Navy Announces Plan to Improve Sailors’ Uniform Safety

By Rear Adm. John Kirby 
U.S. Navy Chief of Information

Today, U.S. Fleet Forces and U.S. Pacific Fleet announced a three-phased approach the Navy is taking to change the type of organizational clothing available to all Sailors.  We will develop and deliver flame resistant coveralls for all Sailors within the next nine months.

Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Sun Ah Moon, from Paloalto, Calif., mans a throttle as chief engineer Lt. Cmdr. Eric Williams, from Vaiden, Miss., observes in the ship's engineering control room aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), Feb. 14, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Betsy Knapper/Released)

Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Sun Ah Moon, from Paloalto, Calif., mans a throttle as chief engineer Lt. Cmdr. Eric Williams, from Vaiden, Miss., observes in the ship’s engineering control room aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), Feb. 14, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Betsy Knapper/Released)

Let me be clear, Sailors are safe today. But we are updating our policy to make shipboard environments even safer.

As you may know, an impromptu burn test last year of the Navy Working Uniform Type I uniform confirmed the material was not flame resistant. In fact, it burned robustly.

While we knew NWU Type I uniforms provide adequate protection from shipboard hazards under normal steaming conditions and daily working conditions, it wasn’t a surprise that the material was not flame resistant. However, I would tell you that the dramatic test results certainly got our attention.

So, we did a couple things.

First, we took immediate steps to educate Sailors about safety and uniform requirements. Our goal was to ensure they understood the guidelines for wearing the uniform at sea.

Then, we stood up a couple of working groups to examine whether or not we had the requirements right for flame resistant clothing.

We need to remember that we’ve been outfitting ourselves at sea according to a policy established in 1996. That policy requires flame resistant uniforms only for Sailors who work in high-risk areas where the specific need exists, such as engineering spaces and repair lockers.

Now, the first of those working groups has come back with a few things:

  1.  Sailors are safe at sea. When worn properly, the NWU Type I is a safe and practical uniform.
  2.  Fire remains a serious risk and we should always look at ways to reduce risk and ensure the safety of our Sailors.
  3.  The most effective way to mitigate this risk is to outfit everyone at sea with flame resistant clothing.

Given the results of the burn test and what we’ve learned through the working groups, we’ve decided that we can do better.

We are committed to always improving safety. So, that is what we’re going to do.

Shipboard environments are inherently dangerous; fires remain a threat. Although the likelihood of a major fire or explosion beyond the capabilities of damage control parties or a repair locker is low, we feel outfitting flame resistant clothing to all hands is important.

We will now embark on a solution that over time will outfit all Sailors afloat with flame resistant clothing to maximize protection for Sailors. The mid-term solution is to have Sailors outfitted in eight to nine months.

We’ve learned a lot from this process, and I’m grateful that we did. We’ll keep you all informed all along the way.

What do you think about the plan?