Each year, the month of June marks a time to celebrate National Safety Month, an annual observance championed by the National Safety Council to help keep workers safe and eliminate preventable workplace injuries.
When it comes to worker safety, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends implementing a hierarchy of controls plan to help prevent accidents before they happen by limiting workers’ exposure to hazards. Following this model, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense for keeping workers safe, so it is critical that workers have the right PPE for the job. High-performing PPE should meet and exceed workers’ safety needs, from functionality and protection to comfort and design.
This June, we’re taking a closer look at the fundamentals of today’s PPE that embraces worker focused innovation.
An emphasis on experience-focused design
The design of PPE products today stems from manufacturers living in the details. PPE manufacturers add value when they use insights from key customers, deep domain knowledge and expertise of workplace hazards and co-design solutions with users from start to finish.
Teams of designers and engineers, for example, should be set-up in a way where they can methodically review customer feedback to make sure future safety products employ features users wish to see and use.
Successful PPE manufacturers are obtaining customer feedback at various checkpoints in the design process to ensure products fit, feel and look good. Using this approach, companies that produce PPE have the ability to understand product features users wish to see, and then strive to deliver solutions that go beyond their expectations.
Ultimately, it’s all about making sure the customer has a seat at the table. This is a crucial component of the development process.
Attention to small innovations can have a large impact on making sure PPE is designed for correct and consistent use, and it makes a real difference in keeping workers safe.
Protective eyewear is one example where the details matter. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace each year, which can lead to severe consequences such as vision loss. For workers who spend their days outside such as those on construction worksites, even subtle changes in temperature throughout the day can cause lens fogging.
When lenses fog, workers cannot see their work or nearby hazards leaving them few choices but to remove the eyewear to wipe it clear. If they do this in the work zone, they risk injury. If they go outside the work zone, productivity is compromised. A good way to help fix this challenge is to opt for eyewear with an advanced anti-fog lens coating. After all, if a worker cannot wear a particular PPE solution at all times, then it cannot do its job in providing full protection.
Fall protection is another area where ease of use for workers is key to helping ensure they stay safe. When workers are suspended after a fall, harnesses can apply pressure to the arteries and veins around the top of the legs, preventing blood flow. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, this lack of circulation can result in severe injury and can be fatal in less than 30 minutes while a worker waits for help.
Traditionally, relief from suspension trauma involves a multistep process that can be difficult to manage while suspended in the air. Now, there are harnesses available that use a “one-pull” feature, where workers can quickly stand up in the harness by pulling on a single tab while still being suspended, relieving pressure and allowing proper blood flow.
Solutions inspired by technology
Innovative PPE means taking tools and equipment beyond their basic protective functions. Integrating technology into PPE is one form of innovation to help ensure the best – and safest – possible experience for the user.
For instance, in industries that are impacted by excessive noise levels, employers can integrate technology into their equipment that can monitor sound exposure continuously and adjust in-ear volume to safe levels. Technology advancements also offer hear-through protection so that workers can continue to communicate with other employees while still being protected from some harmful noises.
Safety sits at the core of all personal protective equipment
The month of June serves as a good reminder to refresh safety protocols to help create a culture of safety in the workplace, but protecting workers remains the number one priority across industries all year long. As PPE designers and manufacturers continue to innovate their personal protective equipment, workers will continue to be protected when and where they need it most.