Taking on the Heat
Even in the most normal circumstances, regulating body temperature in warmer months can be challenging. Situations requiring flame-resistant (FR) garments, however, can create extra obstacles because of the natural insulation properties of FR clothing.
by Cortlandt Minnich
Even in the most normal circumstances, regulating body temperature in warmer months can be challenging. Situations requiring flame-resistant (FR) garments, however, can create extra obstacles because of the natural insulation properties of FR clothing. This is why it is essential to develop a FR program that keeps workers as safe and comfortable as possible on the job.
Understanding Heat-stress Risks in Extreme Heat
A common hazard among workers exposed to extreme heat is heat stress. Heat stress can be dangerous and result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that ‘Exposure to Environmental Heat’ caused 177 deaths and 13,580 cases of days away from work in the private sector workforce from 2003-2008.
Heat stress can be attributed to external factors such as temperature, but other factors such as workplace uniforms can also contribute to the impact of these sources of heat. A worker may not consciously realize the effect of his or her garments on core body temperature. This is why choosing the correct clothing is a key factor in regulating temperature while working in a physical role-such as for exercising. The CDC recommends wearing light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing to avoid trapping in excess heat. Considering how the company uniform can affect a worker’s thermal comfort is essential when evaluating and specifying flame resistant garments.
Total Heat Loss: The Flame-resistant Garment Measure You Can’t Ignore
A FR garment’s total heat loss (THL) rating should be a key consideration when heat-stress is a challenge. THL is a method to measure the maximum workload or metabolic activity rate a person can sustain while maintaining thermal comfort in a garment (personal protective equipment [PPE]). To classify this, THL measures the amount of conductive (dry) and evaporative (wet) heat loss that occurs through the fabric of a PPE garment, according to Fire Engineering. In a controlled testing lab, fabric samples are placed on specially designed plates that simulate hot, sweaty skin, enabling the ability to precisely measure heat transferring properties of fabrics. In hot conditions, a fabric that holds less heat is more desirable.
Selecting Flame-resistant Garments in High Temperature Environments
In hot environments, choosing garments with high THL performance is important for employees as well as management. According to Extreme Physiology & Medicine, employees in physical roles may face discomfort, physiological strain, decreased productivity and performance, and potentially increased accident rates on the job. A uniform with better performance can have some level of impact on these challenges.
THL combines the performance of several fabric properties, including air permeability and moisture wicking:
- Air permeability is a key contributing factor to good THL performance. Certain PPE garments have a low air permeability rate, which limits evaporation and normal heat dissipation through airflow. This in turn increases body temperature and sweating (Extreme Physiology & Medicine).
- Retaining moisture reduces a fabric’s THL rating because it decreases the evaporative cooling capability. So, the same cotton that feels comfortable around the house becomes a liability in an extremely hot work environment. Cotton shirts, for example, are soft and comfortable in moderate temperatures, but when exposed to increased levels of sweat, they become saturated and will be less comfortable.
- FR chemical treatment can add weight to a fabric, detracting from the air permeability and the moisture management capability.
In warm environments, it is essential workers remain cool because the natural reaction to facing a hot environment in heavy clothing is to make modifications to the prescribed equipment, which affects its intended purpose. Rolling up the sleeves or leaving a coverall unzipped are common modifications that undo FR safety protocols, and in some cases may add the risk of entanglements.
Keeping Workers Safe and Comfortable
By selecting FR garments with THL measures in mind, safety managers can take steps to ensure employees will remain safe and comfortable in the workplace. In addition to preventing accidents, selecting the correct FR garment can help increase productivity because workers may require fewer, shorter breaks and time-off related to heat stress issues (Extreme Physiology & Medicine).
|Matching the right fabric technology and the appropriate insulation level to the daily tasks of a worker is critical. Credit: TECGEN Brand FR Garments|
Lowering heat stress should be considered an important part of managing safety in a warmer workplace. By specifying garments that are lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking, safety managers can help prevent heat-related accidents and injuries.
In addition to specifying optimal garments for hot environments, safety managers should take the initiative to educate employees about selecting the correct garments, should they provide their own. Safety managers and employees should also be aware of the risks of overheating on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests providing information on health effects of heat, the symptoms of heat illness, how and when to respond to symptoms, and how to prevent illness.
The Bottom Line on Flame-resistant Garments
FR garments should be assessed not only for their comfort, but for how well they can contribute to the safety and productivity of the workers who wear them. By selecting FR garments with THL measures in mind, safety managers can take steps to ensure employees will be able to maintain a safe and comfortable temperature in the workplace. And in addition to specifying optimal garments for hot environments, safety managers should take the initiative to educate employees about selecting the correct under-garments, should they provide their own.
Appropriate Flame-resistant Attire
Tips for Keeping Cool When It’s Hot
Keeping cool on the job can be tough-especially with warmer months. TECGEN FR has incorporated decades of FR clothing experience to develop the following guidelines for helping keep workers safe and comfortable year-round.
1. Know your limits: Everyone is different. Understand what your body is capable of and don’t push yourself too hard on the job. Carnegie Mellon recommends that workers get acclimatized slowly to warmer working conditions.
2. Stay hydrated: Make sure to keep plenty of water on site to avoid dehydration. The Texas Department of Insurance recommends encouraging employees to drink one cup every 15 minutes to 20 minutes.
3. Take breaks: Even a short 15-minute break can help rejuvenate the body and get you back on track for a productive day. According to the NC Department of Labor, workers should take frequent breaks in areas cooler than the work environment.
4. Choose proper attire: The CDC recommends wearing light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing to avoid trapping excess heat.
5. Educate yourself and your employees: Be sure to understand the risks of overheating on the job. Heat-stress can result in injury, illness and even death. OSHA suggests providing information on health effects of heat, the symptoms of heat illness, how and when to respond to symptoms, and how to prevent illness.
About the author: Cortlandt Minnich is the new business development director for TECGEN FR at INVISTA. TECGEN FR garments are a lightweight and breathable alternative to legacy FR garments. Coveralls, shirts and trousers are dual-certified and designed to withstand demanding work environments while delivering a comfortable, moisture-wicking fabric solution. Visit http://industrial.tecgen.com/ for more information.