Personal protective equipment

Trends in personal protective equipment 2020

Manufacturers and industry insiders weigh in

Photos: LeslieLauren/iStockphoto

The COVID-19 pandemic has put personal protective equipment in the spotlight and made “PPE” a common term among the public. Safety+Health, with assistance from the International Safety Equipment Association, recently reached out to PPE manufacturers with three questions: What trends are happening now, what challenges are your customers reaching out to you with, and what technological innovations are here or on the horizon?

Here are their responses:

1What recent PPE trends have you observed?

We’re talking to you in May and, right now, there are a couple of unrelated aspects of PPE and safety that are both a bit like the Wild West – protective masks and heat illness prevention. Reusable cloth masks to protect industrial workers from infection is a category that developed almost overnight with the pandemic. There’s a lot of uncertainty, with demand far outstripping supply for disposable respirators like N95s. And cloth masks are a whole new category, with no guidance and no standards. Customers are looking for ready solutions that are available and effective.

In terms of heat illness prevention, it’s not entirely different. There’s an epidemic of heat illness in our industrial workforce and no real standards to guide employers to protect their teams. So what happens is that companies make their own standards, which vary widely from place to place. Safety managers are looking for effective solutions in things like cooling gear to try to reduce or eliminate their heat illness cases.

– Sarah Anderson, director of product management, Magid


One of the trends in headgear is the shift from traditional hard hats to industrial safety helmets that mimic the design of a climber’s helmet. They are functional, comfortable and look good while still keeping the user safe on the job. With new options emerging in the market, manufacturers must educate the users on the various standards they meet. This movement is bringing more awareness to mountaineering standards; however, it’s important to remember – despite trends – general industry still abides by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.135 for head protection to meet ANSI Z89.1.

It’s vital that we help users choose the correct safety helmet for the appropriate application.

– Erica Baumer, product development manager, QSSP, Pyramex


We are seeing an increase in user demand for lighter respiratory protection, particularly in powered air-purifying respirators. A lot of the current PAPRs on the market are incredibly heavy and their design lacks an even weight distribution, which is causing aches and strains on operators. As more and more workforces are turning to PAPRs, this is becoming an increasingly important design component to deliver on.

– Jack Hartley, content specialist, RPB Safety


Safety is top of mind for employers and there is an increased need in access to PPE for use in public spaces as employees return to work. Some innovations include applying an antimicrobial coating to kill bacteria and attaching sensors to detect if employees are wearing the PPE correctly. These sensors provide a notification like a car’s seat belt detector when employees are wearing the PPE incorrectly. This notification can be wirelessly sent to a centralized database for monitoring by safety managers, who can then use this data to improve PPE compliance, reduce risk, and ensure worker safety.

– Rahil Hasan, product marketing leader – personal protective equipment, Honeywell


For protective clothing, there’s been an increased demand for more multifunctional and seasonally versatile garments. Although not necessarily new, gender-specific, stylish options that offer an enhanced fit is still a prevalent trend in protective apparel that we anticipate will only continue to grow. For eye protection, fit and weight are becoming two increasingly popular characteristics. Lightweight eyewear that offers a narrower fit – traditionally for smaller faces – is a consistent trend we’re seeing across our network of distributors.

– Joseph Milot III, director of product management, Protective Industrial Products Inc.


Specifying stylish and comfortable ANSI Z87.1-rated glasses for safety programs will become more important in the future as millennials take root as the largest generation in the workforce. Why? Millennials view stylish eyewear as an extension of themselves and, most likely, this view will cross over into the industrial workforce.

In addition to style, what features and technologies will we see in the new generation of iconic safety eyewear? We’ll see:

  • Cyclonic venting, which brings an entirely new level of fog reduction technology.
  • Enhanced vertical and horizontal field of vision.
  • Floating nose loop and self-adjusting nose pads for more stability, comfort and fit.
  • Paddle-shaped temples to evenly distribute weight and pressure.
  • More workers actually wearing their safety glasses when style, clarity and all-day comfort are the name of the game.


