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Reflective safety clothing is used in many industries to provide protection from many different hazards and is available in a variety of items. Reflective shirts, vests, jackets, pants, belts, and hats are the most popular. In the world of reflective safety wear, there are basically three classes of high visibility protective clothes:
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA ) has published standards for all manner of personal protective clothing. They further recommend types of protective apparel that varies based on the industry in which you work. In general, safety apparel is designed to protect all parts of your body against the most common hazards you face. For instance for protective clothing in electrical threat situations, the items must be clearly marked “Class” 0,1,2,3,4, (protection from 5,000 to 70,000 volts) to inform the wearer what level of protection they provide.
The first key to having the correct safety clothes is to be aware of the potential hazards you face. Safety clothes designed to protect against chemical threats may be useless if you face fire or electrical dangers. But if you face hazards that indicate the use of chemical protective clothing, you can examine OSHA standards to learn what you should wear and what level of protection you need.
If you work in a chemically-related environment or are put in dangerous situations only rarely, you might want to consider the newer line of disposable protective clothing. There are disposable coveralls along with shirts and pants combinations that are also disposable. Safety shirts and safety pants that are disposable can save an employer a great deal of money if they place the same employees in hazardous situations only sporadically or clothing can be contaminated with liquid or air borne items that make their reuse potentially dangerous. OSHA supports their use as long as they provide the required level of protection for the wearer.
Electrical hazards pose totally different threats than construction or manufacturing dangers and often require personal protective equipment (PPE) made of non-conductive materials. Electrical protective clothing must accomplish at least two things: It must not, under any circumstances, conduct electricity, and it should be effectively flame retardant, avoiding the instance of flash fires on your body.
An electric arc lasts only a microsecond but can cause a serious, sometimes fatal fire. A flame retardant suit will protect you against a surprise flash that could cause injury. Along with outer gear, you can also purchase flame retardant under clothes, including T-shirts, polo, Henley, and crew neck shirts, and long underwear to provide even more protection. All are made of specially treated flame retardant cotton, so they're cool and comfortable while giving you the protection you need. Along with OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) standards, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets standards for fire, electrical, and building safety and publishes ratings for arc and flame retardant items.
Electric current is always moving when you're working on a live source. Clothing that will not conduct electricity and is also anti-static is appropriate. Depending on whether you work with low- or high-voltage, your electrical safety clothing requirements may be different. While rubber is very efficient, it is usually very heavy and makes clothing made of this substance cumbersome. There are a number of newer materials that replicate the protection of rubber but at much lighter weight.
All chemicals will eventually permeate protective clothing. Breakthrough, or permeation, resistance is related to the concentration and temperature of the challenge chemical, environmental temperature and thickness of the barrier material. Therefore, higher temperatures can result in faster breakthrough. Similarly, lower temperatures can lead to longer breakthrough for certain chemical/material combinations.
ASTM F739 is the standard test for permeation. It measures the resistance of protective clothing materials to permeation by liquid or gaseous chemicals under the condition of continuous contact. The test determines both the breakthrough time and steady-state permeation rate of chemicals through a sample of the protective barrier.
It may sound like the latest techno-geek gadget, but PPE is the bureaucrat's way of saying Personal Protective Equipment. PPEs are a kind of working wardrobe designed to safeguard the health and physical well-being of working guys and gals on the job. There is PPE to cover your body from head to toe: Helmets, hard hats, safety eyewear, respiratory masks, chemical and Tyvek suits, gloves, footwear, and more. Which PPEs your workers wear to the jobsite will depend on the potential hazards of the particular job.
Some employees working in hot areas, and wearing full protective clothing, have sometimes shown symptoms of “Heat Stress.” Heat Stress is characterized by symptoms involving either heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
There will be symptoms of headache, dizziness, moist skin, and the inability of the body to cool itself down. In severe conditions, it can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Therefore, it is essential to encourage employees working in full protective clothing to keep hydrated and wear light weight clothing to prevent these symptoms.
Assessment of the workplace is beneficial in determining the areas in which people will need to wear protective clothing. This assessment can be done inter-company or carried out by a private safety assessment firm.
