Personal protective equipment

Trends in personal protective equipment

PPE manufacturers weigh in


As OSHA’s annual list of the Top 10 most-cited violations shows, the ways in which workers are injured change little from year to year. So as people continue to get hurt on the job, personal protective equipment manufacturers work to develop technologies to both safeguard employees against hazards and promote compliance with PPE regulations.

What recent trends have PPE manufacturers observed? Safety+Health, with the help of the International Safety Equipment Association, invited manufacturers to weigh in on this question.

Here are their responses.

More comfortable

"There have been a number of studies done on PPE, and ‘providing more comfortable PPE’ is routinely the No. 1 request of end users. Yet, workers often wear products that are heavier than necessary because it is perceived to offer better protection. Technology has advanced to the point that ‘heavier’ does not always translate to better protection. Educating users is critical to the success of any PPE program, but it also plays a key role when it comes to maximizing the benefits of technology.”

– Matt Block, director of health and safety services, Magid, Romeoville, IL

Compliance and style

"What came to mind was the fusion of compliance and style, that with advances in technology and focus on smart designs, workers now have choices of products that not only protect them but they can feel good wearing. This is a win-win for both workers and employers, as having PPE that workers actually want to wear drives compliance – further reducing risk of injury. This can be seen especially in flame-resistant apparel – no longer does a worker have to wear a rigid, rough woven work shirt and pant. They now have an array of choices that includes soft fabrics, excellent colorfastness, moisture management and, above all for the worker, style.”

– Andy Olson, associate product director, Ergodyne, St. Paul, MN

Eye protection beyond projectiles

"One of the most important trends in safety eyewear is being driven by the recognition that – in some work environments – safety glasses need to protect from more than just projectiles moving directly toward the eyes. Microscopic airborne debris, primarily dust and other small particulates, can cause significant irritation and debilitating eye fatigue. The most effective solution is having the frame fronts fitted with foam to create a secure seal around the orbital eye cavity. Recent advances in anti-fog technologies ensure wearer comfort and effectively remove fogging – the most common reason some workers have been reluctant to wear foam-sealed protective eyewear.”

– Peggy Kroesch, brand manager, Bollé Safety, Overland Park, KS

Comfortable respirators

"As the use of powered air-purifying respirators continues to expand, users are gravitating to models that offer enhanced comfort such as lighter-weight and variable air-flow technology, along with user-friendly controls and extended battery life. Combined with the expansion of PAPRs as an air source, users also are requesting respirator assemblies that are NIOSH-approved with loose-fitting hoods, eliminating the burdensome task of fit testing.”

– Nick Bozzuto, respiratory protection product manager, Bullard, Cynthiana, KY

Worker style and comfort preferences

"Today, employers are looking for innovative safety solutions that target compliance in a big way. Worker preferences, in regard to comfort and style, are being taken into consideration in efforts to increase the likeliness that they’ll put on safety products … and keep them on, helping companies avoid OSHA citations, and more importantly, keep their employees safe. Specialty designs in safety eyewear that set products apart have become important, such as custom sizes, temple flexibility, bifocal safety lenses, and even unique frame colors. These improved styles help employers improve user satisfaction with better fitting, more comfortable products that are much more likely to be worn.”

– Katie Mielcarek, marketing manager, Gateway Safety Inc., Cleveland

Productivity considerations

"Safety managers are asking for PPE that not only protects workers, but also allows workers to maintain a high level of productivity. In some cases, proper PPE gets in the way of completing tasks quickly. Specifically, we’ve seen this trend when it comes to handling solvents where workers sometimes elect to sacrifice protection for productivity by wearing gloves that provide dexterity without adequate protection or by choosing to wear no gloves at all. This trend is at the heart of our latest product innovation, which is specifically designed to deliver a level of dexterity similar to thin-mil gloves while providing protection from hydraulic fluid, solvents and other chemicals.”

– Gina Tsiropoulos, brand manager, Global JACKSON SAFETY* and KLEENGUARD*, Roswell, GA

Variable arc flash needs

"For utility companies, there has been an increased awareness in the difference between an arc flash hazard, the primary hazard for an electric utility, and a flash fire hazard, the primary thermal hazard of a gas company. Arc protection (ASTM F1506 for clothing and ASTM F1891 for rainwear) is needed by electric companies. Flash fire protection (NFPA 2112 for clothing and ASTM F2733 for rainwear) is needed for gas companies. Combination utility companies – those with both electric and gas operations – are beginning to understand that all flame resistance (FR) claims are not the same. They are realizing that there are some products that offer dual-hazard protection and will be safe in both operations.

“In the oil and gas industry, there has been a growing realization that FR properties are necessary for the outer-most layer. In addition to this, further understanding of the different FR claims has made oil and gas workers exposed to a flash fire hazard safer. Companies are increasingly rejecting the vertical flame standard (ASTM D6413 or NFPA 701) in favor of ASTM F2733 as the FR standard for rainwear. This complements and is comparable to the requirements in their everyday work clothing (NFPA 2112). The benefit is reduced burn injury, faster recovery and reduced expense to the company.”

– Andrew Wirts, sales and marketing director, NASCO Industries Inc., Washington, IN

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