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This guest blog was submitted by All Seasons Uniforms.
It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of occupational diseases and injuries could be prevented with the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates the use of PPE in high-hazard industries, has created PPE guidelines and standards for different types of exposure risks, occupations, job tasks and affected body parts. PPE has come a long way from when it was first introduced hundreds of years ago, according to an article published by Universal Class.
Here are some highlights in the evolution of PPE that are relevant in the modern workplace.
PPE technology has advanced dramatically in recent years, including notable improvements made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated the development of smart personal protective equipment. For example, newer protective gear, such as hearing protection and helmets, features sensors that can detect and alert the wearer of a specific hazard. Wearable technology, such as smartwatches and other devices with sensors, can provide real-time data analysis and updates to alert the wearer about potential exposure risks, such as chemicals at unsafe levels, heat exposure or overexertion that could cause a sprain or strain.
New materials make PPE safer and more durable. Here are some examples:
Some types of PPE, including helmets, are equipped with augmented reality (AR) technology. AR enhances or augments the real world with computer-generated images, sounds and other types of stimuli. With AR, it becomes easier for PPE wearers to understand their surroundings and the potential hazards they face. Some AR-enabled PPE can also provide safety training and guide the wearer through risky situations.
Many PPE manufacturers are now designing gear for women, and new products are coming on the market to better meet gender-neutral and inclusive personal protection needs.
Women, in particular, have been a focus of PPE manufacturers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women comprised 78.2 percent of the health care industry workforce, 29.3 percent of the workforce in manufacturing and 25.8 percent in warehousing and storage in 2022. However, women say it is often difficult to find PPE that fits them properly. For example, items like flame-resistant clothing, face masks, headgear and eye protection have been designed to fit men. As a result, even the smallest size may not afford adequate protection for women or men with smaller statures. In addition, clothing and equipment that is too tight restricts movement. When it is too loose, it increases risk of exposure to hazardous substances, getting caught in machinery, and tripping or falling.
Discomfort is one of the main reasons why workers don’t wear required PPE. Comfort-related issues can be resolved by wearing clothing designed with the employee’s body type and job tasks in mind. However, certain items like face masks and eye protection can still be uncomfortable, even if they technically fit well.
PPE manufacturers have improved certain products by making them adjustable. They are also producing more breathable and flexible materials to make it easier for workers to move around and maintain a stable body temperature (to prevent cold or heat stress).
Manufacturers have also taken steps to improve the sustainability and eco-friendliness of various PPE products. For example, some manufacturers have switched to making equipment with recycled or recyclable materials (such as recycled plastic).
Noise-induced hearing loss is a prevalent occupational injury. Earmuffs or earplugs are essential to shield employees from the harmful effects of sudden or prolonged exposure to noise. Respiratory protection (including masks and respirators) is required in insufficient oxygen environments, and when employees may be exposed to hazardous dust, fog, smoke, mist, gas, sprays, vapors or infectious particles. In some industries, certain types of gloves must be worn to protect the hands and reduce the risk of burns, abrasions, cuts, bacteria and viruses, and other work-related hazards. Last but not least, protective footwear helps prevent injuries caused by dropped objects and stepping on sharp objects or molten metal, and when electrical hazards are present.
As industries continue to evolve their workplace practices, so will the PPE manufacturers who strive to keep pace with developments and protect employees from exposure to existing and emerging hazards.
Nick Warrick, sales manager at All Seasons Uniforms, has over 15 years of experience in the uniform business and has worked with over 100 clients across 20 different industries.
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