OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

May 24, 1994

Ms. Catherine J. Morin
Product Manager
Textile Flame Retardants
Albright & Wilson Americas
P.O. Box 26229
Richmond, Virginia 23260-6229

Dear Ms. Morin:

Thank you for your letter of April 14, regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) recent standard on electric power generation, transmission, and distribution, 29 CFR 1910.269.

Paragraph (l)(6)(iii) of that standard prohibits employees who are exposed to the hazards of flames or arcs from wearing clothing that, when exposed to flames or electric arcs, could increase the extent of injury that would be sustained by the employee. The discussion of this provision in the preamble to the final rule contains the following statement:

Natural fabrics, such as 100 percent cotton or wool, and synthetic materials that are flame resistant or flame retardant are acceptable under the final rule. [59 FR 4389]

Your letter expresses concern that this language will permit employees to wear 100 percent cotton or wool clothing under all conditions. You maintain that untreated cotton fabrics that are ignited, from any source, will continue to burn until extinguished, causing increased burn injuries.

As you know, OSHA relied heavily on a Duke Power Company videotape, which showed and described electric arc tests on clothing made of various types of fabrics, in determining what fabrics would be acceptable under the final rule. OSHA is concerned that the language from the preamble does not reflect adequately either the data in the videotape or the Agency's interpretation of what is acceptable under 1910.269(l)(6)(iii).

The clear language of the standard prohibits clothing that could increase the extent of injuries an employee receives in the event of flame or electric arc. The preamble language inaccurately gives the impression that 100 percent cotton and wool are acceptable under this rule for all conditions of use and exposure. The test results given in the Duke videotape indicate that "Lightweight cottons and wools sometimes burned, but without the melting and sticking of synthetics. Heavyweight cottons, wools, and blends of the two did not burn.... Heavyweight means that a material weighs at least 11 ounces per yard, like the fabric in a denim jacket."

Fabrics that will ignite and continue to burn after exposure to flame or electric arc will increase the extent of injuries received by an employee. Thus, the evidence in OSHA's rulemaking record indicates that clothing made from 100 percent cotton and wool is acceptable under some conditions but is not acceptable under others. OSHA is also aware that the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has adopted a new standard on clothing for the protection of electrical workers from flames and electric arcs (ASTM F1506). The Agency considers clothing that meets this specification as meeting the requirements of 1910.269(l)(6)(iii).

Employers reading the preamble explanation of 1910.269(l)(6)(iii) may not fully understand what types of clothing are acceptable under the rule. For this reason, the Agency believes that it is necessary to publish a clarification of this explanation in the Federal Register. OSHA intends to issue this notice before the effective date of the final rule (May 31, 1994). We will send you a copy of that notice when it is published.

Thank you for your interest in safety.


Joseph A. Dear
Assistant Secretary