With a host of firefighting PPE available on the international market, varying in cost and quality, how can Fire & Rescue Services ensure they are providing their crew with the best protection? Roger Startin, Joint Managing Director of Bristol Uniforms, details the certification to look out for to keep your crew safe.
All Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) around the world have a duty of care to their employees, and must provide PPE that protects them whilst on the job. Thankfully, when buying PPE at home or abroad, there are a number of international standards in place to provide reassurance that equipment meets appropriate global standards. All genuine suppliers will adhere to some or all of these standards, and compliance can be checked before purchase for peace of mind. By insisting that any equipment purchased meets these standards, FRSs can be assured that at the very least the minimum safety requirements will be met, and that the quality will be satisfactory. These standards help to break down technical and language barriers between countries and make it much more straightforward for manufacturers to trade goods and services.
There are currently four major standard-setting bodies on the world stage: the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which covers the USA, Latin America and the Asia/Pacific region; the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) which covers Europe; the International Standards Organisation (ISO) which sets standards worldwide; and Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand that work together creating standards for Australia and New Zealand.
The NFPA Standard for PPE, NFPA1971, was first published back in 1975 and has undergone numerous revisions since then with the latest being in 2018. NFPA1971:2018 protects firefighting personnel by establishing minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and blood-borne hazards encountered during structural and proximity firefighting operations. Its requirements apply to the design, performance, testing, and certification for structural firefighting.
In Europe, the first standard for firefighters’ PPE was introduced in 1995. Entitled EN469, it became the first PPE standard to cover all countries in the European Union, serving to strengthen overall product safety and quality, and to encourage the sharing and adoption of good practices. EN469:2005 is currently undergoing review and will be assessed by the CEN consultant before becoming a harmonized standard.
The original ISO standard for Protective Clothing for Firefighters, ISO 11613, was introduced in 1999. It has now been superseded by ISO 11613:2017. The new title is: Protective clothing for firefighter’s who are engaged in support activities associated with structural fire fighting — Laboratory test methods and performance.
The AS/NZS standard for protective clothing for firefighters is AS/NZS 4967:2009. This standard was originally based on ISO 11613:1999 but extensively re-written to suit Australian and New Zealand conditions.
National Standard Bodies
In addition to adhering to international standards, many individual countries also have their own National Standards Bodies (NSBs) to offer additional protection and reassurance, such as Standards Australia, or the British Standards Institute.
To facilitate sales and purchasing around the world, many of these national and international standards are drafted and developed in line with each other. Wherever possible, CEN, NFPA, ISO, AS/NZS and many NSBs work closely together to replicate requirements. This makes adhering to standards much easier, and helps to promote global best practice by drawing on international expertise.
As a leading global PPE manufacturer, Bristol Uniforms is closely involved in the development and review of industry standards. For example, we sit on the CEN Working Groups for heat and flame and firefighter PPE. We have lots of valuable expertise and knowledge, but also good intelligence from our customers, which we feed into the standards development process.
Surveillance and Article 11B
In order to meet the various stringent sets of standards, all manufacturers must undergo regular surveillance visits and assessments by the appropriate regulators.
For example, the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) undertakes four unannounced surveillance visits to each manufacturer every year, and all fabrics and components are annually assessed for continued compliance to the standard.
To sell to Australia in particular, UK manufacturers have annual surveillance visits carried out by the certification body. We use a BSI benchmark, and their logo can be found on the label adjacent to the Benchmark Product (BMP) number.
To comply with European Economic Community (EEC) Directives, PPE has to be certified and bear a certification mark (CE), before it can be legally sold in the EU. The NSBs carry out the certification in the EU and the PPE is split into three categories. The structural firefighting PPE will fall into Category III because of its complex design. As a result, it must undergo a detailed assessment, with the final product either quality checked on a yearly basis (Article 11A of the Directive) or quality monitored throughout the production process (Article 11B of the Directive).
At Bristol we adhere to Article 11B of the Directive. Our quality monitoring system is supervised and approved by the BSI who carry out ongoing surveillance visits twice a year. All of our PPE bears the CE0086 certification mark, proving our PPE has been certified, complies with the European PPE Directive and can be lawfully sold in the EU and beyond.
As of 21st April this year, the Directive will be superseded by Regulation (EU) 2016/425 which will be even more rigorous in its requirements for certification, labelling and record-keeping by manufacturers and distributors.
With all of these stringent standards and regulations in place, FRS procurement teams can be reassured that with the right certifications, kit should be safe and fit for purpose.
Sizing and compatibility
However, despite these rigorous tests and controls, there are other elements of PPE safety it is important to consider to ensure you and your crew are getting the best out of your PPE.
Even with all the relevant certifications in place, PPE can fail to offer full protection if it doesn’t fit the firefighter well. Kit that is too big can be too heavy, with the danger of excess material entangling in machinery. Kit that is too small or too tight can compromise thermal protection by reducing air gaps, and may leave areas of the body exposed.
It’s therefore important to choose a manufacturer who can provide a large range of standard sizes for both male and female firefighters, along with a comprehensive sizing procedure, and ideally the capability to send specialist teams to undertake all measuring to ensure it is carried out correctly if necessary. We offer this at Bristol because we know how important it is to provide a good fit for optimal protective performance.
Similarly, it is vital to ensure that all pieces of kit are fully compatible, so that boots, gloves and helmets operate effectively with trousers and coats, without leaving areas of the body vulnerable or exposed to risk. There are infinite combinations available to make up a full ensemble. A good manufacturer will ensure that all items are compatibility tested so that they work effectively together and provide full body protection.
Ergonomics and comfort
Finally, it’s also important to consider ergonomics and comfort. The design and style of a garment plays a crucial role in contributing to firefighter safety, since any protective gear becomes futile if it restricts movement. Firefighters need to crawl, run, and climb in very dangerous circumstances in order to carry out their role effectively. Their clothing has to be able to work with them if they are to perform safely and to their best ability.
In essence, to source the safest PPE for your crew, it is good practice to select a preferred design based on the safety standards adhered to and the suitability of the garment to the role. Then don’t be afraid to request a trial and ask some of your crew to try wearing the garments on the job before placing an order. If feedback is positive, this should provide reassurance that the new kit will be both safe and comfortable when put to the test on the frontline.
For more information, go to www.bristoluniforms.com