Materials that release heat, sensors that track firefighter health, and more also improve workplace safety. - Creative Commons

Materials that release heat, sensors that track firefighter health, and more also improve workplace safety.

Creative Commons

Personal protective equipment (PPE) stands as the first line of defense against on-the-job injuries. 

Better-designed PPE can prevent more injuries, encourage compliance and provide insight into injury trends. As emphasis on workplace safety continues to rise, PPE innovation has sped up to provide these benefits. 

A recent article on titled, “Eight Promising Developments in PPE Technology,” by Martin Banks, spotlights eight developments that paint a promising picture for the future of PPE tech. These developments include:

1. Health Status Sensors

Introducing the internet of things (IoT) to PPE is one of the most impactful safety trends in recent history. This development makes it possible to attach health status sensors to helmets, vests and other items with to monitor workers’ physiology to predict and prevent injuries.

For example, connected wristbands like FitBits can watch employees’ heart rate and perspiration. When the sensors detect concerning levels, they can automatically alert workers and managers. Employees can take a break or focus on less strenuous work for a while to avoid overexertion.

Advanced sensors can even detect and correct workers’ posture. These readings could prevent common injuries that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

2. PPE Compliance Sensors

IoT sensors also can detect if workers do not wear their PPE correctly. For instance, sensors within helmets can recognize poor fit and other non-compliance issues. Alerts from built-in sensors can prevent injuries by bringing attention to factors workers may overlook. 

3. Lightweight, Comfortable Respirators

Respirators are essential in industrial firefighting and in many industrial processes. When employees must wear respiratory protection for hours at a time, weight and comfort are crucial considerations. Heavy respirators may slide down workers’ faces, breaking the seal around their nose and mouth. Similarly, if respirators are uncomfortable, employees may not wear them when they should.

New strap designs distribute weight more evenly, preventing slippage and improving comfort. Novel materials, especially 3D printing filaments, can make respirators lighter, encouraging compliance and protecting their seal.

4. Employee Tracking Solutions

IoT location-tracking solutions can monitor employee whereabouts. Struck-by and caught-in-between incidents are two of the four leading causes of workplace fatalities. Wearable proximity sensors can help mitigate both by increasing employees’ awareness of what’s around them. These wearables can alert them when a vehicle, another worker or other potential hazard is near, inciting caution. Over time, data from these connected pieces of PPE can reveal where the most accidents occur. Managers can use the data to restructure workflows to improve safety.

5. Augmented Reality Glasses

Augmented reality (AR) glasses project digital images over workers’ real-world field of view and can improve safety. Besides shielding employees’ eyes, these glasses can provide valuable safety information. Many workers need to check documents or data as they work but holding a tablet in their hands can be hazardous. AR glasses provide a hands-free solution that lets workers see information while using both hands to work. 

This hands-free view of critical information is helpful for training. Some companies  have found that AR glasses reduce training time by 50%, equipping employees with crucial safety knowledge faster. Similarly, they can display warnings and reminders as employees work, helping them remember best practices.

6. Cooling PPE

Overheating is a major concern for industrial fire brigades. Helmets, turnout gear, gloves and layers of other protective clothing can trap heat in an already hot environment. PPE that allows more natural airflow can help but is of limited use. More effective options include personal air-conditioning systems. For example, tubes pumping compressed air throughout a vest can keep workers 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding environment.

7. Biodegradable Materials

Many companies use disposable gloves, respirators and other pieces of PPE. But as environmental concerns rise, more companies seek biodegradable materials in their PPE. Biodegradable PPE improves the companies’ environmental footprints. Transitioning to biodegradable PPE can also reduce waste-related expenses, as they cost less to dispose of. 

8. Aesthetically Pleasing PPE

While aesthetically pleasing PPE doesn’t improve safety, the way PPE looks can impact wear rates. Companies now manufacturer PPE that is both safe and aesthetically pleasing. Helmets and eyewear are more streamlined and tighter fitting. Minimizing bulk makes PPE less awkward, improving workers’ performance.

As PPE becomes more advanced, safety will improve in industrial settings. As long as there are workplace injuries, there’s room to improve safety, and these PPE developments are pushing us toward that goal.