Keep Your Cool: OSHA Provides Resources to Help Train Your Employees
Fluid Safety: Drinking More and Spotting Dehydration
What is the Differences Between FR and Nonflammable PPE?
TLC for FRC: Caring for Flame Resistant Clothing at Home
Stay Bug-Free in Your FRC: Choosing the Right Insect Repellent
Understanding the Difference Between AR and FR Clothing
Bulwark Flame-Resistant Fleece Sweatshirt: With an arc rating of EBT 11.5 calories/cm², this fleece sweatshirt is great for layering with other flame resistant clothing if the outdoor temperature fluctuates during the day from cool to hot.
Bulwark Flame-Resistant Dress Uniform Shirt: This presentable, sharp shirt has an arc rating of 8.6 calories/cm². It’s ideal for supervisors who may be meeting with clients and working at a site on the same day.
Bulwark Flame-Resistant Excel ComforTouch Work Shirt: With sleeve vents, this shirt has an 8.6 calories/cm² arc rating.
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