Textile materials that are used as personal protective equipment (PPE) must be able to cope with the most extreme requirements. Depending on the area of application, PPE must fulfil a variety of functional requirements. In addition, certain statutory regulations and testing requirements must be observed by the manufacturers and users of PPE.

For example, PPE such as protective clothing for the fire brigade, must protect the wearer against risks that can endanger their health and/ or safety. This differentiates PPE in general from workwear and industrial garments worn by workers during working hours that have no special protective function, such as chefs’ hats or doctors’ coats.

Minimise risks

The regulations on personal protective equipment (EU 2016/425) clearly defines what must be considered in the manufacture and market introduction of products in the European Economic Area. There are three categories of PPE based on the potential danger:

  • PPE Category I – Low Risk: Examples of this category include clothing that protects against rain or gloves for gardening work
  • PPE Category II – neither category I or category III: Examples of this category include high- visibility warning clothing or protective gloves against mechanical hazards
  • PPE Category III – High Risk: Examples of this category include protective clothing for the fire brigade or chemical protection clothing

The three protection categories also include non-textile equipment such as knee guards, hearing protection, safety shoes, protective goggles and safety helmets, which are not the subject of this discussion.

Typical textiles

Depending on the application and protective function, there is a wide variety of textile PPE such as protective gloves and protective clothing.

Some typical examples include: Protective gloves – depending on their material composition and design, these provide protection against mechanical risks and cutting injuries as well as chemicals, flames and viruses and can have an antistatic effect.

Protective clothing – this protects against dangers such as chemicals, electrical energy, flame, radioactive rays, heat, moisture, and so on.

The material used and design are determined by the protective purpose.

High-visibility warning clothing

High-visibility warning clothing is used for the early detection of persons during the day or night; for instance, when working in the vicinity of public roads, rail tracks or construction sites.

Cold weather clothing

Cold weather clothing provides the highest possible level of thermal insulation and wind-proofing. A distinction is made between clothing against cool environments above -5°C and clothing against cold below -5°C. In the latter case, special cold protection clothing is referred to. Chemical protection clothing Chemical protection clothing has to be selected based on the type, physical state (solid, fluid or gas) and concentration of the chemical in order to achieve the required protective effect.

Heat protection suits

Heat protection suits are made from flame-retardant material and at minimum provide short-term protection when contact is made with fire. It is used in metalworking shops and elsewhere.

Welding protection suits

Welding protection suits protect against burning from welding spatter when there is short-term contact with flames. They consist primarily of flame-retardant material, heat resistant leather or aramid fibres.

Cut resistant clothing

Cut resistant clothing is used in sectors such as forestry. In contact, a chainsaw chain cuts the outer fabric and collects the threads from the protective layer, which wind around the chainsaw drive wheel and block the machine within fractions of a second.

Fire-resistant clothing

Fire-resistant clothing covers various protective aspects such as fire, heat and tear resistance as well as a high level of visibility. For instance, fire-resistant clothing is fitted with a specific arrangement of reflective stripes so that the wearer can be identified in any kind of conceivable posture.

Legal Framework

Because in an emergency it is a matter of survival, the requirements of a variety of legal frameworks must be observed when it comes to personal protective equipment.

Directive 89/656/EEC on the Use of PPE governs the provision of PPE by employers and its use at work by employees.

Product Liability Directive 85/374/EEC governs the protection of consumers against damage to health and material damage caused by faulty products.

The Produktsicherheitsgesetz (The German Product Safety Act – ProdSG) concerns the provision of products on the market and is therefore the central legal framework in German law for the safety of devices and products.

The Achte Verordnung zum Produktsicherheitsgesetz (The 8th Regulation of the German Product Safety Act – 8. ProdSV) governs the provision of personal protective equipment on the market. It covers the area of application, safety requirements, requirements for provision on the market, CE certification label, EC type examination, EC quality control and regulatory offences.

The PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 contains the conditions for putting PPE into circulation in the European Union. At the same time, it covers the safety requirements that the PPE must fulfil to protect the health of the wearer. It explains the necessary certification procedures, declarations of conformity, harmonised standards, CE markings and the EU type examination. As of 21 April 2018, the PPE Regulation replaced the previous PPE Directive 89/686/EEC. While the European PPE Directive provided a legal framework that had to be integrated into national law by individual member states, the PPE Regulation now provides for full harmonisation.

Assessing risk and provision of PPE

All employers must perform a risk assessment for every workplace in accordance with the health and safety regulations. To do so, they must first determine and then evaluate the risks involved. The requirements in relation to technical and organisational protective measures are derived from this risk assessment. In addition to selecting the personal protective equipment, the employer is also obligated to procure (purchase or rent) it and make it available free of charge to employees.

Personal protective clothing must always bear a CE certification label. The applicable standards must also be specified on the labels. Further information on the range of utility, storage and maintenance, including repair and cleaning, must be provided in the manufacturer information. If the PPE meets these requirements, the employer or contractor can assume that the PPE has met the applicable standards and conditions of the European market.

