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How can activity impact chemical Personal Protective Equipment?

When assessing chemical personal protective equipment requirements for your workforce, there are a number of factors to take into account, including applicable European standards, any chemicals present and their toxicity, the task type and physical environmental factors.

It’s important to balance employee comfort with the correct level of protection required for the task in hand, and while it might be tempting to protect workers against as much as possible, using tougher and thicker suits that provide the most protection, these suits may adversely affect employee comfort.

As a result of discomfort, those employees may not wear the PPE properly, so more protection can in practice, and counter-intuitively, result in less protection – not more.

You could be spending more on protection than you need to!

To learn more about the factors that you need to consider before selecting a  chemical suit, click here.

 

How do specific task movements impact the choice of chemical suit?

There are countless tasks that require chemical personal protective equipment across a wide range of industries, but no two tasks are ever the same. The specific factors involved in each task (environment, temperature, etc) may have implications for the choice of fabric and garment. Such a factor may be the movement of physical activity involved.

Some tasks might involve merely standing whilst performing a task at a workstation or workbench. This will place minimal stress on the garment and fabric. Other tasks, however, might involve more strenuous or specific movement, placing greater stress on the garment.

 

How can activity impact chemical PPE?

 

Repetitive movement

But even just standing at a workbench could have implications if a specific point on the garment rubs against the edge of the workbench or another surface repeatedly. This might mean acquiring a chemical suit of fabric with higher abrasion resistance or a garment specifically designed with additional reinforcement in the affected area. Alternatively it might be appropriate to add an additional layer – such as a tough apron – to protect the affected area.

Tasks with repetitive movements, even if minor, can stress garment fabric considerably over time – something like a “repetitive strain injury”. In this case, a supple fabric that can withstand repeated flexing over long periods might be more applicable than fabric that is simply strong. This quality in fabrics is measured with the "Flex Cracking" test (see below); in fabric engineering terms, fabrics that are stronger are often less flexible and show lower results in this test.

 

Climbing tasks

More strenuous movement can also have specific effects on chemical personal protective clothing. For example, a task that involves climbing up or down industrial ladders or steps regularly will place additional stress on the crotch and knees of a coverall, possibly resulting in early tearing and destruction of the suit. Thus a coverall with additional reinforcement in the crotch and/or knees or a better ergonomic design, in which the pattern used enables a shorter neck-crotch length, so avoiding the common "low-hanging crotch" found in many garments, might be important.

How do specific task movements impact the choice of chemical suit?

 

Crawling and confined spaces

Crawling, especially on a rough floor, obviously places greater stress on the knees of a garment – and potentially on the wrists. So again, fabrics with a high abrasion resistance and/or garments with additional strengthening in the knees would be a good choice

Working in a confined space, such as gaining access underneath machinery for maintenance purposes, could be important. Clearly this will create multiple stresses and demands on both the wearer and the garment, so choosing a garment with stronger fabric, especially a garment with superior tear resistance, or a garment designed to allow greater freedom of movement, might be critical.

 

The usefulness of CE standards

The detail in the CE standards is useful for assessing garments to determine if they meet the particular demands of your task. All garments are subject to a series of physical properties tests, such as abrasion and tear resistance. Results are given in classes of 1 to 6 (with 6 the highest) and are quoted in manufacturers’ User Instructions, helping you to choose the right garment.

For example, as described above a task involving repetitive movement will require a garment with a high class in Flex-Cracking, whilst a task involving climbing may need a garment with high classes in tear and tensile strength. The physical properties tests to which all certified garments are subjected are listed below.

 

Strength Property

Description

Classes

Abrasion

Resistance to rubbing on a rough surface

1 to 6
6 is highest

Flex-Cracking

Resistance to damage as a result of repeated flexing

1 to 6
6 is highest

Trapezoidal Tear

Resistance to tearing of the fabric once already damaged

1 to 6
6 is highest

Tensile Strength

Resistance to basic “pulling” strength

1 to 6
6 is highest

Puncture Resistance

Resistance to the point pressure on the surface

1 to 6
6 is highest

Seam Strength

The same measurement as tensile strength – but across the seams

1 to 6
6 is highest

 

The Importance of garment design

Garment design can be important. For instance; an application involving climbing or reaching will put greater stress on the crotch area, so a choosing a garment that incorporates a crotch gusset will be a better choice, or, as stated above, choosing a garment with a more ergonomic design which allows greater freedom of movement and results in less stress on weaker areas of the garment, will provide a suit that is more comfortable to wear, more durable, and ultimately will provide better protection for longer. A low cost suit that is poorly designed and has minimal sizing is no saving if it lasts half as long and must be replaced more often.

Why is garment design important?

 

Conclusion

Particular movements related to the unique nature of a task can result in specific stresses and strains on garments; it is therefore important to consider these movements and how they might affect the choice and durability of fabric and garment design. Both the detail of physical properties strength tests in CE certification along with consideration of how particular design features can contribute may be important in selecting the best PPE for the job.

In the next part of our blog, we’ll explore how the task environment can also impact the choice of chemical personal protective equipment and clothing.

 How can activity impact chemical personal protective equipment

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