Professionals working in high-risk environments face threats from explosions, fire, metal sparks, high-voltage power, sharp objects, and toxic or corrosive chemicals. They require reliable protective clothing to keep them safe from potential dangers. Industrial protective fabrics are technical clothing meant to protect workers from environmental and workplace hazards. Safety fabrics should be comfortable, provide maximum protection for the wearer both indoors and outdoors, and give them freedom of movement.
Protective textiles should also remain compliant with government and industry standards for workplace safety. Protective apparel must keep workers safe while meeting the requirements of the oil and gas, metalworking, energy, utility, chemical, and manufacturing industries. Learn more about the properties, benefits, and applications of various safety fabrics.
Safety Fabric Properties: Fire, Cut, and UV Resistance
Protecting employees from workplace hazards is one of the crucial responsibilities of the employer, who needs to identify the safety risks in the workplace. The type of protective fabric chosen will depend on the nature of work, potential hazards, and compliance requirements under the relevant ANSI, ASTM, AATCC, OSHA, FAR 25.853 or MVSS 302, and Mil-Spec standards.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) provides reference charts and guidelines on the required level of protection against environmental risks like flash fire or arc flash. Manufacturers design most fire-resistant fabrics for continuous wear with possible intermittent exposure to heat or flame. Fabrics must resist ignition, prevent flame spread, and self-extinguish almost immediately after catching fire.
There are two main types of fire-resistant fabrics: those that are inherently fire-resistant and those that are treated to resist flame. Inherently fire-resistant fabrics are constructed from textiles that themselves are not flammable, so they offer permanent protection that does not fade or wash away over time. Treated fabrics are coated with a fire-retardant chemical that makes the textile fire-resistant. Materials like cotton are not fire-resistant on their own, but the coating offers that protection. Treated protective gear can wear away with use and washing, so it is important to use correct laundering methods to maintain these garments.
UV resistance refers to fabric that is protected from weakening or fading with sunlight exposure. Most UV-resistant fabrics provide protection for different periods of time, usually 20-40 hours without requiring an enhancer. Fabrics beyond 40 hours need to be treated with an additional UV inhibitor.
Cut-resistant fabrics should be able to withstand abrasion and resist cutting when in contact with sharp materials, as in glass manufacturing applications. These textiles are approved by ANSI to protect workers from injuries in these settings.
Mil-Spec, or military specifications, covers a wide range of military fabrics. The U.S. military, federal and state organizations, aerospace, and parachute industries all use Mil-Spec fabrics because they are rated for high performance and durability in harsh, mission-critical environments. Mil-Spec standards regulate properties such as tear strength, tensile strength, weight, thickness, dry crocking, and crimp. Mil-Spec fabrics must also have certain air permeability, water repellence, and flame resistance properties.
Benefits of Using Nylon and Polyester Fabrics
Both nylon and polyester fabrics are highly resilient, withstanding chemical damage, degradation, corrosion, flames, wear, and mildew.
The synthetic fibers are elastic, allowing the fabrics to return to their original shape after stretching.
Polyester mesh is especially hydrophobic, which means better water repulsion and faster drying times.
Both nylon and polyester are well-suited for various applications. In occupational safety, they make excellent cut-resistant safety garments. In the automotive industry, the materials create moisture-resistant equipment. In healthcare, polyester and nylon are widely used due to their antimicrobial properties. These materials are widely accessible and easy to clean and sew, reducing maintenance downtime and costs.