Peace of mind

To have PPE certified, a notified body such as Hohenstein is required by law. As an accredited testing laboratory and notified body for personal protective clothing in accordance with regulation (EU) 2016/425 (Notified Body 0555), the testing service provider and research partner guarantees the safety and conformity of PPE. The benefits for customers are obvious:

  • You receive a certificate from an accredited and notified testing and certification body which confirms the safety of your product and which has a high level of international acceptance
  • You reduce your liability risk and the probability of complaints due to documented tests and standards
  • You increase the safety and quality of your products and make a strong argument for your market presence

If a manufacturer makes modifications to PPE that was already certified, the notified body responsible for the certification must be informed. The body then determines whether the product still meets its protective requirements after the changes or no longer complies with the health and safety requirements.

Testing for ageing

PPE can also be tested after pretreatment in accordance with the applicable standards in order to ensure effective protective functions throughout its entire usage period – that includes washing the clothing. The clothing is washed multiple times based on the manufacturer’s specifications (a minimum of five cycles) and then subjected to testing. In the case of clothing that protects against rainwater, the textiles are placed under mechanical stress by folding and chafing them 9000 times (1,000 chafing cycles for materials without an outer coating, 25,000 chafing cycles for materials with an outer coating) and then tested for water tightness.

In testing, the ageing of textiles can also be simulated. In this case, the material to be tested is exposed to xenon light and moisture. This artificial ageing process is an additional test that interested customers can use for an expanded inspection of their products. The inspection involves evaluations of the abrasion and kinking resistance for the textile materials used as well as tearing and bursting resistance.

Testing wear comfort

As well as protective functions, testing of physiological properties in the shape of wear comfort plays a significant role in the assessment of PPE at Hohenstein. Wear comfort is especially important for acceptance because the pieces of clothing have to be worn over the course of many hours during hard physical work in the widest variety of climatic and physical conditions. According to a study from the USA, circulatory collapse was the cause of death for 49% of fire fighters who lost their lives while on duty just a few years ago. The reason for that was the insufficient physiological function of their protective clothing.

For a long time, the emphasis was placed on protection from heat and flames in the development of PPE. Today it is clear that PPE also needs to aid physical cooling functions by effectively diverting sweat from the body.

Important aspects of wear comfort are therefore breathability and thermal insulation. These features are evaluated for textile materials with the “Skin Model” based on ISO 11092. For the evaluation, the material is placed on a heated, porous sintered metal place through which water vapour is released. The measurement is performed under specific climatic conditions. The level of water vapour resistance is evaluated in doing so. This evaluation provides information about how much moisture the textile material can absorb and how much is released into the atmosphere. In other words, its level of breathability. In addition, the amount of heat lost on the metal plate and thus the thermal insulation is also evaluated.

“clothing has to be worn over the course of many hours during hard physical work in the widest variety of climatic and physical conditions”

Avoid all that pinching

Restricted freedom of movement and reduced functionality of PPE and work clothing frequently causes wearers to be dissatisfied, often leading to returns. Personal protective equipment and workwear should be durable, but also practical. Whether for fire brigades, police, waste management or highway maintenance: each occupation involves typical postures and movements. Hohenstein takes these factors into account when developing patterns and fits to ensure maximum wear comfort.

Always in view

The rental of textiles has massively gained importance in many industries. In this regard, the demands on textile personal protective equipment are enormous. The most important criteria in this context are maintainability and recyclability. In particular, this also applies with regard to reprocessing by textile service providers. Economic imperatives dictate that rented textiles should be usable for as long as possible with no significant decline in appearance and function. Beyond numerous national and international standards, guidelines and laws, all aspects of the rental suitability of textiles for workwear for different application areas are defined in Hohenstein Quality Standard 701ff. Conformity with the provisions of these quality guidelines is generally verified by the Hohenstein Quality Label. Due to its scientifically sound and practical requirement profiles, it enjoys a high degree of credibility with manufacturers, retailers and customers. In particular, the minimum requirements of rented textiles are defined with reference to:

  • Colour fastness
  • Mechanical characteristics
  • Care characteristics
  • Resistance of findings/components such as buttons and zip fasteners
  • Fit of ready-made items of clothing (optional)
  • Wear comfort (optional)
  • Harmful substances (optional)

Besides traditional textile test methods, actual washing and drying treatments of commercial laundries are used as the basis for the quality standard for the tests performed by the testing service and research partner Hohenstein.

Textile materials that are used as personal protective equipment must be able to cope with the most extreme requirements. Legislators, retailers, employers and consumers constantly set themselves higher and higher product quality and safety standards. When PPE is treated, the primary concern is to ensure lasting quality and functionality to protect the wearer of PPE. The manufacturer of the PPE is obliged to define how the textile products must be washed so that their protective properties are ensured over the entire useful life. Protective clothing should generally not be washed in the home of the wearer, as it not possible to check the protective function. When protective clothing is treated in the company’s own laundry or in textile service operations, the washing instructions supplied by the manufacturer must be followed. Due to the complexity of statutory regulations and occupational health and safety guidelines, an increasing share of textile PPE is retreated as rented textiles.

