Is there a difference?


Let’s look at the commonalities of wearing a seat belt and wearing FR clothing. Both are required by law; you will be fined and ticketed for not complying. We know that seat belts and FR clothing greatly increase our chances of surviving motor vehicle accidents and industrial work sector thermal events (flash fires). In today’s world, we would not consider driving without hearing the click of our seatbelt. Yet we experience workers pushing back daily on being made to wear FR clothing, while believing they can only be comfortable in non-FR clothing. Driving compliance and heat-related injuries is a constant battle. In addition to ensuring your workers are FR compliant, it is critical to understand the difference in FR garments—Flame-Retardant vs Flame-Resistant.

Many times, people interchange terms “retardant” and “resistant” when referencing FR uniforms. True, NFPA 2112 garments are flame-resistant. To understand what flame-resistant is, you must first grasp where and when you have been exposed to flame-retardant products. Flame-retardant products are designed to slow down ignition or combustion. Common household flame-retardant products are carpets, drapes, furniture, and even children’s pajamas. Essentially, these engineered fibers take time to ignite, allowing us time to escape in the event of a tragic fire.

Adversely, flame-resistant products are specially designed to self-extinguish. All fabrics labeled as “flame-resistant” must pass a ASTM vertical flame test. Here, the fabric is suspended over a vertical flame for twelve seconds and then removed from the flame. The fabric must self-extinguish in two seconds or less to comply.

The important piece to remember here is that the test requires IGNITING the fabric so, by default, flame-resistant fabrics can and do ignite. Their protective value is in the structural strength of the fabric (the threshold before ignition and its self-extinguishing properties). More energy is required to ignite both flame-resistant and flame-retardant clothing (than non-FR garments), however only flame-resistant garments will put out the fire and flame-retardant garments will continue to burn long after the event is over.

Flame resistant material selection (inherent and non-inherent) is the first step in ensuring your workers have the best chance at escaping injury. It is the difference between life and death. Click it, or ticket!