Evolving PPE: Going Beyond Fit for Enhanced Protection and Wellness
Proper footwear can help avoid major accidents, especially with new innovations.
- By Jim Bailey
- Jun 01, 2021
When it comes to protecting workers and creating a strong safety culture in the workplace, there’s no substitute for high-quality PPE, great partners and ongoing efforts to improve. After all, PPE, and safety footwear in particular, is very personal to workers and must be worn for long hours. Being aware of new technologies when selecting the right PPE will help keep workers comfortable and safe while on the job.
A focus on safety is especially important for those in work environments that include a wide variety of potential risk factors, such as in the oil and gas industry. Below are considerations for safety professionals to keep in mind when outfitting their workers with safety gear across industries and various risk levels.
PPE is Personal
When thinking about safety, it is essential to consider comfort and fit along with protection against common hazards like slips, trips, falls and puncture wounds. The wrong equipment can increase the rate of injury or cause injury itself, which can be detrimental to worker productivity and job satisfaction.
One key PPE component to consider is protective footwear, a personal purchase that needs to be tailored to a worker's specific fit and needs. Improperly fitting footwear can make workers uncomfortable and cause fatigue, blisters, shin splits and other injuries. It’s crucial for employers to partner with a footwear company that will help workers find a work boot that is the right size and width to ensure all-day comfort and safety.
From a head-to-toe PPE perspective, it is also important to look at gender-specific design as both footwear and workwear should be tailored to women and men differently to ensure a comfortable fit. Industry-leading PPE manufacturers are closely examining the differences and introducing purpose-built options made using gender-specific lasts or specific patterns for women to ensure the best fit possible.
Having the right PPE selection that considers all employees fosters safety, comfort and inclusivity.
Keep up to Date with new Technologies and Worker Expectations
PPE isn’t static. Like many other technologies, it is constantly changing and newer, better options are frequently introduced to the market. To ensure workers have the best protection available, it’s a good idea to stay up to date on recent innovations.
Additionally, boundaries are blurring more and more for today’s workers, and they don’t want to compromise between comfort and safety. They also seek style and versatility as well as the ability to select their preferred purchase method.
When it comes to footwear, technologies such as non-metallic toe caps, which weigh much less than their steel counterparts, and new, lightweight outsole materials that offer superior traction are making a big difference for workers. While these may not be the right selections for all environments, they are breakthroughs worth knowing about that may be right for light-to-medium-duty situations.
These and other technologies also allow for new factors like low-profile products that look like stylish sneakers but include important features like toe protection, which are becoming more common in the market. If the job allows, these types of products can make a great addition to a company’s PPE offering.
Another key innovation that can improve footwear comfort is breathable components. Boots made out of breathable materials that include cooling textiles are hugely beneficial to workers, especially in warmer climates and hot work environments. When it comes to workwear, even certain kinds of coveralls are now made with conductive fibers that actively move heat away from the skin and create an instant cooling sensation—a distinct advantage for workers when they are exposed to excessive heat. Seemingly small features, such as venting details on jackets and coveralls to aid in air circulation, can also make a big difference when it comes to comfort.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who work in cold environments require insulation. From a work boot perspective, you can go with products that use traditional lofted insulation or consider footwear made with new warming materials using aluminum technology. This innovative paper-thin technology actually reflects and retains body heat to surround and keep your feet warm. To ensure feet stay dry in wet conditions, opt for a PPE company that uses a three-layer waterproofing system to help move moisture away from the foot, providing additional cushioning and utilizes a waterproof bootie to act as a barrier, ensuring a complete system.
The bottom line is that PPE from head to toe is getting better, and more options are available to workers. Staying up to date with innovations allows companies to outfit workers with the best equipment available.
Select the Right PPE Partner
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to worker safety and PPE, which can make the process for safety managers quite daunting. To be successful, employers should look to partner with the right PPE providers, who can take on some of the burden and help instill confidence on the part of the employer and workers.
At its core, a PPE provider partnership is about delivering high levels of service and quality products. Anyone charged with responsibility for safety will benefit from working with an established, knowledgeable and experienced PPE provider that can help navigate the world of safety standards and offer the best possible PPE solutions. If you’re looking for such a partnership, think about the following:
Total body protection. A quality provider should offer a comprehensive and customizable assortment of head-to-toe PPE to keep workers safe and productive. Everything from safety footwear and flame-resistant workwear to gloves, safety glasses and more should be considered. An equipment provider should have a wide variety of PPE available because if it can supply the full range of required safety solutions, it will eliminate the time, money and energy spent searching for additional products.
Knowledge of safety standards. Safety standards generally change every three to five years and provide a set of minimum requirements that PPE must pass during testing. These safety standards vary by country, but all are intended to protect workers on the job. Although all safety footwear standards include key elements of protection, the testing methods, performance requirements and the certification process may have significant differences. A good PPE partner should consistently update its assortment with the latest up-to-code, lab-tested and field-proven materials. The partner should also use high-quality leathers, fabrics and components sourced from trusted brands, which are subjected to rigorous internal and independent third-party testing to ensure all safety standards are met. If the employer's equipment is based on outdated standards the responsibility of compliance falls solely on its leadership.
Industry knowledge. It’s vital that a PPE provider understands the unique details of a company’s various work environments. Whether or not a specific boot or coverall will provide adequate long-term protection depends on much more than a set of standards. It requires a deep understanding of what the job actually involves, including the relevant surfaces, potential contaminants and physical requirements. An optimal provider will have experience developing purpose-built safety workwear for a variety of industries and use that expertise to ensure that employees are properly protected.
Distribution reach. While getting products to and from certain operations can pose challenges, a provider should be able to ship PPE products to any location within a few days of being ordered. Providers with strategically located stores, manufacturing facilities and distribution hubs ensure that PPE solutions and services are available whenever needed.
Full-service partnership. A PPE partner can offer all of the above, but if it doesn’t provide a dedicated expert who can guide safety managers through the appropriate standard and customizable PPE options, it won’t be a true partnership. The manufacturer should have a solutions-first, product-second mindset. If it emphasizes products more than the safety of workers, odds are it isn’t the right fit. A good partner should form a close strategic relationship with all stakeholders to help determine the biggest safety risks posed to workers and provide ongoing solutions and education to mitigate those risks. Put simply, the best providers will ease the entire PPE procurement process rather than add to or complicate the work.
Companies that take a top-down approach to workplace safety, keep up to date on PPE innovations and select the right partners can best mitigate the risk of injuries in the workplace. In the long run, that is the best way to keep workers safe and productive while instilling confidence in workers, partners and customers.
This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.