Protective Apparel Goes International

ISO 16602 could be in effect early next year. It establishes six types of chemical protective clothing based on chemical resistance and overall product integrity.

Editor's note: The age of globally harmonized safety standards is at hand. The International Standards Organization soon will approve ISO 16602, giving end users and manufacturers a comprehensive classification system for chemical protective clothing used in industry. In the following excerpts from a June 12, 2003, conversation, Jeffrey O. Stull of International Personnel Protection, Inc. (Austin, TX), lead U.S. representative to ISO for the standard, discussed its impact with the editors of Occupational Health & Safety.

OH&S: Start us out with some basics about the new standard, how it came about, and your role in it.

Stull: Originally this standard started out in the United States and was an adjunct to an existing project through the International Safety Equipment Association. They had back in the early '90s attempted to put together a comprehensive standard on chemical protective clothing. For a variety of reasons it just never took, and it could never get through the process to even get it out for public comment.

OH&S: Was it to be an ANSI standard?

Stull: It was to be an ANSI standard. ISEA currently writes ANSI standards. They're an accredited body for doing that; they've got a glove standard, and high-visibility standard, and so on. And they have a similar group, a safety wearing apparel group, that has been trying to put this standard together.

This effort arose with ISEA's attempt to develop a comprehensive chemical protective clothing standard, recognizing that the industry lacks any standard at all for chemical protective clothing, with the exception of the National Fire Protection Association standards that are for emergency responders. But those standards aren't appropriate for industry, plus they cover really just the very high end of the chemical clothing market. There wasn't anything out there to cover the full spectrum of industrial activities--and this ranges from encapsulating suits, which are present but a little bit more rare on the industrial scene, (to) splash-resistant clothing and particulate protective clothing, and so on. This standard was intended to cover that arena.

One of the things that helped this standard move to where it's now almost approved, was a decision was made to use a classification system instead of setting minimum requirements for clothing which could be used in a variety of different applications. The decision was made that there'd be this type classification system, which is predicated on really two factors or two characteristics of the clothing: the material's chemical resistance and the overall product integrity. By integrity, I mean the ability of that clothing item to keep the chemical out. In some cases it might be a vapor or gas concern, in other cases it might be a splash, sometimes under pressure, sometimes incidental contact. All those factors were taken into account to use this type classification system.

But that didn't originate with ISEA. That actually came out of work that was already done in Europe. When they formed a common European market many years ago, part of that process was to normalize trade by having uniform standards in the European marketplace. They have a specific directive that says that the employer conducts a risk assessment and selects appropriate personal protective equipment. It's mandatory and very specific, more so than what we have from our OSHA regulations. And in that, they require that the clothing meet certain criteria and appropriate European standards. They have a second directive that actually spells out all the minimum requirements that personal protective equipment as a whole needs to meet.

Europe created all of these standards, but they did it in kind of a piecemeal way. They created a standard on one type of product and another standard on another type of product, but they had this type system involved. What we did in ISEA is put all that in one document and did it in a comprehensive way, so that you could just look at one standard and be able to do everything on chemical protective clothing with that standard.

OH&S: Was that when it was decided that it would be better to pursue it as an ISO standard?

Stull: Europe is obliged to follow European standards. It's mandatory. If you're going to sell anything in Europe, you have to have a CE mark. Now, the ability for North American companies to affect what goes on in Europe is limited to nil, but one way to affect that is by having an international standard. The thinking was that if an international standard could be formed that had enough likeness to the European standards, then it's possible that the Europeans would also use this standard. And then there really would be a harmonized international standard.

ISO, in and of themselves, decided that was an approach that was worthy, too. The participants of ISO included many European countries, and some of those countries recognize that what they had in Europe was somewhat difficult and fragmented and that a comprehensive approach would be something that would be of value to their organizations and their communities. The United States, we've never been much to use standards outside the country, although we use ISO 9000 and some other things that are pretty extensive (such as) ISO 14000. The thinking was that we would embody the U.S. requirements and the ANSI standard within this ISO standard and would give some outreach to the U.S. manufacturing community.

OH&S: When will we actually see it?

Stull: The standard will probably not go into effect until at the very end of this year or very early next year. It has to go through one final balloting stage. It's at the point where no more technical changes can be made.

OH&S: What's the impact on the manufacturers here? This opens a European market to them?

