The only constant is change
08 November 2022
Appropriate workwear suited to the environment and weather conditions is key to ensuring protection and productivity at work. Workwear that is perfect for a wet November morning on a solar farm in Wales is not suitable for a sweltering day on a London building site, says Laura Colleary.
How cold is cold? In workwear, a cold environment is defined as -5°C or below and it considers air velocity (wind) and humidity. Cold work environments include cold storage in the food industry, where workers can work in temperatures as low as -18°C all year. It also includes outdoor work environments when temperatures plummet seasonally.
The product standard that most employers are familiar with is EN 342: 2017 - Protective clothing. Ensembles and garments for protection against cold. If protective garments are suitable for cold protection, they will have been tested to this standard. The standard provides estimates for the maximum duration a worker can wear a garment based on their activity level, the temperature of the environment and the insulation value of the clothing, which can be helpful when choosing garments.
Once the workwear has been tested to EN342, other helpful tips to ensuring the supply of the most appropriate garments to workers is to consider the type of work they do. Stationary workers such as machine operatives may prefer the comfort of a heavyweight quilt lined Jacket, trouser or coverall. If a worker bends down a lot throughout the day, they may choose an insulated coverall to protect their lower back from the elements. Workers who are more active may prefer a lightweight thermal lining with supreme warmth-to-weight ratio. This type of innovative lining can be up to three times warmer than standard insulation. Seek out heat reflective linings that reflects heat back into the body ensuring maximum warmth and comfort
When cold hazards are present, motor skills can be reduced, leading to increased risks of accidents and injury. Specially designed thermal hand protection is available. The standard EN 511 Protective Gloves Against Cold specifies the requirements and test methods for gloves which protect against convective and contact cold. Hand protection can provide cold protection in additional to other performance factors such a grip, cut resistance or impact protection.
Here comes the rain
Protection from rain is a common functionality that is required for many outdoor workers. EN 343:2019 - Protective clothing - Protection against rain is the standard that applies to garments worn in such weather conditions. Garment innovations to protect against rain include waterproof membranes that allow perspiration to escape while preventing water getting in. Or an internal double coating of PU can provide the same results. A fabric finish can repeal water and cause droplets to bead up and roll off the fabric, preventing water gathering on the garment. But no matter how good the fabric is, if it is not constructed using taped or welded seams, water can get in. Enhanced features for maximum functionality can include specially engineered watertight pockets, durable waterproof zippers, double storm flap for protection against driving wind and rain. And an engineered hood, hems and sleeve cuffs ensure a precise fit to keep water out.
Layering for change
The use of layers in cold conditions will help to trap warm air between the clothing and skin offering enhanced level of insulation. In changeable conditions, the use of breathable layers will allow workers to build up and down throughout the day. Consider thermal base layers, t-shirts, sweatshirts, Jackets, with the addition of complementary trousers, gloves and a hat for an effective layering system. Quality design ensures these garments fit comfortably when layered allowing workers to move freely. For active work, garments should transport moisture through moisture wicking technologies and look out for garments with a high cotton content, with the cotton next to skin to keep workers cool.
With global temperatures rising and the scorching temperatures of last summer, we cannot overlook the risk to workers involved in the over 2000 mines and quarries operating in the UK. The workforce above and below ground face extreme temperatures, UV radiation and dehydration which can lead to heat stroke and loss of cognitive function. Below ground a working environment with temperatures of over 40°C is common all year round. Maintaining compliance to the necessary safety standards, whilst remaining cool and comfortable can be a tricky balance. Workwear is now widely available to prevent and minimise these risks. Product engineering using UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), lightweight and heat resistant materials can result in workwear with the necessary safety protection which combined with adaptive product design, to place ventilation and performance fabrics in high sweat zones, offer greater comfort by reducing friction, increasing breathability and moisture management.
Above ground, in the construction, agriculture, mining, oil and gas and other industries, there are many complementary products that can extend personal comfort and lower thermal stress. Evaporative cooling products in the form of cooling vests, sleeves, head bands and neck towels are made with phase changing materials whose unique polymer chemistry can absorb heat energy.
The harmful effects of the sun can seriously compromise workers’ health. Heat related fatigue and illness costs employers time and money, as well as having an ill-effect on individuals’ health. For the ultimate sun protection, Wearing suitable UPF garments, hats and spectacles with UV protection can provide the ultimate sun protection. Products such as hats with neck shades, offer even better protection to the regular workwear.
Keeping industry moving
The only constant in life is change. This is certainly true of our weather. With temperatures last year in the UK dropping to record lows of -23°C and soaring to highs of 40°C, workwear manufacturers must continue to innovate for challenging working conditions.
Laura Colleary is senior marketing manager at Portwest. For more information, visit www.portwest.com