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Future Trends in PPE

Future trends in PPE

Good fit, comfort and sustainability, in relation to PPE, were three areas of focus in a recently published report identifying growth areas for PPE – the Safety Outlook and Trends Report, published by 3M. The report was complied using recent global research in occupational health and safety trends.

The report focuses on two areas where effective use of PPE can minimise risks – hearing and respiratory protection.

Effectiveness of PPE is governed by the fit and one size will not fit all, when it comes to hearing and respiratory protection. Fortunately, technology has developed in response to demand and the report draws attention to innovative new fit testing techniques for hearing and respiratory protection that allow health and safety managers to confirm that the PPE is suitable for each individual. In Australia and New Zealand, a respiratory fit test is now mandated for compliance to AS/NZS 1715:2009 (the standard for uses of respiratory protection). The report also looks into improvements in design, as workers demand that their respirators release hot humid air quickly to avoid build up of unpleasant heat inside their masks.

An emerging issue it highlights is the need for end-of-service life indicators for respirators. Currently, the cartridge change schedule is based on modeling, but the report looks to future developments in end-of-service life indicators that may allow workers to tailor the cartridge change schedule to individual situations.

The report draws attention to the importance of comfort as well as the potential fit and comfort problems created by combining separate items of PPE. The report says ‘When PPE is competing for space on the same face and head, and the products are designed to be used individually, workers may be tempted to remove or improperly use one component or the other’. The report urges safety and health professionals consider all the different types of PPE being used when selecting specific models and to provide equipment that works well together, in terms of fit and comfort.

Other trends detailed in the report include: managing PPE supply and demand through a vending machine, the need for customised PPE for certain industries, and sustainability.

The advantages of using a vending machine for dispensing PPE include being able to track which employee and department received each piece of equipment. The machine also notifies the distributor when stock needs to be replenished.

It is easy to see that demand for industry-specific PPE would increase as the knowledge around what is causing health and safety problems increases. Industries cited in the report as potentially benefiting from specifically designed PPE, include mining – where hearing loss is a huge issue, food and beverage – where respirators need to protect against particulate hazards, such as fl our and grain, and the military, which has to combine hearing protection with the need to be able to hear and communicate instructions. Although not mentioned in the report, increasing use and awareness of the risks of nanomaterials could also lead to more demand for specifically designed PPE.

Sustainability is a worthy inclusion in the report and also an important one. Companies are increasingly looking to become more sustainable in the way they operate and companies manufacturing and providing PPE are no exception. The report states that currently PPE manufacturers use materials derived from fossils resources – such as polyester, polyamide, polyethylene and other polymers – and in the future PPE manufacturers may look at using more biopolymers for disposable PPE, and other natural fibres, such as hemp and linen. The report also reminds that improvements in tracking and tracing and the addition of end-of-service indicators would help extend the life of PPE and so reduce its carbon footprint.