Stull: It doesn't quite open the European market, but what it does is . . . first of all, there's no standard right now in the United States, and it doesn't look like there will be one. ISEA's effort stalled. There was essentially a difference of opinion, a serious difference of opinion on some technical issues between a couple of manufacturing interests that ISEA just could not overcome. ASTM has talked about trying to pick up the effort, but with the international standard coming out, it might be somewhat moot because this standard captures pretty much what everyone wanted to accomplish anyway.

For the U.S. industry, this would obviously provide them with a basis for labeling product. And the thinking or hope is that, with a classification system and some kind of selection logic that goes with that classification system, then one could have users a little bit more informed as to what they need in terms of chemical protection.

Let's say someone's using something right now. They're at the mercy of the marketplace to rely on what manufacturer claims are being made; some of those are straightforward, but many of them are not. If someone's claiming that they've got a stronger, more physically robust product, now they'll be able to demonstrate that by the way that product ends up being classified for some of the physical properties on the materials. Users typically don't have the time nor the background to understand what some of these things mean. But by having a system that classifies things, essentially with ratings that are numerical--a rating of five or one--they'll know that something's relatively good or relatively poor. It does provide a way that end users can compare the products without relying on the manufacturer. Knowing that the manufacturers have all tested it the same way is another benefit.

OH&S: How soon do you think we'll see this labeling on actual products?

Stull: A lot of the manufacturers are using the European system, which is pretty much identical. There are only a couple of differences between the ISO and the European standard, and some of that was to accommodate U.S. interests. Some of the domestic manufacturers sell in Europe or have some products made in or for the European market, so it's not too far for them to extend that into the U.S. market.

OH&S: Is there any change in the testing that domestic manufacturers have to do? They already do penetration and permeation testing.

Stull: The permeation testing, which a lot of them rely on, there'll be some little things. For example, where some of the higher-end products are just represented by (testing of) the material itself, the standard requires testing of seams and components. If you a glove attached, then you need to have glove data; you need to have visor data if visors are integrated into the suit. Those aren't things that are provided right now. Normally, you see permeation list data that goes to support the chemical testing of a product; it's just on the face material itself, no accessory items are evaluated. That's going to be part of it.

The hope is that the end user organizations become aware of this because then they can use this as a tool to specify. They can say, 'OK, we want type 3, and we want it to have permeation resistance against these chemicals at these levels, and this level of physical requirements and flame resistance, and of course labeled.' They can do that almost from a menu approach, because you have within the standard a classification system on the overall types and then classification on the variety of properties for the product.

OH&S: It strikes me the manufacturers would be happy because it does give them a level playing field. Some end users don't know how to select these products; if they have a scorecard, it might be quicker, and easier, and more effective.

Stull: I think it will be. It's just a matter of getting the awareness of the user groups up to the level. I know that groups like the American Industrial Hygiene Association will take a look at this and try to promote some guidelines on how the standard might be used by their constituents. Those kinds of things will happen, but it will take time, of course.

OH&S: How did you get involved in this?

Stull: I'm currently, and have been for some time, the leader of the U.S. delegation to ISO in all standards to do with protective clothing. This is an issue (on which) we thought we could help our own marketplace along, as well as come up with an international standard. I do that through the ASTM organization. The American Society for Testing Materials has a technical advisory group for ISO on personal protective equipment, so all issues that relate to PPE usually funnel through the group I run for ASTM, which is open to everybody but just happens to reside in ASTM.

OH&S: For years, I've been hearing professionals in this industry talk about globalization of standards as something they'd like to achieve. And yet it never has come about.

Stull: You have to get Europe to accept this in the long run. As it is, this will be an international standard. They'll still have their European standards, but I think they will recognize that we basically took their standards to the next step and put them all together. Maybe they don't agree with all the little changes we made, but the overall product is much better than what they have right now. So eventually, if this becomes an ISO/European standard--or, for that matter, it could also be adopted by ASTM indirectly--then this standard would be a globalization of the standards for chemical protective clothing.

OH&S: Do you think more of these will come about?

Stull: There's a glove standard that's a little further behind, but it's based on the ANSI 105. Likewise, the high-visibility effort is about to go down the same path. There's an ANSI, ISEA, European, as well as a Canadian standard, and there's an effort to make a harmonized international standard for high-visibility.

OH&S: The big challenge is getting end users familiar with this one.

Stull: It is. Until end users start specifying or asking for the standard, it's not going to happen. Just a case in point, ANSI put out the 105 standard for hand protection--a comprehensive standard--there's still very little end user awareness. But the industrial hygiene community has gotten hold of that and are starting to promote standards for the specification of clothing, using that standard. That's kind of turning the tide on the level of manufacturers' use of the standard.

This article originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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