Personal protective clothing can be found almost in every workplace – from the low-risk environment of office spaces to high risk industrial and construction sites. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019 more than 20 million Americans wore protective clothing and equipment at their workplace on a regular basis to protect themselves from exposure to chemical agents, biological particles, and splashes. Due to the current global epidemiological situation, this number in 2020 is even higher.
Since the safety of employees should be the number one priority for an employer, getting proper high-quality protective clothing is the right decision. However, choosing it might be a tricky and challenging thing to do. Protective equipment does not only need to meet industry and federal regulations but also be comfortable by allowing employees to perform their duties in the most efficient and convenient way. If you are looking to buy protective clothing to ensure comfort and safety at your workplace, here are 10 things to consider:
Types of Hazards
When choosing protective equipment, one of the first questions you should ask: what kind of hazards do I need protection from? For example, hazardous and poisonous chemicals, liquids, and biological pathogens need to be kept away from the skin, eyes, and airways. In this case, protective clothing should minimize or completely eliminate any digestion or physical contact with them.
Fabrics and Materials
Once you identify the hazard, the next step is to think about the fabrics and materials the clothing is made. There are several fabrics depending on the type of hazard and complexity of the job:
- Polypropylene. This lightweight material provides general protection from dust, grime, dirt, and other low-risk environmental hazards;
- SMS. It is a three-layer material providing protection from fungus, mold, liquid splashes and sprays. The clothing made of SMS provides a higher level of protection than polypropylene;
- Microporous. It is a disposable fabric protecting from biological pathogens, light liquids, and blood. The best thing about microporous is its affordability.
When choosing the fabric and material, you should know that some working environments with hazardous chemicals and waste require protecting clothing that passes ASTM F1670 and F1671 test standards.
The climate people work in is also something to consider. If you choose clothing and equipment that is too heavy for a hot climate, employees will not be able to work productively. They will get fatigued very fast, which will increase the risk of accidents. Conversely, buying very light clothing for colder weather might also impair coordination, cause injuries, and decrease productivity.
The Balance of Comfort and Safety
There is a link between comfort and safety. If employees feel uncomfortable while wearing their clothing, the risk of careless accidents increases. Therefore, the balance between comfort and safety is extremely important. The evaluation of the threat level of all tasks employees perform at work will help you to find this balance.
Presence of Forklifts and Vehicles
A lack of spatial awareness at the workplace is one of the most common reasons for accidents. Most work-related injuries are caused by trucks, forklifts, and other vehicles present in such industrial working environments as factories and warehouses. It is important to take them into consideration when you buy protective clothing. You should also know that if the job requires employees going around vehicles and working in low-lit places, they must wear Class 3 H-Visibility Tape clothing.
A proper size of protective clothing is also important. Though loose clothing may feel more comfortable, especially in manual work, it can easily get caught by heavy equipment and machines and cause catastrophic results. Protective clothing does not have to fit perfectly, but it should not be too baggy. If an employee works with glass and sharp objects, their uniform should have a collar – high enough to protect the neck.
Some industries require certain types of protective clothing. For example, if a person works in the environment with a fire threat, the clothing cannot be made of high-performance polyethylene because it melts and can cause skin damages. Those who work in the defense industry should have additional padding on arms and sides protecting them from slashing and stabbing that are common in this industry.
Regulations and Requirements
Some industries have specific laws and regulations regarding the type of protective clothing. Failure to follow them may result in high fines and even become the reason for closing a business. Make sure you do thorough research about the regulations and requirements in your industry before buying protecting clothing.
Protective equipment and clothing is not something to save money on. It should be high-quality and sturdy enough to provide adequate protection. All employees have the right to request proper protective clothing from their employers. If an employer refuses to provide it, he may face liabilities.
Weight and Flexibility
The clothing that is too heavy affects the employee’s range of motion and increases job fatigue. Lightweight protective clothing gives more flexibility and is still strong and durable enough to withstand the rigors at the workplace.
There are many factors to consider when you buy protective clothing, including the types of hazards and industry, size, quality, weight, flexibility, presence of machines and vehicles at the workplace, and others. It is important to take your time and weigh all of them in order to make an informed and responsible decision.