Imagine what it would be like to get caught inside a building that’s on fire. Now imagine that building is a barn and there are animals trapped inside their stalls. Most of us would probably try to unlatch the gates to their pens and let them outside. How long we have would depend on several factors, including how much smoke has filled the air, but if you’re wearing flame-resistant clothing, you may be able to buy valuable time that doesn’t leave you as vulnerable to fabric melting onto your skin and giving you second or third-degree burns.
Have you ever narrowly missed disaster, on the job? If you regularly work in hazardous conditions that expose you to toxic chemicals or extreme temperatures, on a daily basis, you’re probably concerned with workplace safety – especially when it comes to your work clothes. When faced with open flames, heavy equipment, and harsh weather conditions, you need to come prepared for whatever may happen in order to prevent a preventable injury.
Flame resistant clothing
If you work around open flames or hazardous materials, it’s important to wear appropriate protective clothing. Flame-resistant materials work by providing a layer of thermal insulation and preventing the fabric from melting or adhering to your skin. Be sure to protect both the upper and lower halves of your body by purchasing both shirts and pants that are flame-resistant – not merely one or the other. Some of the materials to look for are Nomex, polybenzimidazole (PBI), Kevlar, and wool.
The two most common types of hazardous fires in the workplace are flash fires and electric arc flash. Flash fires are due to the presence of hydrocarbon vapors from an ignitable liquid or highly concentrated, finely-divided combustible particles; whereas an electric arc flash is the passage of electrical current through air that’s been ionized by an electric fault. Occupational Health & Safety identifies five major characteristics of flame-resistant clothing that helps protect the wearer: it self-extinguishes or resists ignition; it does not melt onto skin; it provides thermal insulation from heat; it resists breaking open and exposing skin; and it reduces burn injury and increases chances of survival.
Don’t let all this technical language and criteria distract you from other important factors to consider when in search of flame-resistant clothing, however. Other more rudimentary characteristics to keep in mind are comfort, fit, and style. Nowadays, there are plenty of retailers, both online and locally, that feature clothing separates like flame-resistant shirts that are both functional and stylish. As a general rule, fabrics like Kevlar, Nomex, and other synthetics are better-suited to serious flame-resistant outfitting than cotton or denim. However, treated cotton has proven to be just as effective for less industrial environments such as cattle ranching or construction work – just be aware of the ‘shelf-life’ of the fabric’s flame-resistance, as some types of treated fabric are only projected to last through a limited number of washes (e.g. 75).
The options for work boots these days are plentiful and varied. If you’re looking for a versatile boot that fits in around both the ranch and out to dinner, afterwards, you’d be surprised how many pairs of safe footwear masquerade as line dancing or cowboy boots!
Also, if your line of work requires that you walk through metal detectors on a regular basis, you may want to opt for composite-toed boots, since I imagine having to take your boots off and on several times a day would start to get a bit tiresome! Composite toe inserts have comparable compression and impact ratings; however, if you expect that it’s possible to have extremely heavy objects fall on your limbs or feet, it’s probably best to opt for steel or alloy toes. Lastly, if you regularly encounter mud, liquids, or water on the floor, where you work, consider waterproof or rubber soles with good traction.
Extreme weather conditions
Some of us are lucky enough to live in fairly temperate, mild climates. However, a large swath of the country deals with extreme weather conditions such as intense summer heat and humidity or freezing rain, sleet, or snow for at least part of the year. If this is the case for you, opt for natural, breathable materials like 100-percent cotton and linen in the summer. Or you can go for a 88-percent cotton, 12-percent nylon blend if you’re in need of a more flame-resistant shirt – the nylon helps keep the cotton from melting or grafting onto your skin by congealing with the fabric around it, first.
Also, if you want to keep cool during hot summer weather, denim is definitely the way to go. These days, you can find a variety of treated jeans that are both flame-resistant and extremely breathable. This makes them an excellent option for environments where you may be exposed to open flames. You can always opt for more relaxed fit jeans that are great for layering, if it’s snowing or freezing out.
In terms of footwear, there are many steel-toed boots out there that will allow you to keep walking if you accidentally drop a log on your right foot. However, what you might not realize is that a composite toe may be better for your line of work if you often find yourself working in extreme temperatures. This is because metals serve as conductors of heat and cold. That is, they amplify whatever temperature is already present – which means that if it’s more than 100 degrees out, your feet will start to feel a tad toasty. The same goes for freezing temperatures.
The bottom line
Opt for safety first, since you never know when you might encounter a flood, a fire, or plain, old-fashioned human error. After all, to ere is human, and accidents are bound to happen in your place of work. Best of luck suiting up with all the best gear you can find! You’ll be outfitted and ready to hit the trail or the work site in no time!
Comfortable jeans and work boots are a cowboy's best friends. | Fotolia/ChiccoDodiFC