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Sustainability - 5 min read - 21 December 2023

Smart Strategies for Making the Most of Your Protective Workwear Budget

Whether you’re a safety manager or an individual end user, purchasing flame-resistant protective garments can be stressful. How do you know if you’re getting the best deal? How do you afford the latest in comfort and technological advancements? How do you balance savings with safety? 

At TenCate Protective Fabrics, these are some of the questions we hear from safety managers each year when it’s time to put their annual budget allocation for FR garments to use. As manufacturers of the fabrics used in these garments, we may be a few steps removed from end users in the value chain, but a huge part of what makes us passionate about our work is serving as a trusted resource for safety managers and their workers in crafting the most successful safety programs they can. 

Through our relationships up and down the value chain and throughout the safety industry, we have observed several ways safety managers and end users can make their budget allocations go further when it’s time to purchase their FR workwear. From practical steps to mindset shifts, we’ve compiled a list of things to do and consider before placing your next FR garment order. Read on to learn our tips and download a convenient checklist at the bottom of the page to keep them close at hand as you prepare for orders in the new year.

Assess Your Needs

FR garments are not just uniforms you wear to work: they are an essential piece of safety equipment that will help protect you from catastrophic injury or death in a thermal event. With that in mind, it is just as important as any other piece of safety equipment to ensure your FR garments are up to date and compliant with relevant safety standards. 

If you are a safety manager, regular and thorough risk assessments are a great tool for defining the risks your workers face, especially as those risks evolve over time. You can then use the information from those risk assessments to ensure you have or will have the proper FR protective workwear. 

For individual workers who purchase their own FR garments with an employer-provided allowance, you can reach out to the safety professionals in your organization for guidance on which safety standards you need your workwear to comply with. Additionally, you can tap into the expertise of garment distributors and manufacturers to help sort through which options on the market meet your safety and budgetary needs.

Always Be Researching

A lot has changed in the protective workwear industry since 88/12 treated cotton blends hit the market. Just in the last decade, tremendous improvements have been made in FR workwear comfort thanks to the development and expanded applications of inherent FR fibers. While treated FR fabrics may meet minimum safety requirements, it’s worth engaging in regular research to learn more about what’s new to the market and what products offer improved safety, comfort, and durability. 

Staying up to date in the industry can be done several ways. Attending trade shows is a great way to get a lot of information and experience with different products and hear from developers and manufacturers about the advancements that have been made with their current offerings. Distribution channels often have resource centers for customers that can help give you an overview of available products as well. And of course, it never hurts to periodically Google “what’s best in FR” to see what’s new.

Quality & Durability

In a Google search for FR, you’ll probably see a fair number of products from online retailers that purport to be flame resistant. Use caution when shopping for FR from unknown manufacturers and distributors—you have no guarantee that they work as advertised and very little recourse (if any) if something goes wrong. While it can be smart to shop around and look outside the brands you may be most familiar with, generally, buying FR from an online retailer without knowing who made it is taking a bigger gamble on your safety than it’s worth.

When you’re considering one product over another, it’s important to look beyond price tags and compare the overall cost of each garment—not just the purchasing cost. If you’re buying a garment that is cheaper up front, will it wear out faster than the more expensive option? If it wears out twice as fast as a product that’s twice as expensive, you’ll have to replace it in half the time that you would have had to replace the pricier option. At that point, you may as well have bought the more expensive one. 

Be sure you factor in the maintenance and repair costs as well. How can you get the most bang for your buck? Shift your mindset from filling a short-term need with the highest quantity of the cheapest options to buying well-made garments less often and taking good care of them. If you can take a longer-range strategy to buying FR, you can spend more of your budget each year on fewer higher-quality, more durable items.

Branch Out In Brands

While you want to focus on buying better garments less often, it is totally possible to save money even while selecting those higher-quality products. If you’re used to buying from one particular brand and you haven’t looked at what anyone else is offering in a while, shopping around and exploring brands you’re less familiar with is one great way to do this. 

While well-known brands have often earned their reputations for good reasons, you may be paying a premium for the reputation on top of the cost of the goods. When you grocery shop, do you always opt for the name brand when a store brand version is just as good and less expensive?

No matter which brand you’re shopping, each one generally has offerings that fall into three categories: value, better, and best. Are you buying a product from a name brand’s value category when you could spend the same amount on a product from a lesser-known brand’s better or best category? Again, research will serve you well here, and maintaining open communication with distributors and/or manufacturers can help you get the information you need to compare products that fit your safety and budget needs.

Advocate For Safety—What Is Your Safety Worth?

For safety managers, being well-informed will obviously serve you well during the purchasing process; but even before that stage, when budgets are being made, arming yourself with knowledge of the market can equip you to be the best safety advocate you can be for your team. If you recognize that the budget allocation for FR you’re working with year after year is hindering your ability to provide the best protection available to your people, it’s time to start some important discussions around what safety is worth. 

For workers who purchase their own FR garments, you will be similarly well served by understanding the lay of the land and seriously considering what your safety is worth to you. If you find yourself kicking in some of your own money each year to buy the products that you feel safest in, have you considered talking to your supervisor about that? It can be worth asking if there’s any leeway so that you can get the safety equipment you need without it coming out of your pocket.

A Budget Is a Budget, But Safety Is Imperative

At the end of the day, oftentimes the budget you get is the budget you get. But when you consider the total costs of garment lifespan, with repair, maintenance, and replacement, it is usually a better use of that budget to spend more up front for better quality garments that will withstand more than one year of wear.

Download our checklist of these tips plus some bonus tips not shared here at the form below.

And as always, we are here to help you create the strongest safety program possible: reach out any time to get connected to your safety advocates at TenCate Protective Fabrics.

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TOPICS: Sustainability , Fire Service industry , Protection