Protective clothing is any clothing specifically designed, treated or fabricated to protect personnel from hazards that are caused by extreme environmental conditions, or a dangerous work environment.
Safety workwear is required in many of the professional activities of everyday life. Effective and adequate protection is important in many scenarios: from households, e.g. cleaning agents, peroxides, acids, bases, and paints; to agricultural hazards including fuel and pesticides; to pharmaceuticals and active ingredients in the medical sector; to hazards in industrial production including petrochemicals, chemicals, paints, adhesives and coatings; the manufacturing of many products such as light bulbs, cars, and semiconductors; during various emergency activities, such as boat, rail or road accidents as well as firefighting in an urban and industrial setting; and finally, military operations or in response to incidents of terrorism.
Minimum necessary protection
In some cases, using safety workwear can lead to reduced productivity and discomfort. Besides this, the quality of products can reduce, due to the increased frequency of errors when working in protective clothing. To ensure comfortable working conditions, high performance and protection, the following considerations should be kept in mind.
Firstly, the thicker the material, the more effective its protection. However, when increasing the thickness of the material, there are also issues of stiffness of movements and discomfort for workers. A further issue associated with increasing thickness is the increased thermal load on the body.
Secondly, most protective materials possessing excellent chemical protection properties lead to an increased degree of discomfort and heat load, as they prevent the release of water vapour into the surrounding space (for example, water vapour released from breathing).
Thirdly, the higher the overall protection level of special clothing is, the more time is needed to perform a particular task and with this the probability of errors increases.
When choosing protective clothing, always take into account the nature of the work and choose the one that provides the minimum necessary level of protection. Even though the main goal of safety workwear is to shield, it shouldn’t be the only method to protect the worker. Furthermore, the environment should be adjusted as much as possible to a satisfactory safety level first, and only then the safety workwear should be used for better and extra protection.
Education and training
Safety workwear has its own peculiar properties. Each worker should get used to working wearing protective clothes. That’s why the education and training of working personnel is important.
The training should cover the following topics:
- The nature and degree of danger
- Conditions in which the protective clothing is used
- What type of protective clothing is needed
- Operating requirements and restrictions when working in protective clothing
- How to properly remove, put on, customise and wear protective clothing
- In case of necessity, degassing and decontamination of protective clothing
- Signs and symptoms of exceeding the exposure threshold and damage to protective clothing
- First aid and emergency situations
- Proper storage, care and replacement of protective clothing
The training should include the listed questions, as well as any other relevant information. Definitely, before the final choice, workers should be able to test protective clothing designed to perform a particular job.
To ensure effective use, protective clothing should be properly stored, cleaned and repaired.
Some types of protective clothing have a limited shelf life, or expiration date, and need protection from ultraviolet radiation, ozone, moisture, and high and low temperatures. In addition, some protective clothes cannot be stored folded. For example, when storing products from natural rubber, all the above precautions should be followed. As another example, the insulating suits made of polymer materials can be damaged as a result of being stored in the folded state, while they must be kept suspended on hangers. Manufacturers should provide complete information on the possibilities.
While workers wearing protective clothing should check it frequently, it is more advisable to provide the management system with the conduct of scheduled inspections (at appropriate intervals) to be carried out by special commissioners. During the inspection, certain criteria should be used that are related specifically to the conditions of use of protective clothing. Usually, however, protective clothing is checked for cuts and tears, holes, damage and destruction of the material. For example, gloves made of polymeric material for protection against liquids should be inflated with air and checked for leaks.
Cleaning of protective clothing should be carried out very carefully. Materials from natural fibres can be cleaned by conventional methods, if the latter are not contaminated with toxic substances. To clean protective clothing against the effects of water-insoluble chemicals, detergent solutions based on soap, detergent powders and water should not be used. The results of tests on clothing designed to protect against the effects of various pesticides show that conventional washing is not effective in this case. Also, dry cleaning is not recommended, since the required result is not achieved, and protective clothing can be damaged or contaminated with cleaning components. If the requirements for the procedure for cleaning protective clothing are not known, consult the manufacturer.
Most of the models of protective clothing cannot be repaired. For proper repairs and detailed information, consult the manufacturer.
The creation of world standards for protective clothing began in 1994 with the creation of an international organisation of technical committees for the standardisation of individual protective clothing and equipment. Most of the standards developed by this group and methods of testing the performance characteristics of clothing are based either on the European standards, or on relevant documents of other countries, for example the USA (ASTM).
In the United States and Canada a number of organisations issue their own standards, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the USA and the Canadian Standards Organisation (CSA) in Canada. These standards have a strong impact on the economic performance and sale of protective clothing and, therefore, act as official standards.
In Europe, the production of personal protective equipment is regulated by the Personal Protective Equipment Directive 2016/425/EU. The Directive contains the basic health and safety requirements which protective equipment must meet. Depending on the application the protective equipment can protect the individual against noise, vibrations, contamination and electricity. Personal protective equipment must comply with essential safety requirements and must bear the CE marking.
As detailed in the following table on page 104, protective clothing has numerous standards.
Protective clothing is used in a wide variety of scenarios for possible hazards, and numerous standards have been developed for assessing protection against extreme temperatures or chemical effects on splash protective clothing.
To maintain their protective characteristics, appropriate care and cleaning of the clothing is required, strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Contamination with dust and toxins can increase the risk of flammability of clothing from sources of open flame.
Like all protective equipment, protective clothing performs its functions only within certain parameters, and users should be aware of the restrictions on its use.