The workplace assessment should identify areas where employees are at risk for contamination from industrial hazards, as well as identify what the particular hazard would be. The benefit of this information is it can be used to discover areas where protective clothing should be worn.
PPE should be selected based on the specific hazards present in a given situation. EPA identifies four levels of chemical protective ensembles for responding to chemical spills:
Level A protection is used when contaminants are present that require the highest possible degree of both respiratory and skin protection. This ensemble includes the use of an atmosphere supplying respirator such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and a totally encapsulating chemical protective (TECP) suit.
Level B is used when contaminants are present that require the same degree of respiratory protection as Level A, but a lesser degree of skin protection such as a splash suit that is not totally encapsulating or gas tight.
Level C involves the same degree of skin protection as Level B, but a lesser degree of respiratory protection, which includes air purifying respirators.
Level D provides protection against only normal workplace hazards and is not designed to protect against chemical hazards. Equipment may include safety glasses, hard hats, steel-toe boots and leather work gloves.
Protective clothing, which is worn for long periods of time at work, should be comfortable to wear.
It has been discovered an important cause of noncompliance with protective clothing is their inability to sometimes feel comfortable. A classic example is the traffic safety vest, worn in dangerous and busy intersections. The traffic safety vest can be confined and constrained, but proper measurements and size details can eliminate this uncomfortable feeling. This can be remedied by trying on various brands of protective safety clothing. This is particularly a complaint when a full body suit is worn.
For application involving the handling hazardous substances, an important piece of PPE is Chemical Protective Clothing (CPC). CPC is protective gear designed to prevent chemicals from coming into direct contact with human skin. Some workplace chemicals may present hazards simply upon dermal contact, others present dangers if they're ingested or inhaled.
Chemical Protective Clothing includes all clothing that can provide a barrier between hazardous substances and skin. Not all materials can effectively prevent chemical contact; depending on the chemical, some materials may breakdown in a matter of seconds, allowing almost instant contact with the skin. Chemical Protective Clothing materials are evaluated in terms of breakthrough time, or how long it takes a chemical (under continuous contact conditions) to break through the fabric of the clothing.
Some chemical protective clothing is made of specially developed materials to withstand the strongest chemicals. Ranging in thickness from 15 to 30 mm, CPCs are tested against as many as 260 chemicals to determine breakthrough time. Many full-body suits are brightly colored, as well, to increase visibility in poor lighting.
Though many CPCs are designed for protection against gaseous chemicals as well as liquids and solids, in many dangerous situations, more protective gear is synonymous with reduced risk. There are fully encapsulated, Level A suits available for protection beyond your protection. Some such suits are constructed from aluminized fiberglass, and include attached gloves and sock boots.
The ASTM method establishes the time to breakthrough under conditions of continuous liquid or gaseous contact. The default breakthrough time is 480 minutes (eight hours). A lot of companies choose clothing materials that offer the eight hours of breakthrough time - which represents a worst-case scenario - when the exposure situation may only require, say, four hours. By properly assessing the resistance of protective clothing materials to permeation, employers can effectively downgrade and still get optimum protection.
There are a lot of hazardous chemical compounds in the world. Fortunately, NIOSH the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishes a Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards to help workers, employers, and occupational health professionals. recognize and control occupational chemical hazards. The Pocket Guide presents key information and data in abbreviated tabular form for 677 chemicals or substance groupings (e.g., manganese compounds, tellurium compounds, inorganic tin compounds, etc.) that are found in the work environment. The guide also contains substances for which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended exposure limits (RELs) and those with permissible exposure limits (PELs) as found in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Industry Air Contaminants Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000). Should be a part of your working library.
Out on the job, workers can run into some nasty stuff that can damage their health and jeopardize safety. According to OSHA, if workers are working around chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants that can cause injury or impairment through absorption, inhalation, or physical contact, they have to use personal protective equipment like a chemical suit or tyvek suit.
