Personal Protective Equipment: The State Of The Art

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PPE

Personal protective equipment or PPE has been around, in one form or another, for centuries.  And with good reason: a lot of human endeavors throughout history carried the risk of injuries or even death. Today, government safety agencies like the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) acknowledge the importance of using PPE in a facility setting so much so that these are required under penalty of sanctions.

Considering how mature a technology PPE is, and how important it is in industrial safety, it's only natural that so many different types of safety equipment have evolved.  Let's take a look at some common PPE and how they have evolved over the years.

Hand Protection

Work gloves are one the oldest forms of PPE, with accounts of gloves being used as hand protection as far back as ancient Greece. Leather is one of the oldest glove materials capable of protecting your hands against abrasion and cuts. In fact, leather work gloves are still widely used today.

Cowhide Leather Driver Gloves

That being said, the hand protection industry is always on the lookout for advanced materials, particularly those combining strength and light weight. Some examples of these materials include Kevlar, Dyneema and Superfabric. Indeed, hand protection made from these materials offer both light weight and superior resistance to cuts and punctures.

Another new development in hand protection materials is Intercept Technology, which was developed by DuPont and Ansell. A key ingredient in this new technology is Kevlar. What's different is, work gloves made with Intercept Technology are even more light weight and possess greater stretchability than their regular Kevlar counterpart. This translates to a more comfortable work glove that doesn't compromise protection.

Protective Clothing

Coveralls

Like work gloves, protective clothing is one of the oldest types of PPE; depictions of beekeepers wearing apparel designed to protect them from bee stings date back to the 16th century. And like protective gloves, advancements in protective clothing come from the materials they are made of. To that end, newer protective clothing also uses hi-tech fabrics like Kevlar, Dyneema and Spectra as well as Nomex, a flame resistant material. The result is clothing that’s both lightweight, strong and fire resistant in some cases.

For protective clothing that needs to be resistant to chemicals as in the case of HAZMAT suits and coveralls, the conventional wisdom is to use a fabric made from a film rather than one that’s woven. One drawback with fabric made from a film is it's inability to breath, making it very uncomfortable. To solve this problem, HAZMAT suits and coveralls are now being developed using semi-permeable fabrics that allow perspiration vapor to exit while preventing liquids from entering. An example of this type of fabric is Gore Tex.

Respirators

Another PPE with a long history is respirators, one of the earliest dating back to the late 18th century. Invented by Alexander von Humboldt, his respirator consisted of a breathing mask, a tube and an air container and was meant to be used as a rescue apparatus when working in mines.

Modern respirators consist of a facepiece and a filtering device and can either be half-mask or full mask. Modern respirators can also have their own air supply, in which case these would be known as a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus or SCBA.

One interesting – and decidedly hi-tech – development in respirators, particularly the SCBAs used by firefighters, is the integration of Head Mounted Display Augmented Reality technology into the facepiece. This technology enables vital information such as temperature, oxygen supply, communications and escape routes (among others) to be projected onto the inside of the respirator's facepiece, allowing the firefighter to do his job safer and more efficiently.

Prevention Is Still The Key

Despite all the technological advancements in PPE, it should be remembered, preventing accidents through controlling hazards at the source is still more desirable. OSHA, for its part, recommends that engineering controls should always be prioritized when controlling hazards. Nevertheless, it's good to know that all these advances in PPE will no doubt lead to lower injuries in the future.

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