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New for 2012: Changes to PPE regs

Here’s a piece-by-piece look at how the 2012 version of NFPA 1971 changes protective equipment

The new edition of the NFPA 1971 standard, covering structural firefighting protective clothing, has been held in suspense over the past seven months because a number of motions were filed to have certain issues reconsidered by the NFPA membership.

All NFPA standards are periodically reviewed and updated with the final steps of this process the hearing of any motions at a Technical Association meeting followed by a Standards Council meeting to review the standard. The new edition of NFPA 1971 will issue Aug. 9.

Under the new standard, turnout gear will appear pretty much the same as it already does, albeit with labels saying the clothing complies with the 2012 edition instead of the 2007 edition.

The most noticeable difference will likely be observed in garments. Protective coats in particular will have reinforcements beneath or other modifications to how trim is placed on the sleeves.

The committee responsible for the standard has worked for years to identify a test for measuring the stored energy effects of moderate radiant environments where clothing layers accumulate heat and then rapidly transfer the heat to the underlying portions of the body upon compression. These exposures typically occur under ordinary fireground conditions and involve no damage to the clothing.

The principle involved in this type of evaluation is that some denser materials on the clothing exterior can, under certain circumstances, accumulate and retain heat energy more than the conventional shell materials.

The theory is that when moisture is present it can be trapped beneath an impermeable exterior layer. This then results in earlier burn injury during clothing compression against the skin than the same clothing layers without the externally mounted materials.

The committee struggled with this concept even after the stored-energy test method was developed, and it finally decided to apply it only to coat sleeves (other reinforced areas of the garment are not evaluated for this property).

Industry manufacturers have responded with a variety of techniques to lessen the stored-energy effects by modifying trim or using special reinforcements below the trim.

While numerous changes were made in the standard to improve or modify test methods or clarify existing criteria for garments, firefighters will not be able to detect any other changes in their coats and pants.

Firefighters will have the same options to have goggles, a faceshield or both as provided with their helmets. The committee maintained that NFPA-compliant helmets have one or the other type of eye or face protection.

However, either item as provided will now have to also meet ANSI Z87.1, the standard that covers general requirements for eye and face protection, in addition to the NFPA 1971 requirements. This is significant because NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, mandates that firefighter use primary eye protection that complies with ANSI Z87.1 when not wearing a SCBA full facepiece.

According to ANSI Z87.1, only spectacles (safety glasses) and goggles are considered full eye protection; faceshields are not. This change may force departments to give greater consideration to the type of eye and face protection they choose.

In addition to the extra testing applied to helmet eye and face protection devices, some will notice helmets have changes to the under-the-brim type mounted eye shields. These devices will be subject to both the new Z87.1 eye-protection requirements and additional requirements that examine if they droop from melting when exposed to high heat.

As a consequence, some of the current devices of this type will become larger, but may also be more robust to meet these requirements.

Several changes are being made to how gloves are tested, including the addition of several new tests and modifications to some of the existing tests. Yet, it is uncertain what impact they will have on gloves. Here are some of the glove-related modifications for the 2012 edition:

In the past, gloves were normally washed using the relatively harsh top-loading washing machine prior to many tests. In the new edition, a milder front-loader washer/extractor method will be used. This may affect some test properties, but what those are is unknown. The implementation of this change may actually make some glove styles thicker by affecting a key conductive heat resistance test that strongly influences the selection of glove materials.

  • Closer testing attention will be given to all areas of the gloves, such as the sides of fingers for those having multiple types of layering; in the past they might not have been evaluated.
  • Grip testing is transitioning from pulling a halyard horizontally to reaching overhead and vertically pulling a fiberglass pole. The modified test also measures slippage on the pole as opposed to grip strength and may better discriminate different palm surfaces.

  • Two new hand function tests have been added to the existing dexterity test. The first test evaluates firefighter gross manipulation of large items such as bolts and washers. A second test compares the torque of an individual wearing a glove to performing the same action barehanded. The committee chose to implement these tests in a conservative function so that basically all gloves now meeting the standard will probably stay compliant.

The net result of these new tests and test modifications will not be understood until manufacturers begin the new certification process. Though we do not agree with this practice, the committee hopes to gather data from testing gloves to the new requirements in order to see how to adjust the test methods to provide improvements. It is our position that this work should be done up front before going into the standard.

Like gloves, footwear is also having a number of changes implemented that will affect the way it is evaluated, but little else will be changed. One exception will be a new slip-resistance test that is more realistic in assessing sole and heel traction. While a few type of soles are expected to be eliminated, it is uncertain what impact this change might have for currently offered footwear.

Other significant changes include how footwear flammability and sole heat penetration will be measured. The new tests are radically different than those methods used in the 2007 edition, but relatively little change is expected to be observed in industry product offerings. But as with gloves, the full impact of these tests will not be known until they are applied during the certification process.

Some work was done on how hood openings retain their shape, but the only real change to the new edition is the elimination of hoods with vented crowns. These hoods, which had a mesh material on the crown, will no longer be allowed as the thermal protection will have to be uniform over the entire hood material area.

Phase In Period
There is a transition period for products being certified from the 2007 edition to the 2012 edition. When the new edition of NFPA 1971 is issued in August, no new certifications to the 2007 edition will be permitted. Manufacturers will still be able to fabricating gear to the older edition for a several months; that is expected to extend sometime through at least July 2013.

This grace period allows manufacturers the time to get their clothing through the certification process, which can take several months, particularly since everything that is now certified has to be recertified. The first 2012 edition gear should start showing up around the end of this year.

NFPA’s process of revising standards attempts to update the technology and further reflect the needs of the fire service. In this revision, the industry is seeing less outward change in products as NFPA tries to improve the reliability and consistency of the tests on which protection claims rely.

Get all the facts about Personal Protective Equipment. Foremost PPE expert Jeffrey Stull writes ‘PPE Update,’ a FireRescue1 column that covers personal protective equipment options, fit, selection and all the regulations for its care and maintenance.