Working with industrial equipment often entails a certain degree of hazard. Engineering practices and work methods are put into place to mitigate the chances of worker injury, lost time, or death. Even with hazards that are engineered to be as safe as possible, one last line of defense is employed. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the lynchpin in worker safety programs. For every hazard that has the potential to cause an accident, there is corresponding protective or preventative equipment designed to protect workers and mitigate harm.
This concept is nothing new to most workers or industrial hygienists. However, one component of PPE is often overlooked. Industrial apparel complements all types of PPE and is often the difference between an injury and a near miss. Careful examination of the clothing that workers wear will reveal further opportunities to offer better protection and prevent accidents.
The Right Fit
The first rule of effective industrial apparel is fit. Industrial equipment with moving parts has the potential to snag loose clothing and pull a worker’s arm or entire body into a machine. There are over 200 fatalities a year and forty thousand amputations as a direct result of a worker being pulled into a machine during operation. Any loops, clasps, lanyards, or hanging material from clothing should be either removed or engineered to break away. On the other hand, clothing has to offer a sufficient range of motion and not be constricting.
Many employers utilize uniform services to make sure clothing is the right size and to eliminate the need for people to have to borrow apparel from coworkers.
Industrial Apparel – Head to Toe
All pieces of clothing should be thought of as a barrier against workplace hazards. Industrial equipment can have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, hot or cold spots, or moving parts that have the potential to cause injury. For this reason, clothing should be made from heavy-duty fiber and thread with reinforced seams to prevent rips and tears. Just as a hardhat offers a protective barrier for the head, so should industrial apparel. It is not enough to merely protect the eyes or the hands or just the face, there should be no exposed body parts at all, from head to toe.
Good practices for protecting the face, neck, and head include wraps and hoods similar to what landscapers use to protect against wood chips and stones that can be kicked up into the face. Coveralls, sweats, shirts, and pants should cover the majority of the body surface. For the chemical industry, industrial apparel should also be water resistant to protect against splashes and spills and used in addition to facemasks, chemical aprons, gloves, and splash suits. Redundant layers are never wasteful when it comes to safety.