Flame-retardant (FR) clothing was once characterized by linemen as stiff, hot and downright uncomfortable. Thanks to advances in technology, however, today’s FR garments are just about as wearable as traditional types of clothing and offer more protection than ever before.

At Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), the linemen must wear long-sleeved FR shirts and jeans whether or not they’re working on energized circuits. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, linemen could wear jeans and a long sleeve cotton T-shirt to work in the field. Over time, however, PG&E began changing its requirements. Now, if a lineman doesn’t show up in his FR clothing, he is sent home to change into the appropriate workwear.

Equipping Workers with FR Garments

Each year, PG&E offers its field workers an allotment to replenish their wardrobes with new FR garments. The amount of the allotment depends on whether the employees are working full time or part time in the field and how often they’re working around electricity. For example, workers in the engineering department may receive a smaller allotment than linemen, foremen and apprentices.

Long ago, linemen were limited in terms of the types of FR garments that were out on the market, but now, they can order FR socks, underwear, beanies, fleece-lined gloves and neck gators in addition to the standard garments. To help the linemen find the style that works for them, Riverside Manufacturing Co. visited field offices with an entire wardrobe of clothing in different sizes and styles. Rather than just picking from the catalog, the linemen wereable to try on pants, shirts and jackets before placing their order.

The FR garments are available in a wide variety of colors such as orange, tan, brown and three different shades of blue. The FR shirts also have many different styles from Henleys and button-down shirts to long-sleeved T-shirts. The pants also come in jeans or cotton cargo styles.

All of the FR clothing is customized with the PG&E logo, and in some cases, also with the employee’s name and division. While the allotment can vary from one worker to the next, all employees in the FR program get an allowance each year to spend on clothing. With the typical allotment, a worker usually can get a pair of coveralls, four pairs of pants and four shirts.

Workers can order the type of clothing they prefer. Since PG&E covers a wide service area in the state of California, the weather can vary significantly. For example, if a lineman is in a warmer climate, he or she may order more T-shirts and pants, but if the worker is in an area prone to colder temperatures, he or she may order heavier garments and outerwear.

When PG&E first required its linemen to wear FR clothing about eight years ago, the company showed a video presentation to the field workforce about arc flashes and how FR clothing provided protection. They also educated the linemen on how to take care of the garments to maximize their longevity and durability.

How long the FR garments last depends on how much they are worn and how hard the user is on the clothing. Typically, the garments can last a few years if they are properly taken care of. PG&E’s field workers can launder their FR clothing just like their normal garments. One recommendation, however, is to launder FR garments separately from the rest of their family’s clothing.