The best way to take the guesswork out of chemical suit selection is to do a risk analysis. Go through your site and identify the substances (particulates, liquids and gases) present in the work site as well as the hazards associated with these substances (i.e., dermal toxicity, reactivity, etc.). Make a list of physical or environmental hazards, such as sharp instruments, rough surfaces or machinery. If you work at night, you might want to consider a reflective safety vest and hard hats with built-in flashlights. Also, note who will be wearing the clothing, the work that person will do, and what equipment will be used. In general, the nature of the hazard will guide you to the appropriate clothing.
When it comes to chemical suit, seams are of utmost importance. There are various types of seam construction that provide varying degrees of protection.
Serged seam. Appropriate for low-level exposures, but not suitable for skin-absorbable or skin-toxic chemicals. A serged seam joins two pieces of material with a thread stitch that interlocks. It is typically used on limited-use clothing where dry particulates, non-toxic dirts, dusts and a low concentration of residual contamination are involved.
Bound seam. The next level up, this is a serged seam with material folded over the edge and sewn on for a higher degree of protection against liquids and dry particulates. The seam is chain stitched through all of the layers for a clean finished edge.
Ultra-sonic seam. Offering yet a higher level of protection, this is a seam without thread - no holes are sewn. Used widely in the medical field and to a lesser degree in the industrial arena, this seam can be liquid-proof and is good for higher splash exposure.
Heat-sealed seam. The highest performing and highest cost seam, this seam is sewn and then hermetically sealed with a thermally welded seam tape. The impervious seal provides a liquid-proof seam and should be used when working with a high concentration chemical. Heat-sealed seams are well suited for Level A and B chemical protective clothing.
Tyvek suits offer a solution to a variety of environments. Tyvek suits are appropriate for clean-up of asbestos, mold removal and food processing applications. Tyvek garments offer a number of features that make them an ideal choice for protective clothing.
• Tyvek suits allow freedom of movement to bend and stretch so you can get the job done in comfort.
• The Tyvek suits maintain their shape throughout movement like bending and stretching.
• This protective clothing garment has reinforcement in high stress areas to prevent unwanted tears.
• The Tyvek suits create a barrier to water from mild splash occurrences.
• This is a low-static suit which is not prone to scratches and tears.
When you need protection from dirt-filled areas that don't involve hazardous situations, disposable coveralls provide the economical solution to keeping your clothes clean. You'll find disposable coveralls in a polypropylene material, giving you a lightweight, breathable garment that will keep out the grime. Disposable coveralls are available with or without an attached hood covering and with or without elasticized wrists and ankles. For an all-in-one solution, look for disposable coveralls with an attached boot to protect footwear, as well. You can find them in sizes to suit every frame as they are available in S to XXL. For economy polypropylene coveralls, you can purchase them in bulk for less than $1.50 a piece.
With the previous anthrax scare in 2001, industries have been racing to develop stronger protective clothing, especially for emergency personnel.
Various chemicals or infectious organisms exist which can be used in biological warfare. These chemicals and organisms will cause damage and disease by entering through the skin, and being inhaled or swallowed.
As a result of the airborne characteristics, protective clothing to protect against bio agents should minimally include disposable coveralls, shoe covers, goggles, and masks depending on the microorganism or chemical suspected.
However, it is important to remember certain organisms can cling to your equipment and exists outside for a period of time. So dispose of dispose of your clothing properly.
Besides providing a barrier against nasty gases, chemicals, dirt, grease and grime, the key to a chemical suit is its breathability and comfort are important, especially when trying to prevent heat stress. It goes without saying that a worker not suffering from heat prostration is a more productive worker. With today's advances in materials and designs, there's no need to sacrifice comfort for safety. For tasks involving non-hazardous substances where keeping clean is most important, lightweight, breathable and durable fabrics will serve the purpose. When working with non-hazardous particulate substances, you need to make sure the fabric has what it takes to keep dirt, sand, and grime out while allowing moisture, vapor and air to pass through for added comfort. In these situations, spunbond/meltblown/spunbond laminates have proven to provide an excellent balance of comfort and protection.
When choosing the best protective clothing, it is suggested you consider the area in which you will be working in, as well as the chemicals or hazardous materials you will be working with.
The best protective clothing should be ones in which you can quickly put on and take off easily, and feel comfortable in them during the entire duration.
