When the original version of the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 standard was published in the 1990s, flame-resistant (FR) and arc-rated (AR) clothing weren’t even mentioned. The dangers associated with electric arcs were known at the time, but the standard only required that an employer not allow an employee to wear clothing that, when exposed to flames or electric arcs, could increase the extent of injury sustained by the employee. This eliminated use of garments constructed with synthetic materials – such as polyester, nylon, rayon and acetate – so the default was for employees to wear clothing made of 100% cotton. The problem was that non-FR cotton, once exposed to thermal energies beyond its ignition point, will ignite and continue to burn, thus adding to the employee’s injury.
It has now been a little over five years since FR/AR clothing requirements were incorporated into the 1910.269 standard. The 2014 final rule (see www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2014-04-11/pdf/2013-29579.pdf) states the following: “The new provisions for protection from electric arcs include new requirements for the employer to: Assess the workplace to identify employees exposed to hazards from flames or from electric arcs, make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy to which the employee would be exposed, ensure that the outer layer of clothing worn by employees is flame resistant under certain conditions, and generally ensure that employees exposed to hazards from electric arcs wear protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.”