Eliminate Misuse of Protective Clothing

By Goldstein, Lynn | Occupational Hazards, October 1993 | Go to article overview

Eliminate Misuse of Protective Clothing


Goldstein, Lynn, Occupational Hazards


In the last 10 years or so, there have been, and continue to be, efforts to establish standards for protective clothing. American Society for Testing and Materials' (ASTM) guideline ASTM F-23 has done a monumental job along these lines. The National Fire Protection Assn. (NFPA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and Industrial Safety Equipment Assn. (ISEA) have also established clothing standards. The process is in all instances excruciatingly slow and tedious.

There have been instances where the clothing manufacturer, the fabric manufacturer, the user, and regulatory bodies have worked together. These instances are mainly in the standards-writing activities of the NFPA & ASTM F-23. However, it is difficult to get these standards incorporated into OSHA regulations and for users to know, understand, and use the suggested performance standards.

There are many reasons for the misuse of protective clothing. Here are some of the main contributors to the problem:

* Employers buy the cheapest protective garments available, even if they do not provide correct protection.

* Only fabric is taken into consideration when choosing garments, not other factors such as closures or seams.

* Some fabric manufacturers are only interested in selling their fabric and have no interest in providing effective protective clothing.

* Garment manufacturers and distributors are not selling a product for its intended use and/or are not refusing to sell a particular product when they know it is being misused.

* Manufacturers and distributors are not properly training their sales people.

* There is a lack of good performance standards; in many cases, there are no standards for protective clothing.

* Clothing is not properly specified in regulatory standards, which use words like "adequate" or "sufficient" when describing the protective clothing required.

* More emphasis on technology in the development of new fabrics is needed which would take worker protection, comfort, and productivity into consideration, especially in those instances where proper clothing is not used because employees complain that working in the clothing makes them "too hot."

* The mistaken belief by clothing users that the dangers from certain chemicals are exaggerated by regulatory bodies such as OSHA; therefore, they resist wearing their protective garments.

* Some buyers do not require proper data on fabrics and garments.

* Some employers believe that there are "disposable people" who do not need proper protective clothing.

This misuse has contributed to some "limited use" protective clothing becoming "commodity items." No safety equipment, including protective clothing, should be considered a "commodity item." The person selecting the clothing must consider the fabric barrier and physical properties; the style, design, and sizing of the garment; the construction and quality of construction of the garment; standards which must be met; the comfort and productivity of the worker involved; and lastly, the disposability of the item after it has become contaminated. …

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