When selecting protective clothing, pay attention to how the clothing is manufactured and by whom. Different manufacturers might produce safety clothing, which is below the industry standard.
But above all, the protective clothing should allow you to move freely while wearing them, without restricting your hands and legs.
There has only been a small amount of research completed on skin exposure to harmful chemicals while wearing protective clothing. A few studies have been conducted on the high rates of contact dermatitis on farm workers and employees in manufacturing. However, the research was insufficient in discovering exactly why these reactions occur, and ways to prevent these reactions from occurring.
In regards to research on protective clothing, more substantial data needs to be collected not just on the effectiveness of wearing one type of glove over another type of glove, but also what other protective clothing combinations can offer more protection, for example, such as the combination of work gloves and safety glasses.
Future research is aimed at investigating the long-term health problems associated with not wearing protective clothing, and any methods to help decrease or prevent these health problems.
To increase the effectiveness of protective clothing, the employee should be educated and trained on how to use the protective clothing in the best way. For example, the way to properly wear a construction safety vests, can be discussed.
Beyond this, the statistics on the amount of injuries should be reviewed yearly to determine if the wearing of protective clothing has shown an improvement in a particular area.
With the increasing popularity of the Internet, there are numerous resources available to find Web sites which sell protective clothing.
If you have never bought protective clothing online before, it is important to spend time familiarizing yourself with the process. After selecting protective clothing to purchase, these items are placed within your electronic shopping cart on the online store's Web site. When you are ready to check out, a credit card will be needed to purchase the protective clothing you selected. Some online stores might even give you the option of fast delivery, and in record time your new items will be shipped to your home or workplace.
Suit design deals with how a chemical suit is put together. Seams are an important aspect of suit design. Two pieces of material can be joined by stitching or welding. The stitching process can create pin holes that may allow penetration of chemicals. Welded seams involve cementing or welding tape over the stitched seam. The welded seam offers a higher level of protection against exposure to contaminants.
Contact dermatitis is the name given to the skin allergy occurring after exposure to different chemicals. It is the cause of over 20% of all diseases occurring in an industrial setting without protective clothing. Wearing protective or safety clothing can help reduce the risk of allergies to hazardous chemicals.
Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin becomes inflamed and red with an accompanying rash. Treatment will involve discovery and removal of the allergen, with symptoms clearing up in two weeks.
Contact dermatitis is frequently seen when there is a latex allergy, or allergy to certain chemicals such as formaldehyde or cement dust.
One of the major disadvantages of wearing protective clothing is the inability to have data or statistics on the actual level of safety the protective clothing provides.
This is due to fact that protective clothing is tested within laboratories under precise and easily repeated conditions. However, when the protective clothing is worn during the workplace, other factors can affect the level of protection the clothing provides.
Even though this disadvantage exists, this is no incentive to stop wearing protective clothing because the level of protection is decreased compared to the test conditions in the laboratory in which the clothing was subjected to.
Chemical protective clothing is rather different from other safety wear since the wearer tends to face multiple potential threats. You must be aware of the specific chemical dangers you face to successfully consider the proper safety clothes. Do you need protection against skin contact or inhalation? Do you face danger of ingestion of a chemical substance? Is frostbite from very low temperature chemicals a threat?
For instance, compare chemical protection from chainsaw protective clothing. Instead of wearing special chaps, vests, steel-toed boots, and/or protective jackets, you might need a disposable Tyvek suit, shoe booties, and an effective respirator instead. Chainsaw safety clothing often includes protective helmets with full face shields while head protection in a chemical threat environment might be a covering disposable hood.
The key consideration with chemical protective clothing is to correctly identify the threats you face. Medical environments are very different from manufacturing workplaces. The general hazards might all be of a chemical nature, but the specific dangers are often very different. Do your research, talk with other professionals in your industry and workplace, identify the best protective gear, and use the most comfortable safety apparel that gives you the protection you need.
