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The Future of PPE

07 October 2021

The future development of PPE should be focused on equipment that is well-designed and, importantly, comfortable to wear. This will encourage workers to want to wear PPE – and wear it correctly – to help ensure greater safety in the workplace, explains Pete Holdcroft.

AS THE world adjusts to life amid COVID-19, there has been one notion that appears, inevitably, to sit with many of us - the notion of focusing on the positives. Despite the many hardships the pandemic brought, we must consider the changes and innovations that it forced us to make for the better. We brought new ways of working and a renewed focus on how to solve hard challenges.

For the health and safety industry, particularly within professional workspaces, arguably one of the biggest positives to come out of the pandemic is the recognition and awareness of personal protective equipment (PPE). Globally, in fact, this market is predicted to grow by 7.8% between 2020-2025.

Indeed, the term PPE is now widely recognised as a household name. Images of bruised-faced nurses and doctors, who worked tirelessly through the peak of the pandemic while wearing masks and face shields for hours on end, are burned into our memories. Seemingly all at once, there was global attention on the effectiveness of different types of PPE. 

Notably, too, there has been a shift in professionals’ perception of PPE across industrial and health industries. For decades, it has been essential. Now, though, there is an expectation for it to incorporate more than just the immediate protective benefits. Protection is the priority, yes – but in order to best enforce that protection, the tool itself needs to be well-designed, functional, and importantly, comfortable to wear. 

Technology-focused innovation

At the heart of well-designed and comfortable equipment lie the manufacturers themselves. These are the people living in the details; those that are innovating PPE to take it beyond its basic protective functions. 

When we talk about innovation, in this case we are referring to the different types of technology and sensors that can be integrated into PPE to 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 workplaces and equipment that allows for remote noise monitoring, performing annual audiometric screenings and hazard training on the irreversible impact of noise-induced hearing loss. 

Honeywell’s Verishield smart hearing solution is a good example of this. Not only does this line of protective headsets prevent against occupational noise-induced hearing loss, it also continuously monitors the ambient noise in an environment through integrated technology to help users understand exposure levels and identify risks before they become a health issue. 

Ultimately, product innovations that integrate technology can allow users to be more responsive if a safety issue occurs and are empowered to be more predictive of future safety hazards. In doing so, workers are given more control over their safety in the workplace, both for immediate and long-term health. 

Combining function with design

Throughout the pandemic, we saw the rise of fashion-forward masks from apparel companies that offered different patterns, colours and imagery for users to choose from. As the industry welcomes in a new, younger wave of workers, manufacturers should be prepared for them to have this same sense of wanting to choose and express personal style. 

Industrial safety PPE extends the full portfolio of head-to-toe protection. There are harnesses for those who work at height, gloves for those who work with sharp machinery, rubber boots for those who work in electrical safety, among others. When manufacturing new PPE products across the board, designers should look for ways to incorporate personal choice and style when possible. Functionality to protect a worker is of utmost importance, but choices in style and design may lead to better adoption rates. 

In fact, our collaboration with musician and tech innovator, will.i.am, to launch the XUPERMASK is a good example of this. The mask, which combined HEPA filtration, Bluetooth technology, and noise cancelling headphones all into an athletic fit, illustrated how consumers could enjoy the benefits of PPE without compromising on style. 

User-centered design approach 

Outweighing everything is, as ever, the user. And when it comes to the future of PPE, this could not be more true. After all, if a worker is not willing or happy to wear a particular PPE solution at all times, then it cannot do its job in providing full protection. 

And it’s the attention to those small innovations that can have a large impact on making sure PPE is designed for correct and consistent use. At Honeywell, an experienced team of designers and engineers work diligently to take in customer feedback at their design labs to make sure future safety products employ features users wish to see and use. 

Take the Honeywell Miller® H500 safety harness. By integrating evidence-based feedback, this piece of equipment provides “best-in-class” anatomically and ergonomically designed pressure-relief breathable paddings for more comfort and freedom of movement, which, in turn, reduces worker fatigue on the job by keeping them cool and dry. 

It’s important to note, though, that feedback should be used to inform the whole experience, not just one pain-point in particular. That is why 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, manufacturers have the ability to understand product features users wish to see, and then strive to deliver solutions that exceed 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. 

Productivity sits at the core of future PPE

The last two years have given rise to varying industries and markets and, at least within the health and safety sector, personal protective equipment is certainly one. Whether it’s technological innovation, keeping up with the latest trends or simply taking customer feedback onboard, the future development of PPE will be a vast and exciting space.

Sitting at the heart of these developments, though, is of course safety. With this increased focus, awareness, and indeed, expectation of what and how the future PPE should be, there is an opportunity for the industry to better encourage safety within the workplace – no matter how extreme or routine their environment. If workers are proud of their equipment, they will want to wear it – and wear it correctly – which we know is so important for maintaining safety. 

Lastly, and arguably above all else, if a worker feels safe and comfortable, they are likely to be more productive. Safety and comfortability therefore should be key considerations for any business, but particularly those within industrial workspaces. 

PPE is the glue that keeps everything in place – and the future of your workforce depends on it. 

Pete Holdcroft is director of user experience design at Honeywell. For more information, visit https://sps.honeywell.com/us/en