Trends in ... protective clothing
‘Proper selection can be the difference between injury and survivability’
After Safety+Health reached out to experts in the protective clothing industry, two things became clear: Protective clothing manufacturers are always striving to improve worker safety, and comfort is king.
Respondents focused largely on fabric when describing new technologies in the protective clothing field. “Technologies now available allow workers in multi-hazard work environments to wear a single garment to offer protection against several concurrent hazards,” said Andrew Wirts, sales and marketing director for Washington, IN-based NASCO Industries Inc. “Inherent and treated fabrics are combined with a liquid-proof membrane to protect against specific hazards such as hydrocarbon flash fire, electric arc flash and chemical splash, as well as steam and hot liquid.”
Protective clothing manufacturers are keeping tough working conditions in mind as well when designing fabrics. “Fabric manufacturers have incorporated properties such as flex or stretch, water repellency, softness, and wind- or cold-blocking options,” said Mike Woods, vice president of FR fabrics for Trion, GA-based Mount Vernon FR. “Attributes like softness and flex help increase the comfort level of the wearers.”
Regarding flame-resistant fabrics, manufacturers are taking steps to ensure their products are as safe as possible. “One innovation in flame-resistant products is double-treating the product to ensure that all materials are properly coated,” said Jennifer Vanderploeg, product designer for Rockford, MI-based Wolverine. “And to help ensure the health and wellness of customers, companies have been able to reduce the amount of formaldehyde used in the treatment to be up to 75 percent less.”
Making a mistake on the job can be a learning experience. But when it comes to protective clothing, mistakes can have severe consequences. “Proper selection can be the difference between injury and survivability,” Wirts said. “For example, rainwear that has NOT been tested to the expected flame source can create a fuel source that will allow flame to continue burning through workers’ flame-resistant clothing, furthering the extent of injury.”
According to Vanderploeg, the biggest mistake employees make when it comes to protective technologies is garment care. “It is important for people to understand the washing instructions for protective garments,” she said, adding that fabric softeners should never be used on any treated protective clothing or gear. “Also,” she said, “some treatments only last a specific number of washes before they lose their protective qualities and need to be replaced.”
Woods notes that new technologies are created with worker comfort in mind because, without comfort, “wearers may be more likely to wear them improperly, such as rolling up their sleeves or unbuttoning buttons, which leaves them more vulnerable to injury.”
Do your research
Understanding what type of protective clothing workers need for specific tasks is critically important, and something Wirts, Woods and Vanderploeg all emphasized in their responses. Specifically, Vanderploeg recommends getting well-acquainted with protective clothing standards. “When it comes to flame resistance, there are different standards for workers exposed to flash fire hazards, electricians and emergency services personnel,” she said. “In regards to hi-vis garments, there are different standards based on job location and function.”
In the end, don’t underestimate the role of comfort in worker compliance. “They will be more likely to wear their personal protective equipment properly if it is comfortable and if it performs in extreme conditions,” Woods said.
Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association
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