Five Things Health & Safety Managers Should Know About PPE Standards

Five Things Health & Safety Managers Should Know About PPE Standards

PPE standards equip health and safety managers with tools to make informed choices about the right product for the job, and keeping up with them is a feat of its own.

North America’s standards for health and safety managers help regulate the billion-dollar PPE industry. ISEA defines a standard as “a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for a product for common and repeated use.”1 Standards equip health and safety managers with tools to make informed choices about the right product for the job, verifying that a product is suitable for its intended purpose by establishing a baseline level of performance.

According to a report2 published in March 2019 by Allied Market Research, the North America PPE glove market was valued at $2.4 billion in 2017 and is estimated to reach $3.75 billion by 2025. This increasing level of investment (and associated marketing activity) from a growing number of PPE manufacturers and distributors means health and safety managers face a challenge to stay up to date—not only with a plethora of innovative new products, each making bold and sometimes unsubstantiated claims, but also with the new and revised standards that regulate a particular sector.

To add a further level of complexity, there is something of an ‘alphabet soup’ of bodies representing, monitoring and overseeing PPE standards. Even the best-intentioned health and safety manager can sometimes be excused for struggling to navigate this acronym-packed, PPE landscape.

Below are five things health and safety managers should know about PPE standards, according to impact protection specialists D3O.

1. A “voluntary” compliance framework is in the best interest of industrial workers.

Top-down or academically driven standards can overlook the risks and realities workers face on a daily basis. Voluntary standards make health and safety managers accountable for choosing the best products in terms of design, durability, comfort, and cost for their teams’ needs. As a result, standards are adopted through a consensus of interested parties, such as manufacturers, consultants, end-users, academics and more.

2. Guidelines are available to help adequately protect workers in hazardous environments.

Without the reliability of enforced standards, managers and buyers run the risk of under-specifying PPE, leaving workers at greater risk of injury, or of over-specifying, which can incur unnecessary expenses. Of the many organizations developing industry standards, two of the leaders are the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) (which represents PPE manufacturers, distributors, and test laboratories) and ASTM International (which develops and publishes more than 12,000 consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems and services).

3. PPE manufacturers’ product test results should be referenced before selecting a product.

A product’s compliance to a certain standard does not always translate into sufficient protection. It is critical for managers and buyers to review product test results to determine the likelihood of potential solutions genuinely protecting their workers from injury.

4. Standards continue to be revised based on shifting demands and new technologies.

Prior to the publication of ANSI/ISEA 138 in 2019, there were clear expectations for industrial gloves’ ability to protect against cuts, punctures, abrasion and chemical exposure, but there weren’t any PPE standards to evaluate the performance of back of hand impact protection.

The development of back of hand protection standards and further mitigation of hand-related injuries began in 2016 by an ISEA specialist workgroup comprised of seven major glove manufacturers; materials expert D3O, who brought valuable cross-sector expertise from the motorcycle market; and a medical professional specializing in plastic and reconstructive hand surgery.

Standards are constantly changing, and it’s essential that safety managers keep up with the new demands and technologies for their workers’ safety.

5. Managers play a critical role in shaping and adopting industry standards.

A critical step in preventing injuries is for safety managers to stay informed of changes to PPE standards. ASTM International operates an online platform, Compass, to support the standards learning process.

Managers are also encouraged to participate in the development of industry standards by sharing their experiences and insights with ASTM International in order to keep PPE guidelines as effective as possible.


North America & Europe Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Distribution Market Analysis by Product, By End-use. And Segment Forecasts, 2018-2025 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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