– Bill England, president, Radians


The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the landscape of what jobsites will look like moving into the future. Although OSHA’s “Fatal Four” has brought attention to falls, struck by objects, electrocutions and caught-in/between, this pandemic has brought the topic of “infections” to the forefront. More progressive sanitation efforts and ready access to face protection will become major focuses for most companies as they work to better protect their workers.

– Zachary Richman, senior product manager, Milwaukee Tool


2What are customers reaching out to you about? What challenges are they relaying?

Customers want to know what kinds of masks they should use and we’re working closely with safety managers to develop and design products that offer protection. At the same time, we discovered in March that there were a huge number of subpar N95 masks flooding the market as demand began to outstrip supply. We worked to get the word out for people to be aware, and we even offered free mask testing if they weren’t certain they were buying from a reliable supplier. Safety managers want to know that what they bought is really going to protect their team. So we’re working, not just on products, but also on guidance that we can offer to help customers choose the right mask with both viral safety and their industrial application in mind.

– Sarah Anderson


Right now, we are facing unprecedented times in respiratory protection as a direct impact from COVID-19. Industrial employers have been faced with the challenge of supplying their workforce with respirators as worldwide inventories diminish. We have found as N95s become almost impossible to source, employers are using this as an opportunity to reassess the respiratory protection they’re using and implementing respirators into their program that provide their operators with a greater level of protection, such a loose-fitted respirators. Because of the heightened sense of health and safety, we are seeing workforces prioritize safety, which is really exciting to see.

– Jack Hartley


Convenience, comfort and PPE expertise are the main things our customers are requesting. They want differentiated solutions that keep them safe and comfortable when wearing PPE for extended periods of time, 365 days a year. More and more, people are relying on digital apps to help them understand which PPE to choose, how to wear and how to properly remove the PPE. In a time when more people are using facemasks, these apps are convenient and important in helping them understand the correct ways to wear and use PPE.

– Rahil Hasan


Prior to the global pandemic, value, performance and versatility were three consistent areas of focus for customers. Now, as we all adjust to the “new normal” and the additional hazards that companies are looking to protect workers against, the focus has shifted to products that minimize the risk of transmission and contamination. This is applicable to all the PPE categories we offer – including hand protection, eye protection and protective clothing. Customers are looking to us to offer a broader product offering in these key product categories so that distributors have more options to extend to their customers.

– Joseph Milot III


There’s a global surge in demand for PPE products due to COVID-19. This has caused many PPE manufacturers’ inventories on certain PPE products to be depleted. We are all working diligently to correct this situation and are committed to working with our distributor partners to prioritize shipments to health care workers, first responders and our core tradespeople who continue working around the clock to keep the country operating.

– Zachary Richman

3What innovations and technologies are here or on the horizon?

In terms of heat stress, there’s new technology out there that helps to keep workers cool with a simple cooling garment and a little water. This is light-years beyond similar products on the market in that it’s chemical-free, molecular technology that isn’t slimy or stiff, and provides instant relief that lasts for hours and can be reactivated again and again throughout the workday.

– Sarah Anderson


Powered air-purifying respirators are making leaps and bounds in the industrial and medical markets. New technology is being developed so PAPRs can be utilized by multiple industries getting the advantages of clean filtered air that is portable. We are seeing designs that allow for easier cleaning and disinfecting and increased battery life to ensure operators are uninterrupted for the entire shift.

– Jack Hartley


For safety eyewear, it’s all about new developments in lens technologies. Advancements range from special coatings to tints that help workers perform at their best no matter the setting. For protective clothing, we’re seeing a shift toward lightweight options that offer elevated durability and improved performance while protecting workers from traditional and nontraditional hazards. In the past, this was a challenging balance to achieve. However, with the introduction and use of “smart” fabrics, we anticipate significant advancements will continue to be made in this area.

– Joseph Milot III


Some of the most exciting innovations will be around safety vests and head protection. Recently there’s been more attention brought to the topic of heatstroke on jobsites, so users are looking for cooler vest materials to make their jobs more effective. Fabrics that are not only comfortable but also keep wearers cool and free of moisture will be important. Regarding head protection, we’re seeing many users gravitate toward hard hats that closely resemble climbing-style helmets to provide both top and side impact protection.

– Zachary Richman


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