Workplace Solutions Protective clothing Workplace exposures

Warm-weather fabrics

How do advanced performance fabrics help workers during warm weather?


Responding is Enzo Cancellieri, executive vice president of operations, GAME Sportswear Ltd., Yorktown Heights, NY.

The human body typically does a great job of naturally regulating its temperature – unless poor garment design interferes. This becomes even more of an issue – possibly life-threatening – when you’re active in the heat. Our optimal internal temperature range is narrow, and anything outside that range can vary from being an annoyance to causing serious health complications. Perspiration and its rapid evaporation upon contact with air are critical to the cooling process, but you must be wearing the right apparel. Fortunately, high-tech options are available.

Breathability and moisture control are perhaps the most important breakthroughs in high-visibility safety wear in the past 10 years. It was a longstanding complaint of people required to wear ANSI-compliant hi-vis garments that they were having a hard time staying cool and dry, with no other options available.

Cotton can become saturated with sweat, become heavy, stick to your body, and make you feel wet and uncomfortable all day – not allowing for proper evaporation. Plain polyester traps moisture, allowing for almost no ventilation or evaporation. Workers were expected to “tough it out” and keep working. However, this lack of comfort contributed to extreme fatigue, skin irritation and general worker dissatisfaction. The good news is all of that has changed.

One example of the progress made in this area is the recently introduced “birdseye knit” polyester material, also known as “no-hole mesh,” being used on safety T-shirts. It’s a lightweight, soft-to-the-touch, highly durable fabric that allows for more air passage and breathability, while still maintaining ANSI-compliant color standards. This new type of moisture-wicking helps the garment actually pick up moisture, carry it away from your body and spread it across the surface of the material so it evaporates quickly. The greater the surface area and ventilation (which the birdseye design creates), the greater the potential for evaporative cooling.

Similar advancements have been made to hi-vis rain gear, in which the new generation of 300D Oxford material allows for greatly improved air passage, keeping the wearer cooler. This is a tremendous help to workers who need safety outerwear during the warmer months. Once workers wear the new garment, they’ll notice the difference right away. Even more help is available in the hi-vis market, thanks to segmented reflective taping, which has small breaks, allowing for extra breathability. It’s a simple fix to a common objection. Segmented reflective tape still meets all ANSI standards and is becoming more common – and it looks sharp.

Thanks to the great strides manufacturers have made, millions of hardworking people are more productive, safer and happier. It will be interesting to see what manufacturers come up with next. Stay tuned.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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