Standards must not stand still

Standards must not stand still

Despite the pandemic, firefighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards continue to be developed. Richard Ballheimer, Compliance Manager at Bristol Uniforms tells us more.

Civil defences, and oil, gas and petrochemical companies, use PPE that conforms to standards set by the International Standards Organisation (ISO), the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 

Contrary to popular belief, PPE standards are voluntary, but it’s in everyone’s interest to adhere to them. They are a very useful means of sharing expectations and information on products and services, and make trade significantly more straightforward.  In some instances, standards can also be used as a means of compliance with regulation, providing a useful solution for both companies and regulators. 

Employers should undertake a risk assessment ahead of buying any PPE to ensure they go for the correct level of protection. For those purchasing certified PPE, they can be confident that it meets the minimum levels of performance requirements, the PPE is of good quality, fit for purpose and adequately protective.

To ensure standards remain current, they are regularly reviewed, updated and republished. An example is EN 469:2020 Protective clothing for firefighters – Performance requirements for protective clothing for firefighting. 

EN 469 covers general clothing design, labelling, minimum performance requirements, and the tests which should be carried out to determine these performance levels. Many organisations across the Middle East use firefighter PPE that adheres to this standard.

An updated standard was published in mid-August 2020 and makes minor changes to performance requirements. For example, some tests, such as seam and fabric tear strength tests, must now be done after five wash-and-dry cycles instead of before, to check clothing performance is maintained. 

Other tests have also been added, for example checking sewing thread can withstand heats of 260oC without melting, and to ensure when clothing comes into contact with a surface of 250oC that it takes longer than 10 seconds for the temperature inside to rise by 10oC. 

The new standard also specifies extra design features, for example lockable zips to prevent accidental opening, and wider pocket flaps to keep contaminants and burning debris out. It also now puts a limit on the depth of anti-wicking material added to the sleeves and hems of garments.

Internationally, ISO 11999 (PPE for firefighters — Test methods and requirements) outlines test methods and requirements for PPE used by firefighters who are at risk of exposure to high levels of heat and/or flame while fighting fires occurring in structures. It is split into 9 parts. Part 1 covers general requirements, whereas Part 3 covers clothing, Part 4 gloves, Part 5 helmets, Part 6 footwear and Part 9 fire hoods.

Parts 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are now being reviewed and Project Group leaders have been appointed for each. The intent is to include particulate protection as well as reviewing the performance levels of each part. Part 9 is at committee stage. The first draft received a very positive vote and will go to a second committee ballot.

As well as overarching standards, there are also standards that focus on particular aspects of PPE. For example, in response to mounting evidence that contaminated PPE increases a firefighter’s risk of developing cancer, ISO is developing a new international standard for cleaning and repair of PPE. I am Joint Project Leader on the development of this standard.

ISO 23616 Cleaning Inspection & Repair of Firefighters PPE will cover garments, helmets, gloves, footwear, fire hoods and respiratory protection devices – the latter of which gets the most contaminated and is the most difficult to clean. It aims to reduce the potential health and safety risks associated with poorly maintained, contaminated, or damaged equipment. The aim is to seek approval of the initial draft towards the end of 2020, with a view to publishing it in late 2021 or early 2022.

Another specific standard that covers fire hoods is currently being reviewed. 

EN 13911: 2017 Protective clothing for firefighters – Requirements and test methods for fire hoods for firefighters, specifies the minimum safety requirements and test methods for fire hoods. A draft standard has been prepared and the revision and approval process has commenced.

Increasingly, CEN and ISO develop common European and international standards, which are automatically and identically implemented across Europe and the world. An example includes EN ISO 15384: 2020 Protective clothing for firefighters – Laboratory test methods and performance requirements for wildland firefighting clothing. This ISO standard for wildland firefighting PPE was updated back in 2018 but has recently been published as an EN ISO standard replacing EN 15614: 2007. Bristol makes wildland firefighting PPE, which can be used in wildfire scenarios and we’re currently working towards getting them certified to this new standard. 

There are also standards that solely cover testing methods, which ensures consistency and accuracy of testing. Plans are afoot to revise both EN ISO 13506: 2017 Protective clothing against heat and flame — Part 1: Test method for complete garments — Measurement of transferred energy using an instrumented manikin and ISO 13506: 2017 Protective clothing against heat and flame — Part 2: Skin burn injury prediction — Calculation requirements and test cases. These standards specify the overall requirements, equipment, and calculation methods for evaluating the performance of complete garments or protective clothing ensembles exposed to short duration flame engulfment. Trials are currently being carried out under a confidentiality agreement. It should be noted that Part 2 is likely to become an EN ISO.

There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to review, revise and publish new standards. These standards not only help manufacturers conform to PPE regulations, they also provide FRSs around the world with the confidence that they are buying safe, quality PPE.

Bristol Uniforms has recently published a handy guide to the updated EN 469 standard, which is available on request by emailing