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Trends in protective clothing

January 1, 2011

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Knowing specific hazards means better protection

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

Protective clothing helps employees guard against a number of hazards, including nontoxic chemical splashes, flames, arc flashes, and very high or low temperatures. Because protective clothing applies to such a large number of dangers, workers need to know which products are right for them and that they cannot afford to ignore, discard or misuse these products.

Mark S. Saner, technical manager at Oxnard, CA-based Workrite Uniform Co., believes one of the most vital aspects of protective clothing is that it must fit properly and hold up to daily wear and tear. He also stressed that people need to be self-aware, citing cases of personnel wearing non-flame-resistant clothing over FR garments. “This basically defeats the purpose of wearing FR” clothing, Saner said. “The outermost layer needs to be FR.” 

Keith Baker, a product trainer and analyst for Memphis, TN-based MCR Safety, agrees that employees need to be proactive about knowing what their particular work risks are. “Even if individuals perform functions that are very similar, everyone’s immediate environment is different and could produce different hazards that could call for specialized or different types of protective clothing,” Baker said. “People should take the time and effort to carefully observe their surroundings and take stock of all the possible hazards that could be encountered,” he added. 

Fortunately, new products and technology are continually being developed, including a new type of light source for commonly used safety garments, such as vests. “One new technology that is now being used in high-visibility protective clothing is electroluminescent lighting, or EL lighting,” Baker said. “EL lighting is different than most types of LED lighting in that it does not use a traditional type of diode, or bulb, but instead uses a conductive ‘ink-like’ material that glows when a current flows through the substance.”

While new technology such as electroluminescent lighting is exciting progress, Saner points to user acceptance as an imperative component of protective clothing compliance. “Fabrics and garments are continually being developed to improve wearer comfort while maintaining their protective cap-abilities. Styles becoming more like regular street clothes helps with worker acceptance, which makes [workers] more likely to wear them,” Saner said.

Baker sees another problem, specifically with FR options. “There are some older technologies in the marketplace that have introduced some FR safety vests, but there is a need for a higher-quality, tougher, heavier duty material that will offer maximum protection,” he said.
Whether or not protective clothing is now better, stronger or more advanced than ever really is not the most important factor. Real value can only be determined if employees actually wear these products both consistently and properly.  

Coming next month…
Eyewash and shower stations

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