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The range of protective gear (personal protective equipment, or PPE) available for use in the construction industry continues to expand with new developments in PPE technology and enhanced safety requirements imposed by government entities, employers, project owners, and insurance companies. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the need for additional PPE (for example, N95 masks) to help in disease prevention when infection rates are high.
Top Protective Gear Construction Trends
Fit and Comfort
Proper fit plays a big part in the effectiveness of construction protective gear. There is a direct correlation between the comfort of PPE and compliance with rules and regulations regarding the use of PPE.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with fit as PPE design criteria because workers may not wear PPE properly or adjust the fit properly if the item is uncomfortable. So, there is ongoing research and development to come up with PPE that can be adjusted for better fit and more comfortable wear as well as provide greater functionality and protection against injury. Among recent developments are:
- Reusable N95 masks made of transparent materials to improve facial recognition and communication
- Respirators that provide a better fit for workers with facial hair
- Masks produced by 3D printing for a better, more comfortable fit
- Gloves that are thinner, more flexible, and fit better
Materials technology continues to evolve in the direction of lighter, thinner, more flexible materials that not only protect workers but also enhance productivity. For example, the protection afforded by flame-resistant material used to be determined in large part by the fabric’s weight. With recent advances in textile technology, this is no longer the case. The same degree of protection provided by a single layer of one of today’s lightweight flame-resistant materials used to require multiple layers of much heavier fabric.
Smart PPE Technology
Great advances are being made in developing PPE capable of monitoring the wearer’s heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation level, and other biometric data while on the job. Some smart PPR can read and transmit blood alcohol levels.
Smart PPE alerts both the wearer and the manager when the biometric readings suggest an elevated risk of injury or other physical harm to the worker. For instance, a smart wristband or belt can detect joint stress and alert the wearer, who can change positions, alter posture, or take a break to stretch overtaxed muscles.
Heat and physical exertion monitors are particularly helpful in warmer regions, as they allow construction managers to keep a watchful eye on workers’ health under conditions that could lead to heat stroke. It makes far more sense to require a worker to take a break when biometric data suggests that prudence is called for than to end up sending someone to the hospital.
The collection and use of biometric data from PPE is being driven by business objectives that go beyond merely meeting OSHA and insurance requirements and address issues related to worker retention, productivity, and work quality. Expect to see more PPE innovations in the future.
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