Worker safety isn’t just about meeting minimum protective requirements. Factors like avoiding heat stress and proper ergonomics are increasingly recognized as important when selecting protective clothing. And the workers’ overall comfort in their personal protective equipment (PPE), such as flame-resistant high-visibility safety apparel (FR HVSA), is also given increased consideration.
Think back to when flame-resistant clothing was first introduced. The choices were limited at best. Most of the clothing was hot, heavy, and ill-fitting. You can imagine how cumbersome that was for workers out in the field.
Fortunately, innovations in textile and garment production have allowed for garments that are lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, and fast drying. These innovations have been combined with visibility options and FR protection to create multi-hazard protective apparel.
Employees no longer have to choose between comfort and protection. Now there are options that offer solutions to many of the challenges that outdoor workers face.
Important Attributes for Multi-Hazard Safety Apparel
Let’s take a closer look at some garment attributes that improve worker comfort in multi-hazard safety apparel.
Heavy and bulky garments can cause employees to sweat more and overheat, increasing the risk of heat stress and other heat-related illnesses.
Recent innovations in FR fibers and blends have allowed manufacturers to produce clothing from lighter weight fabrics. Lightweight garments translate to comfort, especially in warm climates. Now, workers can perform their job comfortably, without being burdened with heavy gear.
A common complaint about PPE is that it has a tendency to trap heat close to the worker’s body (learn about the Top 3 Arc Flash Clothing Complains – And How to Solve Them). In warm climates or high-heat applications, this can become a major safety concern since it could lead to heat stress.
Today’s breathable garments allow heat and air to flow through, rather than getting trapped inside. Not only is this more comfortable, it also helps reduce heat-related hazards by allowing the body to carry out its natural cooling process.
Segmented reflective trim can also contribute to improved breathability. Reflective trim can be a hot spot when it's solid. Segmented trim allows the fabric to breathe, providing greater worker comfort.
Waterproof and Breathable
Outerwear that is designed to protect workers from the elements, such as rain, wind, sleet, and snow, must work as hard as the wearer.
When workers are laboring while wearing waterproof garments, it’s wise to choose garments with advanced technology that allows the hot air to escape while keeping the cold and wet out. Without this, efforts to keep workers comfortable are futile. A rain suit may be waterproof and keep outside water from coming in. But if it’s not breathable, the wearer will be soaked on the inside from sweat. This essentially defeats the purpose of staying dry and comfortable in the first place. To avoid this, look for garments that have been tested to the ANSI or ASTM standard for breathability.
In its simplest form, the combination of man-made hydrophobic (water-repelling) and natural hydrophilic (water-absorbing) fibers creates moisture-wicking action from the natural push and pull of these two different fibers.
Improved FR HVSA technology uses fibers and yarns that are engineered for superior moisture-wicking. These fabrics provide a premium solution for worker comfort in heavy labor applications. This technology allows moisture to move away from the surface of the skin to the outer surface of the garment for evaporation and cooling. This can be a benefit in warm or cool climates, since staying dry equals comfort no matter the temperature.
For those exposed to arc flash hazards, moisture-wicking garments provide an added safety feature: preventing potential steam burns from an arc incident.
Typically, this is a shared quality with moisture-wicking technology. Fast-drying fabrics work in tandem to keep you comfortable, wicking away sweat and quickly drying the fabric.
Not all fast-drying apparel is created equal, however. So, it’s important to choose materials that offer the appropriate protection factors you need, especially in arc rated zones.
Freedom of movement makes a big difference for worker comfort and productivity. Look for fabrics with segmented reflective options that allow the fabric to stretch, and design elements that let the garment move with you.
Look for features like raglan sleeves, action-back, tagless necklines, and fabric and reflective options that stretch. This will allow workers freedom of movement without interference from the garment.
Why Comfort Matters when Selecting PPE
One of the biggest complaints workers have with their PPE is that it’s uncomfortable. New technologies have addressed this by allowing for lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking garments that do not compromise the worker's safety.
Workers are more likely to wear their PPE if it’s comfortable. They want something that is easy to wear and won’t interfere with their work.
After all, they have enough to think about and do while on the job without worrying about the way they feel in their protective clothing. Uncomfortable clothing contributes to distraction and frustration, which can lead to increased incident rates. Since this can increase your recordable incident rate, using the wrong protective clothing can affect your company's bottom line.
And the burden it places on the company's checkbook is only the start. Accidents and injuries are also costly to the workers involved and their families. A little investment in comfort goes a long way to eliminating distraction and preventing accidents.
All of the factors listed above are important reasons to provide comfortable clothing for your workers. Comfortable PPE is an essential component of workplace safety. Satisfied workers also reduce your rate of turnover and increases your productivity. So, get your workers in the gear they'll be happy to wear.
Check out the rest of our content about Personal Protective Equipment here.