The fact is, the combination of the new PPE Regulation with the 2015 version of the EN 14116 FR standard may call time on this low cost PPE and its questionable performance – and this can only be a good thing for anyone interested in ensuring safety.
Throughout industry users of PPE and Safety Managers involved in defining a health and safety plan must deal daily with the challenge of multi-risk environments. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the petrochemical industry where an essential need is for primary FR workwear (certified to EN 11612) to be worn, whilst often chemical hazards in the workplace mean chemical protective clothing is also required. Standard disposable protective coveralls cannot be used worn over flame resistant clothing; based on thermoplastic polymers in contact with flames they will quickly ignite, melt and drip, continuing to burn and compromising the heat and flame protection provided by the Primary FR garment. So to provide the chemical protection and to maintain – and even improve – the thermal protection provided by the primary FR garment worn underneath, secondary FR garments must be used instead.
Specialist Secondary FR garments using fabric specifically designed for the purpose are available, but the last decade has seen a growth in more basic FR treated SMS garments. These take standard SMS fabric used for simple Type 5 (dust) and Type 6 (aerosol spray) protection and apply a chemical FR treatment. The result is garments that perform sufficiently to “apparently” pass the single test required by the EN 14116 standard at the lowest, Index 1, level.
Their apparent ability to pass EN 14116 requirements combined with their relatively low price has made them attractive and they are now commonly used as secondary FR protection globally.
However, the use of the word “apparent” is deliberate; in independent testing of FR SMS garments, every one of 11 major brand samples purchased from the market failed EN 14116 and most failed badly, being unable to meet most or all the requirements. So it seems clear their FR properties, whilst sufficient on occasion to meet EN 14116 requirements (at least one sample has passed at some point in order to gain certification), are at best intermittent and at worst very poor.
Furthermore thermal mannequin testing according to ISO 13506, in which test garments are subject to simulated flash fire and predicted 2nd and 3rd degree burn percentages calculated, testing of Secondary FR garments worn over primary FR workwear indicated almost no difference in performance between FR SMS and standard SMS (i.e. the same fabric without any FR treatment); both showed predicted body burns close to 20% and with both 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Meanwhile specialised Pyrolon Secondary FR garments worn over the same primary FR workwear resulted in predicted body burns of under 10% and only 2nd degree burns. In other words, users are paying more for the FR treated SMS garments, but in real performance terms are getting very little difference for their money.
The only conclusion is that FR SMS garments are of limited value and in the real world may not work at all. The question then becomes “why are they on the market?”
Fortunately, it may well be an academic question. The new version of EN 14116 was published in 2015 and introduced new requirements. The original version required a Vertical Flammability Test on the fabric alone (see panel below), with the minimum requirements (Index 1 – details in the panel below) such that as we have seen at least on occasion an FR SMS can achieve.
However, the 2015 version of the standard added a further requirement for the zip assembly of the garment to also be subject to the Vertical Flammability Test and that the zip should function afterwards.
Although this new version was published in 2015 it has not been a problem for manufacturers until now because existing CE certificates apply for at least 5 years – or longer if certificates have no expiry date (the 5 year limit has only become a requirement with the new Regulation). However, the new regulation means that all Secondary FR garments will have to be re-certified – which means testing to the new standard (according to the regulation PPE must be certified to the latest standard); they will have to pass the post-flammability test zip functionality requirement.
Can they do this? Again we purchased garments from the market place and subjected three to this new requirement. All failed badly. Zips on these garments generally feature polypropylene teeth and backing tape and the FR treated SMS fabric used for zip covers simply does not provide sufficient protection to the zip to prevent it igniting and continuing to burn and drip molten plastic, maintaining the flame on the fabric so fabric and zip burn to the edge, failing the test.
The likelihood is that the only way FR SMS garments could pass this requirement is by replacing the front fastening with an FR zip, much more expensive than a standard zip and rendering the garment cost unreasonable.
So if you are user of low cost FR SMS coveralls, it might be worthwhile checking on future supplies. These garments will have to be certified to the new standard soon, and logic combined with testing conducted suggests that without substantial and costly change they will be unable to pass the new requirements in the 2015 standard. As a result most will probably be withdrawn from the market.
Lakeland’s specialised Pyrolon™ garments use fabric specifically developed to be ignition resistant. The result is a garment that does not ignite, burn or drip molten debris. Ideal for secondary FR workwear.
The Pyrolon Range is certified to both the latest version of EN 14116 standard (the zip works after the test!) and according to the new PPE Regulation.