Personal protective equipment

PPE manufacturers tackle tough challenges

Fit, comfort and more


Photo: Fastenal Co./iStockphoto

When safety professionals purchase personal protective equipment for workers, they put their trust in PPE manufacturers.

In turn, the manufacturers work to earn that trust by taking on the challenge of developing and producing PPE that keeps workers safe in all sorts of on-the-job situations.

Safety+Health recently asked experts in the PPE industry:

What recent PPE trends have you observed?

“Innovation in the PPE market has led to lighter-weight, more comfortable PPE, offering a higher level of protection than ever before. This trend has also led to some skepticism on the part of the worker. The belief that ‘heavier is better’ is still very common among workers today. The best way to overcome this is through experience and education. There’s no substitute for actually trying on a light, comfortable glove or garment that provides the highest cut protection so they can experience how much better they feel and how much easier it is to do their job without all the bulk. Sharing how cut-resistant PPE is tested by a machine that runs a blade over the material at varying levels of pressure can also help, as does showing workers directly through on-the-job edge testing. Edge testing involves simulating a hazard by filling the PPE item – like a glove – with closed-cell foam or another similar material and running it over a hazard on the job. We use more force than would be usual for the job to show workers that the glove can handle even more than they’ll ask of it.”

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


“The emergent issue we see in the industry is fit. So many people don’t realize that proper fit ensures safe eyes. Whether it’s a sealed or wraparound frame, the eyewear companies that are meeting the moment have a variety of size offerings and comprehensive instructions on nose bridge, frame size, curve, hinge flexibility, temples or buckle adjustments. There are various ways safety eyewear can ensure optimal protection and comfort. They also have technologies in place that help with harsh-environment visibility and overall ocular health.”

– Joey Coccairdi, national account manager, health and life sciences, Bollé Safety


“Hundreds of manufacturers across thousands of brands are all making more and more options for ‘core’ PPE. Setting commercial and residential construction aside, the industrial manufacturing market continues to evolve globally. What does this mean for you? Even more options and more product fragmentation! Too many teams have a tremendous amount of redundancy around their current products/categories. Redundancy leads to inefficiency, and inefficiency leads to increased costs. So, how much redundancy do you have currently? Whether a single site or across an enterprise, how are your partners helping you drive consistency? That one step can reduce costs, eliminate injuries/near misses and increase employee satisfaction.”

– Evan R. Hardin, QSSP, director of safety, health and environmental specialists, Fastenal


“A critical issue with effective PPE is getting an accurate fit. No matter the product, if it does not fit the individual properly, it can cause additional issues that supersede its initial protection. For example, when workers buy the wrong size safety footwear, they will be protected from the possible accidental drop or puncture hazard but could be throwing their whole body out of alignment, causing everyday foot, knee and back pain, as well as fatigue from unnecessary muscle stress. This can lead to poor productivity, reduced ability, distraction errors and injuries, absenteeism, and loss of income. With the rise of women in industrial jobs, there is an added focus on the lack of PPE specifically designed to fit women accurately. Workers knowing their best-fitting size can be a challenge. Even if they have worn the item before, they may have never been accurately measured to know their true size. A large number of workers unknowingly wear a shoe size that is too big to accommodate a wide foot. Workers want to have energy at the end of the shift to enjoy life after work. PPE that fits incorrectly can steal that from them – and that’s a serious issue.”

– Janelle Kinnaird, director of marketing, Lehigh CustomFit


“Knowledge, education and awareness! More than 100 million workers in America require PPE, and it’s essential they’re provided with the right gear for the job at hand. PPE comes in many forms, each specially designed and manufactured to keep workers protected from the specific hazards they face. But the options can be daunting! No one knows PPE better than those who provide it. Employers need to work with manufacturers and distributors of safety equipment to assess safety and health risks and identify which PPE is necessary and required. Qualified and certified safety professionals undergo rigorous OHS training; they understand federal regulations and safety equipment performance standards. A trusted safety partner can help employers identify appropriate solutions and educate today’s diverse workforce about the capabilities and limitations of PPE.”

– Cam Mackey, president and CEO, International Safety Equipment Association


“When it comes to PPE, comfort remains one of the biggest issues facing workers today. This includes materials used in manufacturing PPE and sizing options available for gloves and other PPE. Wearing comfortable PPE can be the difference between workers choosing to protect themselves or remain exposed to injuries. Many materials used in manufacturing higher rated PPE are made with bulky and less breathable fabrics, which makes them stiff and uncomfortable. Such materials can lead to reduced mobility and heat stress. For this reason, finding comfortable and high-level protection in breathable and thinner shells is becoming more important for workers to complete their tasks without losing comfort or range of motion. PPE sizing is also important in achieving comfort.”

– Superior Glove


“When it comes to worker protection, a key challenge is making sure employees use PPE properly all shift long. To help address this challenge, comfort can play a significant role. When PPE is uncomfortable, it can cause workers to wear it incorrectly or not wear it at all. In an effort to help ensure workers do not jeopardize safety, a growing number of safety managers are looking to incorporate more ergonomic solutions. One example is fall protection, as workers at height often spend hours in restrictive harnesses and experience overexertion and muscular fatigue. Now, safety managers are moving toward fall protection options that incorporate more breathable padding that contours to workers’ movements and helps keep workers cool for enhanced comfort. Comfort helps lead to compliance.”

– Omar Vikin, general manager, high-risk personal protective equipment, Honeywell


“Finding the right fit is critical for today’s workers, and knowing your options for PPE is essential. High-quality, well-fitting safety gear tailored to your specific line of work and body will help you advocate for your own safety and comfort. As safety workwear has evolved, manufacturers have turned their focus to creating solutions that meet the individual needs of trades workers. For example, it has historically been difficult for women in the trades to find well-fitting work boots because of the differences between men’s and women’s feet. In recent years, the women’s workwear market has begun to expand to meet the needs of a changing workforce. Additionally, emerging technologies such as 3D foot measurement scanning and gait tests can help provide detailed safety footwear recommendations based on a worker’s foot and jobsite needs. By continuing to expand fit options and by personalizing workwear solutions, we can provide the superior fit and comfort that today’s workers demand.”

– Tito Warren, managing director of global sales and distribution, Red Wing Shoe Co.

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