Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE for short, plays an extremely important role in any workplace’s health and safety provisions. It is a last resort of sorts, the final barrier between a hazard and a worker – whether pads that protect against a slip, trip or fall or rubber-soled shoes that prevent electricity from arcing through the body. PPE design has shifted over time, to meet new challenges and in the face of new discoveries. In so doing, it has enhanced safety culture for the better. But how?
Iterating with New Health Knowledge
A fundamental principle behind the evolution of PPE design, and its resulting impacts on employee safety, is the development of health knowledge itself. That is, the better we get at understanding pathology, anatomy and health risks, the better we understand the steps necessary to mitigate risks altogether.
In this way, personal protective equipment evolves to meet new needs; as the respiratory dangers of asbestos became increasingly apparent, so too did PPE design shift to meet that danger. Today’s respiratory protection equipment is much more advanced than that of yesteryear, in response to an advanced understanding of how particles and glass fibres interact with the body.
Customisation and Equity
Manufacturers have, in recent years, become more keenly aware of the differing needs facing individuals using PPE as part of their work. This awareness has led to a marked improvement in equity when it comes to safety in the workplace.
But what does this look like, exactly? In a word: customizability. Newer PPE designs are taking into account the ways in which bodies might need accommodating. This might take the form of modular equipment, that enables filters or items to be added or removed; ear plugs are a strong example of this, where ear sensitivity can be met with high-resistance dB filters.
Generally speaking, the manufacture and design of protective equipment have improved simply by virtue of improvements to available and engineered materials. Newer synthetic fabrics display more effective fire- or slash-resistance properties, while new plastics might be bettersuited to insulation from blunt force.
This general uptick in material quality and availability makes for safer PPE across industries and pricepoints. Material engineering continues apace, too, with new findings always leading to the re-tooling of existing PPE designs.
Comfort and Fit
Lastly, a facet of PPE that does not receive the attention it perhaps should,is comfort. PPE is designed to be safe above all, by necessity, but comfort is a crucial consideration for both manufacturers and the businesses that buy PPE.
If a worker is uncomfortable in their equipment, whether due to its fit, size or nature, they may be less likely to persevere in wearing it. Alternatively, ill-fitting PPE can be a hazard in its own right when undertaking dangerous tasks. New PPE designs bear this in mind, weighing comfort and safety as factors of one another.
PPE is but one part of a much wider programme of considerations regarding health and safety in the workplace. However, taking time to understand exactly what its place is in health and safety practice is essential to doing right by staff.