Manufacturing with a Purpose – Fire Resistance, Redefined
Apparel Solutions International
The function of clothing is typically in the areas of fashion or style, designed to keep one comfortable. Apparel Solutions International Inc. is a work wear clothing manufacturer with a different purpose: A company committed to safety.
Apparel Solutions International Inc. (ASI), manufacturers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safety clothing, has been a pioneer in specialized work wear to protect workers in the oil and gas, forestry, electrical utilities and wild land firefighting industries. The company is a leading manufacturer of quality flame resistant clothing and strives to make safety its number one priority. We spoke with Mike Ens, Sales Manager, Peter Clark, VP of Technical and Training and Tom Legare, President of ASI.
Peter Clark knows firsthand what it’s like to be a burn survivor of a flash fire incident wearing street clothing. In the seventies, as a young glass installer driving in a work vehicle, he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter was severely burned and suffered full thickness burns in a gas pipeline explosion. He thought he was in a fireball, but it was his clothing that continued to burn. “You’re better off naked than to have something that would contribute to a burn injury,” Peter says.
All of his burn injuries were the result of his clothing. “In fact, not having the typical burn pattern – which was the norm for survivors of industrial flash fires – and trying to figure out why my burn pattern was different was what drove me to identifying that in a flash fire it was the clothing being worn that determined burn severity and not the original fire, and led me to providing seminars to industry, advocating, and later in 1993 to writing and publishing the FRW Handbook.” Peter has become an extreme advocate in the prevention of burn injuries and a valued voice in the industry.
ASI’s history stems back to 1985 when Tom bought the work wear division of a Dutch work wear manufacturing company. He formed a partnership with Mike and Peter soon followed suit in forming what was to be an incredible force in the prevention of burn injury and employee protection.
In the onset, the company mainly imported their product from Europe but quickly North American fabric manufacturers realized the importance and business opportunities of this market. One of the first to enter the market was a product called Nomex®, which was incredibly durable but uncomfortable and caused static electricity. Soon after, a cotton based chemically treated fabric made its way to the market but the FR properties washed out over time.
ASI worked with these fabric manufacturers to help create products that met the demands of the market. Today, Apparel Solutions Inc. continues to work with fabric manufacturers to meet the changing demands for products and by industry.
ASI understands it is not only about the fabric but visibility. Being seen is being safe. Mike says, “We became pioneers by pushing for better products and improvements. We started with the fire resistant marketplace and realized in Alberta there is a lack of daylight for some periods of the year, so we included high visibility clothing. In Europe at the time, high visibility outerwear was very common, with many options, but not so much in Canada.” The first garments the company developed had reflective silver piping on them. Initially, customers did not know it was reflective as it was more of a design element. It sold well, so a one inch silver trim was placed strategically on the garments. The company soon realized they had stumbled onto something. Ironically, there was a bit of an initial push back because it made the workers visible and clients were calling to complain their workers stuck out like a sore thumb! Now, of course, on any construction site one would be hard pressed to see anybody without some form of high visibility outerwear, “something I am proud our company played a big part in recognizing in terms of the overall safety of a garment,” Mike adds.
Today ASI maintains their high standards in manufacturing and product development and continues to work within the industry to develop and enhance FR work wear. “We source the world for solutions so companies can be reliant on us to keep them up to standards and keep price competitive in the marketplace,” notes Tom. “We offer our customers solutions that are sustainable and meet or exceed their expectations,” adds Mike.
Not only does ASI promote the standards affecting workers in their manufacturing practices but they work with the various governing boards to develop better standards and practices. Both Peter and Mike have been part of the Canadian Government Standards Board (CGSB) governing the fire resistant work wear industry today. “We are proud to be part of a group who initiated the standards in the oil and gas industry and for forestry industries today,” Peter says. “Making a difference in the protection of an employee is an incredible redress.” Peter is still very active and involved as a member on a number of boards impacting the FR industry today, including the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), where he has been a key player on establishing the standards on fire protection.
Establishing standards and policies on FR protection have certainly been at the forefront for Apparel Solutions; policing and ensuring manufacturers and companies’ compliance have also proven to be challenges.
The CGSB, although a governing board, is not a policing board, Peter notes. “While the governing bodies are in place they are not legislated; thus companies do not face penalties or fines if they do not comply. Garments may claim to meet CGSB 155.20, and the buyer may not realize the garment actually does not meet all or any of the guidelines.”
Today, ASI has experienced a thirty percent growth over the past five years. Mike, Peter and Tom credit this to the company’s reputation and its ability to deliver a quality product at a fair price – and most importantly, referrals based on positive customer experience have also played a big role in the company’s success.
“Product development across North America has contributed to ASI’s growth,” says Mike. “In the thermal protective performance area we did a lot of work and mannequin testing, flash testing and building programs. Each province has their own program for colour and designs, and we have worked with them, including Newfoundland and offshore to do testing and build products that meet the demands of each region”
The oil and gas sector is by far the largest industry ASI services, but not the only one. Tom notes, “We also have been privileged to add to our portfolio electrical, gas and firefighting industries. These have taken on a life of their own with personal company design and safety requirements.”
“We take every customer requirement into consideration, from specific application to design,” says Mike. “We will sit down with our customers and work with them to come up with a design and program to meet their needs. It’s important to understand what they are in, or what they would like to be in. We also take into consideration how they launder and maintain their garments. We also want to know what their workers want from a comfort standpoint or what will manage the moisture better.” Every aspect of a customer’s work wear program is taken into consideration.”
Indeed, ASI examines every aspect of a company’s work wear program, from development to design, and an estimate for inventory and pricing is given before the program is put in place. Design, colour, high visibility, application, inventory turnaround… all must be considered.
“Peter will draw up charts for specific companies depending on what their needs are,” Mike says. “He then rates the different fabrics and different performances. Sometimes companies just don’t have time to keep up on all these things as it’s not their core business, so they will lean on us to keep up to standard. Peter will also go onto sites and talk to the workers so they understand what the company has done to provide them with the right protection.”
National Safety month kicks off in June, focusing on reducing leading causes of injury and death at work, on the road and in our homes and communities. The National Safety Council, according to their website says, “No matter what your passion is, we engage in safe behaviors so we can live for what matters to us.” The theme this June is “What I Live For.” The focus will be on the topics of prescription painkiller abuse, transportation safety, ergonomics, emergency preparedness and slips, trips and falls. The team at Apparel Solutions International makes safety their top priority, and will continue to make a significant impact on safety in the workplace.