Is Uniform Rental with Industrial Laundry Necessary for AR / FR Clothing?

This is the second post in our series examining the industry’s shift away from uniform rental (“rental”) programs with industrial laundry for arc-rated and flame resistant (AR / FR) clothing, a closer look at misconceptions that sometimes lead companies to select rental for AR / FR clothing, and unintended consequences of entering the rental world. Click here for the intro post, and look out for posts three, four, and five.

One reason sometimes cited for adopting a uniform rental program with industrial laundry service (”rental”) for arc-rated and flame resistant (AR / FR) clothing is perceived necessity. That is, some companies believe the preservation of AR / FR properties and the maintenance of AR / FR garments require special care. Twenty years ago, durability of flame resistance may have been a valid consideration, but this is now dated thinking. In recent years, direct purchase programs like managed allowance programs – which typically leverage home laundry – have become the industry standard for acquiring and caring for AR / FR clothing. The fact is that the rental service model – which frequently includes industrial laundry service – is not necessary for AR / FR clothing – neither to protect product performance nor is it required by any industry standards.

Product Performance

Fiber and fabric producers have made major improvements in AR / FR durability and reliability over the last decade. The vast majority of AR / FR fibers and fabrics in common use in the USA today for arc flash and flash fire protection are arc-rated and flame resistant for the life of the garment, with very few and simple washing instructions.

Durability of flame resistance is so good today that leading managed program providers warrant home laundered garments to retain flame resistance – as well as against both fabric and manufacturing defects – through the garment’s full useful life. This means that garments ultimately need to be retired through time because of physical wear and tear – when wear indicators like holes or frayed seams develop – not because of any limits on the reliability of the AR / FR properties.

The fact is, globally the majority of flame resistant garments are purchased outright and laundered at home today; historically, rental providers have had majority share primarily in the USA and Germany, and are losing market share in both countries.

Today’s AR / FR is so good that the only compelling possible reason to select a rental program – or industrial laundry service in general – is if the garments are exposed to toxic contaminants that should not be introduced into a home laundry system. And, as we will see, even this possible reason has its flaws.

Contamination Conundrum

Concern over introducing potential workplace contaminants into a home wash system is generally considered to be the main reason to specify industrial laundering over home laundering. On its surface, the logic makes sense, and many people who understand the industry consider it to be the most valid reason to select industrial laundering. However, there is some real irony with this position: garments from multiple accounts are laundered together, and therefore cross-contamination can occur. Industrial laundering can introduce residual contamination from any number of other companies’ clothing, where both the substances and their potential individual or cumulative effects are completely unknown. So, in selecting a rental program, your company maintains a risk of cross-contamination – while incurring the additional charges and challenges inherent in rental programs that we’ll examine further as part of this series.

Further, if you feel your company has a work environment that requires industrial laundry service, make no mistake: the rental service model is not your only option. Leading providers of managed direct purchase programs offer the option of managed industrial laundry service – allowing your workers to enjoy the best in AR / FR selection and receive access to the laundry service they need, while management achieves bottom-line savings and improves overall service and satisfaction.

Industry Standards

Industry standards for arc flash and flash fire protection recognize direct purchase with home laundry as a safe and effective cleaning method for AR / FR clothing. Neither the rental service model nor industrial laundry service are required by industry standards.

ASTM Standards on Laundering

ASTM has two “sister” standards for home and industrial laundering (ASTM F2757 and ASTM F1449 respectively). ASTM notes both are equally viable. Hazard-specific industry standards do the same:

  • Arc flash protection: both OSHA 1910.269 and NFPA 70E reference both ASTM standards as appropriate cleaning methods – neither requiring nor “preferring” one over the other.
  • Flash fire protection: NFPA 2113 points to both ASTM standards – neither requiring nor “preferring” one over the other – as accepted standards for care and cleaning of FR clothing.

OSHA’s Stance

Here in the USA, OSHA views direct purchase programs leveraging home laundering and rental programs that employ industrial laundry service as equivalent, neither requiring nor “preferring” industrial laundry to home laundering of AR / FR clothing.

In 2014, OSHA introduced its latest ruling on 1910.269 and 1926 subpart V – containing requirements for the electric utility industry while painting a broader picture of OSHA’s stance on proper care and maintenance of PPE in general, making it relevant to the oil and gas industries and other industries that use AR / FR clothing to protect workers from arc flash or flash fire hazards. In this ruling, OSHA clarified its stance that AR / FR clothing should reasonably and appropriately be treated as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This designation reinforces the employer’s legal obligation to provide, pay for, and retain ultimate responsibility for care and maintenance of AR / FR clothing.

OSHA explicitly states in the ruling that “the final rule does not require employers to launder protective clothing for employees” (p. 287). Further, OSHA neither “impose[s] the cost of laundering on employers” nor expects the requirements to generate “additional cost to employees [and, by extension, employers] over that of laundering normal (that is, non-flame-resistant) clothing” (p. 287).

OSHA is equally clear that the responsibility for caring for and maintaining AR / FR clothing rests squarely with the employer. Despite suggestions otherwise, use of a rental program does not absolve the employer from liability or the requirement to ensure proper laundering and fitness for use; the OSHA requirement is the same regardless of acquisition or laundering method.

Accordingly, one cannot “sell liability” by outsourcing washing or care to a service provider. Plus, as many as 50% of employees in industrial laundry programs do not utilize the service, meaning garments in the field may be unwashed and uninspected–not to mention cleaning costs wasted.

Further, despite sales claims made by rental providers, in practice, damage is less likely to be noticed and repairs are less likely to be properly executed in rental programs than in direct purchase programs that leverage home laundry. Whether employers take advantage of the convenience and cost-effectiveness of home laundry or choose to pay for a rental program with industrial laundering, OSHA is clear that employers – not service providers – must inspect the clothing on a regular basis to ensure that it is not in need of repair or replacement. In this way, industrial laundry service can provide a false sense of security when it comes to both worker safety and OSHA compliance.

The bottom line: rental programs with industrial laundry are not necessary, neither to protect AR / FR performance nor to comply with industry standards.

Read on for the next post in our series and join us as we take a closer look at the true cost of rental programs, which are sold as cost-effective but in reality are anything but.

Ready to join the hundreds of programs representing hundreds of thousands of wearers who have transitioned away from uniform rental programs in favor of managed allowance programs – the preferred AR / FR sourcing method for over 90% of investor-owned electric utilities and over 50 Fortune 500 companies today? Find out how Tyndale’s program delivers cost savings, while offering exceptional service and garment choice – key drivers of employee satisfaction and compliance.

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