The Magic of New Technology
Here’s a roundup of some of the latest PPE technologies and why these claims are the new reality.
- By M.B. Sutherland
- Jul 14, 2020
We’ve all experienced new-technology skepticism. I remember when winter coats first promised an innovative type of material, not downy feathers, would keep me warm. I rubbed the thin fabric between my fingers and wondered…really?
As safety technologies advance and companies provide better, more comfortable gear, many safety managers find themselves similarly skeptical as they’re asked to test a product that seems almost too good to be true. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest PPE technologies and why these claims are the new reality.
Historically, there have been two types of cooling PPE. First, you have cooling towels, bandanas, and other wearables that feel cold and refreshing when you put them on. Unfortunately, that moment of cool relief doesn’t tend to last more than about ten to twenty minutes. That leaves workers hot, uncomfortable, and at higher risk for heat illness until they can cool off at their next break. An additional disadvantage with these fabrics is that they can actually add to worker discomfort with slimy-feeling chemical coatings that prolong the cool, but disappoint in total comfort. The other option is body cooling vests that don’t feel especially refreshing but do help to control a worker’s core temperature through the day, even though they can’t necessarily feel it working.
The newest technology in cooling PPE promises the best of both worlds—instant, refreshing relief and cooling that lasts for hours, not minutes. This keeps workers safer and more comfortable through their shift—all without the use of harsh chemicals. Perhaps most important of all, they also promise that the refreshing cool can be reactivated over and over again quickly, using any temperature of water.
Why believe? This technology may be the one that feels closest to a magic trick as you can pour very hot water onto the material and feel it cool down as much as 30 degrees below average body temperature in under a minute. The secret lies in advances in fabric weaving technology. Engineers found that they could strategically interlock fabric strands to leverage the natural cooling power of evaporation and multiply that effect within the material. The result is PPE that cools almost instantly, stays cool for hours and can be reactivated with any water available on the jobsite—even water that’s hot from sitting in the sun.
Cut-resistant gloves have made huge strides in recent years. In the past, higher cut levels were only achieved by weaving steel wire into glove material—making a stiffer, bulkier glove. Today, manufacturers offer gloves and sleeves with higher ANSI Cut Levels that are made of fabric so thin and light, some safety managers refuse to believe it will protect their people. Just like that winter coat, they find themselves rubbing the thin fabric between their fingers and asking, really?
Why believe? The secret is innovative core materials in the yarn. These lighter, tougher cores allow manufacturers to create ultra-thin gloves and sleeves with no bulk and very little weight that still protect from more serious cut hazards. For the highest cut-resistance needs, even A9 gloves are lighter and thinner than their predecessors due to updated methods of yarn wrapping that provide extra cut resistance without adding bulk.
You may not have a huge percentage of workers who experience contact dermatitis, but for those who do suffer with this problem, it can be an all-day, everyday issue that interferes with their ability to do the job. Sometimes, it’s a problem of excess sweat that keeps skin too moist for long periods of time. In other cases, the problem is that the cut-resistant core in the yarn of traditionally made gloves tends to break over time, creating microscopic barbs within the fabric that cause some workers’ skin to react with a painful, itchy rash. Gloves and sleeves made with coreless yarns promise a fabric that is both cool to the touch and has no core materials that can break and cause irritation, making contact dermatitis a thing of the past.
Why believe? While it’s true that core materials are usually the bedrock of cut-resistance, coreless yarns get around this convention with an infusion of strength-enhancing microparticles that make the yarn cut-resistant without the need for a fiberglass, steel, or basalt core. The resulting material is lighter than many alternatives and it’s cooler next to the skin, which helps keep all wearers more comfortable in general—not just those prone to skin irritation.
Handling Oily Applications
Two of the biggest glove-related problems in handling oily parts and machinery are saturated gloves and lack of grip. Coated machine-knit gloves provide some relief, but there’s often a trade-off. Polyurethane is effective in light oil conditions but tends to be less effective for heavy oil. Flat and sandy nitrile coatings stand up well to oil, but can have issues with dexterity and tactile sensitivity, making it hard to handle small parts without taking them off.
Foam nitrile provides better oil grip, but can become saturated in heavy oils, making it uncomfortable against the skin and more likely to slip when handling oily parts. New technology promises to solve all of these problems with solid oil grip in a glove that resists saturation to keep hands dry without compromising dexterity or tactile sensitivity.
Why believe? The secret is a new layering technology that takes a glove shell, dips it in a coating that deflects oil to keep hands dry, and then dips it again in a coating that actually absorbs oil to prevent saturation. This too almost feels like a magic trick as you can pour oil into the palm, work it around a bit as you would while handling parts on the job, and it seems to disappear as the glove absorbs the oil. An additional benefit to these gloves is that they’re significantly lighter than other double-dipped gloves. They’re also incredibly abrasion-resistant compared to other glove coatings, making them a quality choice for many rough applications.
Seeing is Believing
Of course, you should always check out any claim made by a manufacturer and try untested products in your environment. But the good news is that the surprising claims you’re hearing are often the result of new technology solving problems we all used to think were part of the job. Just like new materials made bulky winter coats a thing of the past, advancements in safety are making PPE stronger, lighter and more comfortable than ever.
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.