FR Clothing: Standard Issue For Protecting Food Processing Workers?

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Increasingly, food industry employers are turning to FR garments for across-the-board arc flash protection.

Statistics released recently by the US Department of Labor indicate that in 2009, the incidence of workplace injuries among private industry workers dropped 11 percent from the previous year. If the overall use of flame resistant clothing by workers is a reliable indication, safety managers are anxious to see this trend continue.

“FR garments are the fastest growing segment of our workwear business,” notes Roger McKee, National Accounts Executive and FR Specialist for G&K Services. “Even when general demand for industrial garments slowed over the past couple of years due to the recession, sales of FR clothing continued to be a bright spot. This appears to be an area where safety officials realize that the need for protection is widespread throughout many workplaces.”

McKee points to the food processing industry as an example of a business sector where the use of FR clothing is expanding dramatically. “The growth in the use of FR garments in food processing is driven by concern for worker safety as well as regulatory compliance,” McKee explains. “Food processing and packaging operations are highly automated, meaning there are few places in the production facility where employees are not working in pretty close proximity to electrical equipment. So almost every worker is subject to NFPA 70e regulations requiring protection from an electrical arc flash hazard.

More and more, company safety officials are recognizing that complying with the 70e standard requires outfitting workers throughout their facility in FR clothing.”

In the 70E standard, employers are required to assess electrical arc flash hazards throughout the workplace, and classify the level of hazard in categories ranging from 1 to 4, with 4 representing the highest degree of hazard. The trend in food processing operations, McKee believes, is that practically every worker is assumed to experience at least a Category 1 hazard level, meaning FR garments are appropriate for nearly every employee.

Hugh Hoagland, publisher of E-Hazard.com, is a well-known safety consultant and expert on electrical arc testing and safety. He says managers in food processing and other automated workplace environments are very attuned to electrical safety. “It’s not a matter of ‘do I really need to make the workplace safer?,’ it’s a matter of ‘how can we make it safer?,’” Hoagland says. “Employers will do what they can to ensure workers are safe.”

McKee says plant managers and safety officials in the food processing sector are keenly aware of the need for protective FR clothing in their regulatory compliance efforts. “Employers are required by OSHA and NFPA to identify any possible workplace electrical hazards, reduce or eliminate these hazards, train their employees on how to mitigate their exposure to the hazard, and provide them with protective clothing and equipment to protect them from the hazards” he explains. “OSHA recognizes 70E as a national standard and it must be followed in order for the operation to be OSHA compliant.”

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