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Integrating PPE and Regular Workwear

Chris Doolan - Wednesday, March 03, 2010

As the responsibility of employers in the safety of their workers is recognised more extensively than ever before, and the cost of injuries to companies rises, the use of personal protective equipment as mandatory is also increasing. The long arm of the OH&S supervisor reaches to the eyes, ears, back and knees of workers on job sites across the globe - personal protective equipment is a must in the modern world. There are quite a few extra bits and pieces to put on before you get down to the nitty gritty of a job ... and if you've ever climbed to the top of a roof only to realize that you've forgotten your goggles, work kneepads, or other PPE, you'll realize the importance of integrating these requirement with normal workwear when possible. Today we look at work wear products to help reduce the time burden that PPE creates, and improve safety.

Common types of PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is defined as anything that controls or mitigates a risk to a person's health and safety. The term is most often used in a manual labour setting. Common types of PPE include:

  • Safety goggles
  • High visibility vests
  • Work kneepads
  • Tool vests to replace tool belts
  • Safety boots
  • Ear plugs or earmuffs
  • Face masks
  • Respirators
  • Lead aprons
  • Over the shoulder tool belts

PPE for the legs

Knee injuries have quite a large impact on both the future health and mobility of a worker, their efficiency and also the company's short term budget, in the form of medical cost responsibilities and time off work.

Workwear manufacturers have begun manufacturing work pants that include facilities for complying with PPE requirements, in the form of pants with work kneepad pockets built in. Kneepads can be comfortably worn all day, without the rubbing and constricted feeling that traditional strap-on kneepads can create.

PPE for the hips

The back, neck and knees are the big names in the PPE world, with a range of products aimed at helping maintain their good health. However, the health of hip joints is just as vital to the overall well-being of workers, and although there are few injuries directly associated with the hips and pelvis, accumulated strain here can transfer either up or down the body, to the knees and ankles, or up the back and neck.

One of the major culprits of hip fatigue is carrying a heavy tool belt for long periods of time. There are several solutions to this dilemma:

  • If the tools are not excessively heavy, an ergonomically designed tool belt alone may suffice. There are models available that are lightweight, padded and breathable, and offer multiple attachment points so that weight can be distributed evenly and moved as necessary.
  • To help distribute the weight over the entire body, a tool belt with shoulder straps may be used
  • To spread the load of tools over the shoulders rather than the hips, a tool vest can be used. Shoulders are better designed to carry load for long periods.

PPE for the back

Back injuries can make an enormous dent in both a worker's health and mobility, company budgets and project schedules. The average cost to a company of a back injury requiring corrective surgery can be thousands ; injuries that require continual treatment can cost thousands more, let alone the cost in time off work and low morale per year.

Even distribution of carried weight is essential to keeping the back strong and healthy, and the PPE solutions used for maintaining hip health are equally applicable as PPE for the back. Work kneepads also form a part of the back health equation - transferred stress and unnatural postures used to avoid knee impact can have a direct effect on the joints of the spine.

Current legislation requires several things of personal protective equipment, including that it should:

  • Fit properly
  • Not interfere with other equipment being used (so earmuffs and hard hats should be able to be used concurrently, for example)
  • Be comfortable
  • Comply with relevant Australian Standards
  • Not create additional health and safety risks
  • (What is the source of all these dot points?)

Investing in workwear that integrates PPE makes good sense for contractors, the self-employed, and employing companies.