Product Focus Product Focus: Protective clothing

Trends in ... protective clothing

‘Last line of defense’

Protective clothing is available for many different functions – from helping a construction worker be more visible at night to shielding a utility worker from a serious arc flash injury. But industry experts say that regardless of type, manufacturers of protective clothing have a common driving force for innovation: worker comfort.

“New innovations on the horizon include more comfortable, lighter-weight, breathable fabrics with built-in features such as moisture management (wicking or water repellency) and soil release technologies,” said James Cliver, senior FR technologist and development engineer for Spartanburg, SC-based Milliken & Co.

Craig Tutterow, technical director at Trion, GA-based Mount Vernon FR, said examples of efforts to increase comfort in protective clothing include new fiber blends and fabric construction that address softness and the ability to stretch. “Comfort has become nearly as important as protection as end users become more sophisticated and gain experience with protective apparel,” Tutterow said.

Educating workers

Experts also stress the importance of using the correct protective clothing for the task at hand. “Users sometimes use the general-use disposable clothing for chemical protection or crime scene cleanup when it is only designed for particulate protection and does not offer protection from blood or liquid chemicals,” said Brian Lyons, vice president, sales and marketing for Mesquite, TX-based Enviroguard. “We need better standards to address this.”

Cliver cautioned that workers sometimes place an “undue” level of trust in protective clothing. “This results in people taking shortcuts and putting aside safe work practices, thinking their clothing will protect them if something goes wrong,” he said. “Protective clothing helps reduce the injury potential, but it does not make you invincible.”

To combat this mentality, Cliver recommends educating workers on the specific abilities and limits of protective clothing. “This goes all the way back to the fabric manufacturers, the garment makers and the safety leaders in each company being responsible to educate end users,” he said.

Need to know

When asked to identify the most important thing workers should know about protective clothing, Lyons stressed the importance of ensuring a proper hazard assessment has occurred. “Read the tech data and, if in doubt, contact the manufacturer,” he advised. Cliver agreed, but noted that employers must ensure any protective clothing they purchase is fully tested and verified to meet current standards.

“Protective clothing is often referred to as a person’s last line of defense,” Cliver said. “It’s something you hope you never have to use for its intended purpose, but it has to be there and be reliable if you ever need it.”

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association