When Hohenstein inspects the PPE retreating process, the following points are taken into account.

  • Suitability of the PPE for industrial processing
  • Appropriate washing procedures for removing dirt and retaining protective functions
  • Disinfection/temperature
  • Detergents and washing agents, including environmental aspects
  • Appropriate drying procedures
  • Maintenance and appropriate repair
  • Quality assurance measures for monitoring the PPE (characteristics of use and protective functions)
  • Traceability

“the role of textile service providers ranges from the treatment of the customer’s own PPE to rental”

Individual decision

The role of textile service providers ranges from the treatment of the customer’s own PPE (customer owned linen) to rental, whereby the PPE is purchased, rented and treated according to customer requirements. In principle, individual solutions are also possible following consultation. Before a decision is reached, a systematic needs assessment should always be carried out in order to avoid any possible drawbacks, which can essentially be based on the following foundations.

Definition of the individual goals of the provision of PPE

Examples: necessary protective functions, overall economic costs, certification of treatment, contractual term, employee satisfaction, guarantee of repeat orders, etc.

Determination of the individual requirement profile by means of a benefit analysis to weight the goals

Examples: availability, space requirement, internal management overhead

Demand based on a comparison of the actual state and the goals

PPE must feature high-quality protective equipment with the greatest possible wear comfort and long-term durability. For this reason, manufacturers indicate how the protective clothing must be washed and cared for. In particular, PPE that is continually kept in circulation requires regular checks and, if necessary, repairs. To comply with the statutory provisions for PPE, it is of fundamental importance to define which specific measures should be included in the service contract: treatment only or quality control and repairs too?

Textile sustainability

In the age of climate change and environmental protection, the pressure on manufacturers, brands and retailers in the textile sector is growing. More and more consumers are calling for compliance with minimum social standards in the manufacture of their textiles. This is now also often important when purchasing personal protective equipment. The OEKO-TEX® Association, together with Hohenstein, has developed a comprehensive product portfolio to provide everyone involved in the textile value creation chain with the best possible security and extensive transparency.

Consumer protection and sustainability

In 2019 the goal of the OEKOTEX ® Association is again to reinforce consumer protection and sustainability along the value creation chain for textiles and leather; the existing guidelines for the OEKOTEX ® product portfolio have thus been amended again for the start of the year. After a three-month transition period, the new regulations came into effect on 1 April 2019.

Below you will find an overview of some important changes:

  • OEKO-TEX® already complies with the new “REACH Appendix XVII CMR Legislation”
  • The substance benzene and four amine salts have been included in the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® and LEATHER STANDARD by OEKOTEX ® and limit values have been defined. The substance quinoline, which has been under observation by OEKOTEX ® since 2018, is now also regulated with a limit value
  • In the course of “standardisation” of the limit value requirements, the requirement “‹” now applies for almost all limit values
  • For over 25 years, the OEKO-TEX® strategy has not been to wait for legislation, but to be proactive in the field of consumer protection as a pioneer. As a result of the implementation of the above-mentioned updates, the STANDARD 100 and LEATHER STANDARD already comply with the requirements of the new “REACH Appendix XVII CMR Legislation” (Commission Regulation (EU) 2018/1513). In contrast, this legislation will only be mandatory for products for the 33 CMR substances listed therein from 1 November 2020. OEKO-TEX® is thus way ahead and also covers many other parameters related to consumer protection
  • New to the limit value catalogues are various Substances of Very High Concern: these are siloxane D4, D5 and D6 as well as azodicarbonamide (ADCA). Furthermore, a requirement has now been made with regard to the extractable part of the metals barium and selenium
  • In Appendix 6 of the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, limit values have been made stricter for various parameters. This relates to the parameters for phthalates (plasticisers), alkylphenols and alkylphenol ethoxylates as well for per- and polyfluorinated compounds. The even more stringent requirements for residues in textile materials will result in an overall lower impact on the environment, workers and consumers
  • In 2019 two new product groups will be under observation: glyphosate and its salts as well as the carcinogenic N-nitrosamines and N-nitrosatable substances. Glyphosate products in particular, currently the main ingredient in herbicides, received a lot of media attention during 2017 and 2018 and were the subject of fierce controversial debates around the world. At the end of 2017, approval for glyphosate and for other use was only temporarily extended by the EU to five years – under protest from different consumer groups and environmentalists. With the “Under observation” action, the OEKO-TEX® Association is now looking more closely at the substance group in relevant textile materials and is analysing the situation in more detail
  • Expanded product portfolio for sustainable production conditions: The STeP assessment will be extended to leather production facilities in 2019. The name will also be changed in the course of this integration: “Sustainable Textile Production” will become “Sustainable Textile and Leather Production” – the product name STeP remains the same