Lifting heavy weights can be taxing on your back. One way to help add stability where you need it is by wearing safety clothing in the form of back support. Choose a style of this safety clothing that best suits your needs. For instance, the Flexbak provides maximum back support through an integrated three panel system. The Maxbak provides support in the style of a weightlifting belt. With a five-inch back panel and four-inch front panel, the Maxbak maintains even support without pinching or riding up. Where cost savings is an issue and visibility is key, the Hi-Vis back support offers a solution to lifting heavy objects on the job. The economy Hi-Vis comes with a fluorescent elasticized side panel and suspenders.
When working in environments where protection against chemicals is an issue, choosing appropriate protective clothing is key. If you're looking for an economical solution to protective clothing that will keep you safe from chemicals, coveralls made of Saranex, a lightweight fabric from DuPont, will keep you out of harm's way from a number of harmful chemicals. Known as the DuPont Tychem SL, these coveralls are appropriate for workers mixing chemicals, spraying paint, and working in radioactive environments. Price points for the Tychem SL can be as little as $12 a garment when purchased in bulk. Here are some key features of the protective clothing from the DuPont Tychem SL:
• The standard white color of this protective clothing garment provides a high level of visibility in low and dim light.
• The Tychem SL withstands extreme cold temperatures to -65 degrees Celsius without much change in the material's stiffness.
• The Tychem SL has been tested to be 150 more times effective than PVC in blocking out the penetration of tritiated water vapor and tritium gas after three hours of exposure.
Tyvek is a synthetic substance made of high-density polyethylene, which makes it very strong yet it can be easily cut with common scissors making it flexible for different uses. Another important feature is its ability to allow water vapor to pass through it while still preventing liquid water from penetrating its surface. If you look quickly at its surface, it appears to be made of paper. In fact, you can even write or print on it, which is why it's been used by the U.S. Postal Service for priority envelopes and its even been used for vehicle driver's licenses in the past.
Tyvek suits (normally pure white) are very effective in lower risk protective clothes situations, like auto and machine mechanics, painters, insulation installers, and clean room workers. Medical workers needing lab coats, aprons, hoods, and shoe covers that are lightweight and usually disposable often use Tyvek. For medical purposes, receiving the excellent light hazard protection offered by Tyvek suits combined with its disposability to ensure that pathogens are not transferred to others is a perfect combination for safety clothing.
There are a few factors to evaluate when you consider personal protective equipment (PPE). After you have identified the potential hazards you might face, research available clothing and equipment and learn all you can about the different choices. There are some well- and lesser-known companies that offer excellent varieties of protective clothing, including
Finally, don't forget that your comfort is also important. If you're required to wear protective apparel for long periods every day, you should be as comfortable as possible to effectively perform your job. Obviously, you should never use safety apparel of poor quality, but also don't shortchange yourself on comfort, either. Just because DuPont makes excellent protective coveralls, you might find those made by Walls or Lakeland more comfortable, while you still receive the same level of protection.
While disposable protective clothing may not be appropriate or effective in all hazardous situations, there are many environments wherein this safety wear is perfect. The most common uses include chemical and water-based splashes, small or microscopic matter, and simple dirt, grease, and dust protection. For both wearer safety and sterilization reasons, disposable protective clothing is often perfect for use in the medical profession.
We are all familiar with the disposable gloves used by doctors, dentists, nurses, emergency professionals, and physician's assistants. For one time use necessities, gloves, made of latex, plastic, or other materials, are perfect to protect both medical personnel and patients from exposure to pathogens. There are many other disposable items effective for medical professionals including splash gowns, berets, beard covers, aprons, lab coats, shoe and boot covers, scrub suits and sleeve protectors. They provide excellent, effective protection for the wearer while also being relatively low cost and providing even further safety for patients.
In industrial settings, disposable coveralls or shirts and pants provide excellent protection against chemical, fire, electrical, and airborne threats. Along with manufacturing long term protective items, you can find disposable Tyvek suits (by DuPont) and RCR International protective apparel that provides both excellent protection, lower cost, and disposability. There are other excellent companies in addition to well known brand names, like DuPont (using Tyvek material), that offer safety wear of wonderful quality. Whether you are purchasing items for yourself or using employer-supplied safety apparel, be pro-active and learn the differences and buy or at least lobby for the protective gear you like.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|