The Importance of Standards and Listening to the End User


Hainsworth Protective Fabrics has been working with firefighters for more than 150 years. During this time, firefighter PPE has changed a lot, from the first woollen tunics to the highly sophisticated and high tech garments worn today.

We believe our responsibility as a textile manufacturer goes much further than merely producing quality fabrics. We also have a duty to inform, educate and enhance the understanding of firefighters around the world. An important part of the process is taking the time to listen to the men and women who put their lives on the line each time they answer an emergency call.

One of the biggest advances in recent years in the development of protective garments has been the involvement of the end user. While they look to manufacturers like Hainsworth and others in the supply chain to provide them with the latest and most innovative fabric technologies, we need them to tell us about the changing role of the firefighter and what they need their kit to do for them.

Firefighters play a crucial role in rigorously testing PPE before it reaches the frontline – helping manufacturers to make any necessary improvements and enhancements. But, increasingly, the voice of the end user is also being heard on the myriad of standards committees around the world.

Because of its heritage in firefighting PPE, Hainsworth was involved in the development of some of the earliest standards bodies. The impetus for the creation of standards committees came about because of concerns about some of the performance products entering the global firefighting market.

The King’s Cross fire of 1987 was perhaps the single most significant event which led to far better standardisation of firefighter PPE. There are currently four major organisations responsible for setting standards around the world. They are:

European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) – EN469 was the first PPE firefighter standard to cover all of the countries in the EU. It enshrined in law the need for garments to undergo a number of tests to ensure they provided adequate protection against both radiant and convective heat. In addition, they must also meet the requirements for resistance against water penetration and tearing. The current version is EN469:2005 but is undergoing revision.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – The NFPA Standard for PPE, NFPA1971, was most recently revised in 2018. NFPA1971:2018 protects firefighting personnel by establishing minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and blood-borne hazards encountered during structural and proximity firefighting operations. This standard is an ensemble standard addressing head to toe PPE.

Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand (AS/NZS) – The relevant protective clothing standard for firefighters is AS/NZS 4967:2009. This standard was originally based on ISO 11613:1999 but was subsequently extensively rewritten to better reflect Australian and New Zealand firefighting conditions. This is believed by many to be the best firefighter garment standard in the world.

International Standards Organisation (ISO) – This is the organisation with responsibility for setting standards worldwide. The most recent version of the protective clothing for firefighters standard is ISO 11613:2017.

It is the role of standards committees to review published standards every three to five years to ensure that they remain totally relevant to the operational needs of firefighters in different parts of the world, whether they are structural or wildland.

While ISO is seeking to create global standards and the NFPA, CEN and AS/NZS have a more regional focus, there are other standards committees with a focus on specific territories with Japan and China being two such examples. In Britain, there is the British Standards Institute (BSI). Within the EU, it is illegal for member states to have a conflicting standard to a published European norm.

Despite a significant number of different committees, most countries now demand conformity with both national and international standards. Brett Egan is one former firefighter now playing an integral role in helping to ensure standards continue to evolve and meet the exacting demands of the modern firefighter.

Brett is a retired fire officer with 32 years’ experience and, currently the National Fire Chief Council’s representative on two British Standards Committees. He is also Technical Lead for the Collaborative Procurement Framework which is accessed by 13 UK Fire and Rescue Services.

Brett says: “It is important to remember that a standard is the minimum requirement. In reality, the performance level of the kit worn by firefighters in the UK and in many other parts of the world is outperforming the standard.

“Firefighter clothing is extremely technical and has to meet many different performance requirements, not just heat and flame protection but also tear, abrasion and chemical.

“Hainsworth continually demonstrates its commitment to standards through innovation and producing new garment fabrics. They respond to feedback from the international firefighting community.”

Hainsworth, itself, sits on numerous BSI, CEN and ISO committees providing expertise in the development of improved standards.

Fire services in London and Scotland are two of around 20 UK fire services to have selected Hainsworth’s TITAN 1260 fabric through the Collaborative Procurement Framework and the Central PPE and Clothing Contract.

Brett added: “The feedback from London and Scotland has been excellent. The firefighters are extremely proud of their new kit and really pleased with the protection it provides them.

“They have been very positive and have commented on a number of improvements and enhancements.

“The aim of the Collaborative Procurement Framework is to provide standardisation of product across the different fire services – and to ensure that it is the best kit available on the market.”

Dave Matthews is recognised as one of the foremost experts in firefighter standards globally. He has been involved in developing standards over the last 30 years and is currently chair of ISO SC13 WG2 Test Methods for Heat and Flame Resistant Clothing, ISO SC14 WG1 and WG2 Firefighters PPE and CEN TC 162 WG2 Heat and Flame Protective Clothing.

Dave says: “It is really important to get the input of the end user and the likes of Roddy MacKinnon and Brett Egan in the UK and Russell Shephard in Australia do a very good job of ensuring the voice of the firefighter is heard.

“The UK would benefit from making the investment to have a similar set-up to Australasia where they have the Australasian Fire Advisory Council (AFAC) with Russell employed as Standards Manager to help write the specification for PPE for all fire services.”

Dave believes it is important that standards like EN469 continue to be revised and updated.

He says: “The market doesn’t like change and the argument against change is that there have been no fatalities attributed to PPE during the 13 years since it was last updated in 2005.

“But companies like Hainsworth are continually innovating and bringing through new fabrics which can further enhance the garments worn by firefighters. Technology is continually improving and standards committees have a responsibility to keep pace.”