Product Focus Protective Clothing

Trends in ... protective clothing

Take proactive steps

From flame-resistant beanies and shirts to high-visibility vests and overalls, protective clothing is a wide-ranging category. Here, industry insiders describe innovations in the protective clothing industry, explain where employees make mistakes and how to correct them, and offer tips on staying safe.

New technologies

Having one piece of protective clothing for a variety of uses is a recent trend. In rainwear specifically, the need to protect workers from multiple concurrent hazards in the same work environment is increasing, according to Andrew Wirts, sales and marketing director at Washington, IN-based NASCO Industries Inc. “New materials with multi-hazard protection that address flash fire, arc flash, chemical splash, hot liquids and steam are available,” Wirts said. “These engineered materials are becoming more available and address comfort as well as protection.”

Scott Margolin, vice president of technical at Pipersville, PA-based Tyndale, said that although new combinations of existing fibers treat new flame-resistant blends, “the most exciting technology developments are coming on the service side of the business.”

“For instance, layering apps that dramatically simplify finding clothing combinations to meet specific protection requirements,” Margolin added. “Before, calculating layered protection accurately was too complex and time-consuming for most wearers.”

Pointing out the increased effort to keep workers safe and compliant when working in hot temperatures, Mark Stanley, president of Atlanta, TX-based Stanco Safety Products, said many organizations are “willing to pay a little extra for technologies, like convertible workpants, in order to keep workers safe. … Workpants that can feel like shorts can help workers avoid heat stress when long pants may be required.”

Areas of concern

Not properly caring for protective clothing may lead to deterioration. “Laundering the garments improperly may result in reducing reflective properties of trim or diminishing the wicking properties of some fluorescent fabrics,” said Shari Franklin Smith, senior application engineering specialist for food, beverage and agriculture/chemical industries in the 3M Personal Safety Division for St. Paul, MN-based 3M. To avoid issues, Franklin Smith recommends following the garment’s care guidelines on its label.

Wirts notes that standards can present challenges for consumers. “There are specific standards when it comes to making claims to multi-hazard protection for rainwear,” he said. “It is very common for someone to say that a rain suit needs to be ‘FR,’ but not really know what that means.” Cautioning that not all FR apparel is the same, Wirts added that “the arc flash hazard is different from a flash fire hazard, and a vertical flame test should never be considered appropriate for either hazard.”

According to Margolin, many arc flash and flash fire injuries result from human error. “Wearers leave buttons undone, roll up sleeves, or otherwise leave skin or non-FR underlayers exposed.” Additionally, he noted, wearing non-FR base layers can result in serious injury if the FR outer layer isn’t worn properly. “And non-FR outer layers over FR base layers are even more dangerous,” he said.

Keep in mind

Margolin said workers and employers alike need to take proactive steps to ensure protection matches the type and severity of the hazard. “With the proliferation of imported FRC, the removal of mandatory references to third-party standards and the expansion of test labs, the potential for unscrupulous actors to misrepresent the protective ability of the clothing they sell increases,” Margolin said. “Individuals and safety managers need to identify reputable providers they can count on – not only for reliable FRC, but for information and advice about the fast-changing FR industry landscape.”

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month …

Eye protection

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)