In the recently released, 2009 edition of "NFPA 51B Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting and Other Hot Work Standard," the National Fire Protection Association added a requirement for third-party certification of hot-work fabrics.

Widely recognized as the most comprehensive hot work standard, NFPA 51B Technical Committee updates the standard every five years. One of the major changes in the 2009 edition is the incorporation of the ANSI/FM 4950 fabric-testing standard into NFPA 51B. The standard from the Quincy, Mass.-based nonprofit association now requires that welding blankets, curtains and pads for hot work operations be "listed or approved" and states that "one such listing is ANSI FM 4950 Welding Pads, Welding Blankets and Welding Curtains for Hot Work Operations."

"Incorporating the performance-based ANSI/FM 4950 Standard into NFPA 51B is a major change that will help to make hot work safer," said Kathie Leonard, president and CEO of Auburn Manufacturing Inc., Mechanic Falls, Maine, a manufacturer of extreme temperature textiles. "It is imperative to public safety that users are aware that there is a standard to which their welding protection fabrics can be tested and rated, thereby leading to better risk management. The ANSI/FM 4950 Standard is an advance in safeguarding property and life."

Prior to ANSI/FM 4950, hot work standards such as NFPA 51B recommended only "heat-resistant tarpaulins," a vague term that allowed fabrics made of untested, non-rated materials to be used for fire protection, thereby increasing the risk of fire during hot work operations. Fabrics marketed under the "heat resistant tarpaulin" requirement no longer meet the NFPA 51B "listed or approved" requirement.

In order for welding blankets, curtains, and pads to meet ANSI/FM 4950 they must undergo and pass stringent third-party testing, certification and ongoing audit procedures, and meet the conditions for safety, performance and quality. In addition, manufacturers must maintain a quality control program and submit to manufacturing facility inspections as part of the approval process.