Mark Saner, FR Technical Manager, Workrite Uniform Company
Every day, people go to work and perform tasks they’ve done hundreds of times before without incident. Then one day there’s an accident—an accident that causes severe injury or even death. Whether it’s due to human error or equipment failure, this scenario is far too common.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,190 fatal work injuries were reported in the United States in 2016. Millions of other workers suffered nonfatal injuries—nearly one third of which were serious. In many cases, these devastating injuries could have been prevented by establishing a strong safety culture and following safe work practices, including wearing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, ensuring employees have—and wear—the proper PPE is sometimes easier said than done. Not only does PPE need to effectively address the hazards found in your workplace; it also needs to be comfortable and practical enough that it will be worn consistently and correctly. This is where multi-hazard protection can make a huge difference.
Why Multi-Hazard Protection
In 2016, four employees were injured in an explosion at a Massachusetts-based chemical plant. The explosion involved trimethylaluminum, a flammable chemical that can also cause severe irritation and burns if it comes into contact with the skin or eyes. The company received numerous OSHA citations, including one for failing to provide and require the necessary PPE. In the case of this chemical plant—as with many other environments where dangerous, flammable chemicals are present—the necessary PPE would likely include protection against both chemical and thermal hazards.
With these combined hazards to consider, the first solution that comes to mind in terms of selecting protective clothing might be to find separate items to address each hazard. And, in some work environments, that might be the most effective approach. But when it is possible to adequately protect against multiple hazards with a single garment, there are a few significant advantages.
First, the fewer items that are needed for protection, the easier it is to remember to wear them all. For example, if you are wearing flame-resistant (FR) clothing, but also need to put on a layer of protection against chemicals before performing certain tasks, you could easily forget that essential second layer. But if you have one protective garment that is designed for all-day use and addresses each of the hazards you might encounter, you only need to remember to put it on at the beginning of the day.
Multi-hazard protection is also significantly more convenient than wearing multiple garments. The more PPE you have to put on and take off throughout the day, the more hassles you face and the more time you waste. If wearing multiple protective garments is too great of an inconvenience, it can be tempting to skip wearing one (or even all) of them. Skipping PPE even one time can have serious consequences, and multi-hazard protection helps prevent this temptation. In addition, with a single multi-hazard protective garment, you can use the time you would have spent changing into and out of protective clothing on more productive activities.
Finally, multi-hazard protection is often more comfortable than the alternative. Wearing multiple layers of protective apparel can restrict movement; cause uncomfortable bulkiness; and/or make the wearer too hot. Plus, not all PPE is designed with comfort in mind. Think of the chemical-barrier aprons that are often worn over other workwear. The workwear underneath may be comfortable enough, but in addition to the inherent discomforts of wearing multiple garments, the apron adds a stiff and heavy second layer. It’s easy to see how, once again, it could become tempting to skip some or all of the necessary PPE. Workwear that is built for multi-hazard protection is often also designed with comfort in mind, helping to encourage wearer compliance.
Types of Multi-Hazard Protection
Depending on the hazards present in your workplace, different types of multi-hazard protection may be beneficial. When selecting PPE, be sure to thoroughly assess the hazards in your environment and ensure that the products you select will address those hazards effectively.
As previously mentioned, thermal hazards, such as arc flash or flash fire, are often present in environments where there is also a risk of chemical splash. This combination of hazards is often a concern for those working in laboratories, food processing, machinery and transportation, agriculture, or anywhere else flammable substances or liquid chemicals are present.
Thanks to recent innovations in multi-hazard protection, coveralls and lab coats that combine FR properties with chemical-splash protection (CP) are now available. Not only do these FR/CP products meet the requirements of key industry standards and regulations (such as NFPA 2112, NFPA 45 and OSHA 1910.1450), but they are also comfortable and designed to be worn as all-day attire—helping increase the likelihood that they will be worn consistently and properly.
Another common combination involves poor visibility and thermal hazards. This results in a need for both FR and high-visibility protection. Even when it’s worn over FR clothing, non-FR, high-visibility workwear can ignite, burn and even melt when exposed to heat and flame, thus endangering the wearer.
However, going without high-visibility clothing can be just as dangerous. Fortunately, FR clothing manufacturers have developed numerous high-visibility FR products that meet the requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories, as well as standards and regulations related to FR protection.
Manufacturers have also developed multi-hazard protective workwear for environments that face the risk of both flash fire and arc flash. Available in a wide selection of styles, these products meet the requirements of both NFPA 2112 and NFPA 70E.
For many workplaces, multi-hazard protection can make a significant difference in safety. And these innovations are only the beginning. WMHS
About the author:
Mark Saner has served as the FR Technical Manager for Workrite Uniform Company, a brand of VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC), since 2006. He brings 40 years of experience in the fire and safety industries to his work, including 29 years in technical support, safety standards and product development for Akron Brass Manufacturing Company. Mark participates as a voting member within a number of national and international safety organizations to help develop, revise, influence and further improve standards for worker safety.
For questions related to safety requirements, product performance and industry standards, contact Mark at 1-800-521-1888 or visit www.workrite.com.