Shortcuts and firefighters’ clothing don’t mix

Published:  21 August, 2015

If you are clear about your legal responsibilities in providing protective clothing for your firefighters then you could be in the minority, writes Philip Johnson of UK firefighters’ clothing supplier Flamepro.

There seems to be a certain degree of confusion in the market around two rather important issues. Firstly, around who ultimately has the responsibility for ensuring that firefighters’ protective clothing meets the needs of the wearer and secondly, how fire fighting clothing tender documents should be written.

This second point is no less worrying than the first because it demonstrates that shortcuts are increasingly being taken when specifying PPE that should be correct for the wearers’ needs. Tender documents often appear to have endured 'cut-and-paste jobs' and even include product brand names instead of generic names for the types of materials required i.e. ‘meta-aramid’ (or similar), fire-resistant touch close fastenings etc.

Going back to basics, in the UK the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations clearly state that all employers have a duty of care to their employees: ‘Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.’

The duty of care can only be satisfied if a full risk assessment has been carried out at the start of a PPE tendering process. That responsibility cannot be undertaken by the producer or the supplier of the products, simply because they are not the employer. It is therefore incumbent upon the employer to define the risks employees face in the course of carrying out the duties that are expected of them. It is also their responsibility to keep up to date with the latest research regarding new risks that may have been unknown during a previous risk assessment.

Such new research into protecting firefighters could, for instance, encompass the latest medical studies into risks to firefighters from carcinogens penetrating the skin. recently published an article concerning how the link between a higher risk of contracting cancers and firefighters was now becoming more established.

Two long terms studies on cancer risk in firefighters (three USA cities and five Nordic countries) showed statistically significant increases for all cancers. Worryingly, a new finding emerged from both studies showing an increase in mesothelioma, likely to be because of the asbestos exposure occurring when buildings burn, during clean up and also perhaps as a result of the asbestos protective gear which used to be widely used by firefighters.*

The findings of the above research add further weight to a growing need for rigorous risk assessments to be carried out by the employers of firefighters at all levels and sites. Clear and unambiguous instructions for maintaining a log of all PPE products, cradle to grave, is an essential step in providing the proper duty of care to all employees and the reasons for doing so.

To repeat, risk assessments cannot be carried out by the manufacturers or the suppliers of fire fighting PPE. Only the fire service can carry out the risk assessments because they have to carry them out in the first place. In these times of straightened financial circumstances the increased cost of implementing a programme of care for PPE items will be difficult to institute. However, it is clear that something along such lines needs to be done. A total care package may be one of the solutions available but this in turn will increase the costs even when spread over a long-term contract. Such packages actually cost a fire service more per annum than a straight purchase PPE from capital expenditure and load future costs on the service.

This article does not pretend to have the answers to the conundrum outlined above, it merely wishes to highlight the known facts and to promote an atmosphere of enquiry and research into how the various points raised can be addressed in everyone's interest to further firefighters' health and well being.

*Lin Fritschi, School of Public Health, Curtin University, Bentley, Western Australia, Australia and Deborah C Glass, Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, SPHPM, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Philip Johnson will be presenting on fire fighting PPE procurement tactics at the PPE & Duty of Care Forum taking place on 2 February 2016. For more information click here.

  • Operation Florian

Sign up: eMagazine & eNewsletter

The latest issues in your inbox.

Company Profiles

Renka´s Fire Engine No. 1

Firefighting, fast, safe, everywhere. Michael Renka GmbH, based in Germany, is a manufacturer of firefighting vehicles, pumps and rescue equipment.

Waterax - We move water

Trusted by wildland firefighters around the world, WATERAX sets the industry standard by developing innovative, portable fire pumps and water-handling equipment designed to withstand demanding applications and rugged environments.

Big Water Flow for Industrial and Municipal Firefighting Applications

Protecting the lives of the public and firefighters while limiting the structural damage caused in large scale fires is our primary mission

We are committed to improving lives and doing business in the right way

We have a unique mix of capability and culture that we refer to as 3M Science and we strive to develop products that improve people’s daily lives in a multitude of ways.

HazSim - Bringing situational HazMat training to life

HazSim, LLC provides innovative simulation training to ensure your team works safely and effectively. HazSim Pro simulation equipment is in use by hundreds of fire departments, training schools, industrial fire teams, and private trainers across the US, Canada and further afield as well as the US Army.

The ultimate in innovation, quality and service

For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the world’s most advanced fire detection and suppression automatic systems

Advancing rescue technology

The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue Equipment to Emergency Services.

Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology

The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression systems hardware.

Trust the best, let us be your foam solution

AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity is the design, manufacture and commercialization of firefighting foam concentrates.

Williams Fire & Hazard Control offers a full line of specialized fire response equipment for oil and gas platforms

From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams' response personnel and specialized equipment quickly address adverse fire emergencies.

The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms

Our mission is to provide the best and the safest solution to professionals that work at height.

If you want quality, you want Zico

Since its inception Ziamatic Corp has provided the men and women of the fire service with products designed to make their jobs safer and easier.

The independent alternative

Dafo Fomtec AB is a privately owned company with head office in Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.