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Heads together

12 April 2021

The BSIF Special Interest Groups bring members together to resolve common issues and provides up-to-date intelligence on their market.

In the normal course of everyday life (if anyone can remember that far back) by far the most frequent encounter with personal protective equipment (PPE) that you are likely to have would be with an item of protective clothing or protective gloves. 

Whether it is the headline grabbing shots on the evening news of government experts, investigating an alleged chemical poisoning in their all-encapsulating protective suits, to the thousands or orange and yellow jackets and trousers being worn by teams repairing a worn-out motorway. Your builder will wear gloves to protect his hands when moving bricks, as will the supermarket assistant stocking the freezer cabinet with frozen food. Landscape workers rely on protective clothing and gloves when applying herbicides, as do those who use chainsaws, or carry out welding. There is PPE for those who ride motorcycles too, but the point is not the task or the occupation but the risk that the user faces.

The starting point for all PPE is an understanding of the risk to the worker, and the type of protective equipment which will be required. Once that has been established the crucial work of developing a “standard” for the equipment begins.

Standards are essential to the user and to the manufacturer. To the user they specify that a minimum level of performance for the PPE has been attained, with a clear indication of the product properties which have been assessed to determine that performance. To the manufacturer it focuses design and enables economy of scale to be achieved in manufacturing to a national or international standard.

In the UK standard development work is carried out under the authority of BSi – the national standards body. For each area of protective equipment there is a standards committee (known as PH committees) whose task is to develop standards on behalf of the UK, whether as standalone national standards or as participants in the development of international standards through CEN (The European Committee for Standardization) and ISO (The International Organization for Standardization).

At the heart of the BSIF lies the Special Interest Groups (SIGs). There are currently eight and each one focuses on an area of safety and safety equipment. The Protective Glove and Clothing Special Interest group (PG&C SIG) does exactly that. Drawing on the unsurpassed expertise of its members the group seeks to advance the cause of safety in any matter that relates to protective gloves or protective clothing.

The PG&C SIG currently has over 200 members across all sectors of the safety industry, from design and testing to manufacture, sales, distribution and consultancy. As the leading body for the Safety Industry in the UK the BSIF sends representatives to all relevant BSi PH committees, ensuring a healthy flow of vital information to and from the ‘front line’ to the standard and law makers.

In the case of PG&C the SIG monitors and sends representatives to 25 PH committees.

Key issues

Logos and Laundering – the impact of adding a logo to a piece of protective clothing for instance, or of laundering it can be very considerable – and very often totally ignored or overlooked. Clearly the act of stitching on a logo can compromise barrier properties, but there can also be an impact on performance areas such as antistatic or flammability. 

Similarly, the laundering process can have a significant adverse effect on the performance of PPE. The User Information Sheet, along with the CE label in the garment, provide clear instructions on the use, care and maintenance of each item of PPE. This is key to ensuring the garment is compliant for its appropriate life-cycle - not following these instructions can result in the garment no longer complying to the certificated standards and potentially not providing the protection anticipated.

For example, if reflective tape is washed or dried at excessive temperatures, then the glass beads can come away from the silver backing of the reflective tape. 

This may not be clearly visible during daylight but will mean the essential reflective properties of the tape will not be present in darker environments, when light needs to be reflected back off the tape in order to make the wearer visible. Where garments are being altered or repaired by a laundry service provider, it is imperative that factory original components are used. So, if a trouser certificated to EN 11611 (welding) and EN 11612 (heat & flame) is repaired with a standard poly-cotton fabric then the entire garment performance is compromised, and the wearer is no longer protected in line with the garment certificate. 

Gloves protecting against mechanical risks – 

The standard that covers these risks – EN 388 – is probably one of the most used of all. It addresses properties such as resistance to abrasion, puncture and cut. Those familiar with the industry will be aware that at the last revision some significant changes were made to how cut resistance was dealt with. A second test was added and the marking of performance levels on the gloves was changed. The PG&C group published guidance to help users and choosers understand the changes. The standard remains under scrutiny as a programme of coordinated international laboratory tests seeks to improve the cut test to improve repeatability within labs and reproducibility across labs with the aim of increasing confidence in the results. This is one of the many topics BSIF members monitor and influence though their participation in PH/3/8.

Clothing that protects against chemicals –

Protection against chemical (and biological, radioactive and nuclear) risks are addressed by PH/3/3. One of the emerging topics which are members are engaged with is the proposal to review ISO 16602 which establishes minimum performance, classification and labelling requirements for this category of PPE. The current ‘type’ classification system was established over 20 years ago in Europe and was mirrored in the ISO standard. A proposed revision of the ISO standard seeks to take a more risk orientated modular approach to classification. There is considerable interest in these suggestions in Europe, with the potential that a joint EN-ISO standard may result. 

The groups meet regularly and play an important role in supporting the UK safety and health market. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk