Trends in ... protective clothing

New technologies tackle traditional problems

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

Manufacturers of protective clothing are working to integrate technological advancements into their products with traditional methods, such as self-generated lighting sources or incorporating insect repellent directly into fabric. Manufacturers hope these new ideas will help better protect workers from harm.

“Some manufacturers are now offering electroluminescent lighting incorporated into their garments,” said Paul Harris, vice president of global sourcing and product development for Memphis, TN-based MCR Safety. “This type of lighting is self-generated and does not require a secondary light source (auto headlights) to be visible,” he said. “In fact, it can be seen from up to 875 feet away.” Although he acknowledges the cost for this technology is high, Harris believes it will decrease “as it is further refined.”

Another development in the protective clothing market is aimed at keeping workers safe from something much smaller than motor vehicles or machinery – insects. “A newer variation on the protective clothing theme is insect-repellent clothing, which is particularly important for outdoor workers in places where insect-borne disease is present,” said Jason Griffin, president of Greensboro, NC-based Insect Shield International LLC (Work Wear). Griffin noted that “the mosquito is the deadliest animal in the world, killing an estimated 50 times as many people each year as the second deadliest category – poisonous snakes.”

But workers do not always use protective clothing correctly. “I think the biggest mistake with any of these technologies is underuse,” Griffin said. “Occupational health is a subset of public health, and public health initiatives are most effective when they are mandatory.”

For a company to determine what is best for their employees, initiative must be taken. “The first thing safety people need to know is the type and level of exposure their employees may encounter by doing a hazard assessment,” said Mark Saner, technical manager at Oxnard, CA-based Workrite Uniform Co. He said people need to know exactly what a specific item of protective clothing does. For example, “single-layer FR clothing is not a fire-proof suit,” Saner said. “It is designed to either not ignite or self-extinguish in a short duration thermal exposure so as to minimize the extent of burn injury.” Essentially, understanding a piece of protective clothing’s limitations will better protect a worker.

Coming next month…

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