The question that is the title of this installment of “Train the Trainer 101” originally came to me from a client during safety training for the company’s distribution employees. The client is a T&D contractor with a telecommunications (telcom) division. And yes, the question was regarding arc flash, which is not the same thing as FR. To utility workers, FR formerly meant “flash resistant.” The acronym FR was stolen from the utility industry by the road construction industry for traffic safety vests and now has come to stand for “flame resistant.” Flame resistance is the quality of a material designed for protection from exposure to fire or flame, not electrical arcs. OSHA, which does not use “FR” in the standards, requires that arc flash protective clothing also must be flame resistant to ensure clothing does not continue to burn after exposure to an electrical arc. In addition, flame resistance is required for the outer layer of clothing worn by an electrical worker who could be exposed to a heat source that could ignite that outer layer. There has been confusion, so it is important to recognize that use of the term “FR” on a traffic vest label does not mean the vest is arc protective; it is only flame resistant, meaning it has resistance to burning and will not continue to burn if the flame exposure is removed. It’s a habit to use the term FR when referring to arc flash protective gear, but we all need to understand the difference in labeling.
Now, back to the initial question. My first thought upon hearing it was that telcom workers are not required to use FR. After all, telcom is regulated by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.268, and 1910.268 does not require arc protective clothing like the 1910.269 standard does. But the answer doesn’t end there. So, if you are in the telcom business, don’t stop reading here. This is a lesson on interpretation of the standards as much as it is an answer to the question, who is required to wear arc flash protection?