This term is really an abbreviation of, or slang for, 8 calories/cm², which are the units of measurement of an arc rating. If someone is saying they need an “8 cal” flame resistant (FR) fabric or garment, what they might really be saying they need is an arc rating of at least 8 calories/cm² or greater to meet a personal protective equipment (PPE) Category 2 requirement as defined by standard NFPA 70E. However, the PPE Category 2 level of protection only starts at 8 calories/cm² and goes up to 25 calories/cm², or PPE Category 3. Obviously, the difference in protection at 8 and 24 calories/cm² is significant, so it’s important to conduct your risk assessment prior to specifying a protection level and to understand that PPE Category 2 is a broad statement.
The laundering instructions for all FR and arc rated fabrics prohibit use of fabric softeners because most softeners are flammable and will accrete (build up) on the garment over time. The fabric is still FR, but now a flammable contaminant has been added to the surface and can be ignited by a flash fire or arc flash.
When applying insect repellents to garments, a waterborne, permethrin-based insect repellent has been shown in testing to not have an adverse effect on flame resistance. However, it is not recommended to use DEET or DEET-containing insect repellents on any FR fabrics. DEET and DEET-containing insect repellents can be flammable, and therefore, have an adverse effect on the flame resistance of FR garments. It is important to note that DEET and DEET-containing insect repellents do not remove or destroy the flame resistance of fabrics, but they mask it. Once the garment is laundered and the DEET and DEET-containing insect repellents are removed, the flame resistance is still intact.
Yes, there are fabrics that protect against multiple hazards. However, it’s important to remember that not every fabric does. As you’re putting together your FR clothing program, make sure you discuss your hazards with your supplier and you know the FR fabric brand used to make your garments.
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