Exposure to high temperatures on the job can put workers at risk of heat stress. Whether that be outdoor or indoor work conditions, heat stress poses a threat to worker health and productivity.
Alongside environmental acclimatization, rest breaks, and proper hydration (see our last post on heat stress!), employers can also help to ensure workers are supplied appropriate personal protective equipment or PPE. Bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment is a factor that puts workers at a greater risk for heat-related illness, and as a result, many companies are focusing on lighter weight breathable products to help workers combat heat stress. Not only does heat stress mitigation improve worker health and safety but it can improve productivity as well. By reducing the distraction of physical discomfort workers can focus on the task at hand.
High Performance PPE Characteristics:
- Weight. Heavy garments can add to a workers’ heat load. Flame-resistant properties of many new inherently FR fiber blends allow for a high level of protection without adding extra weight.
- Breathability. Heat trapped against the skin causes temperatures to rise, contributing to heat stress. Breathable clothing allows hot air to escape through the garment, minimizing the rise of skin temperature and keeping the wearer cooler.
- Moisture Wicking. Excessive perspiration leads to skin irritation and heat rash. Moisture management apparel keeps workers dry with a blend of both Hydrophilic (water loving) and Hydrophobic (water hating) fibers. Hydrophilic fibers absorb moisture, pulling it away from your skin. Hydrophobic fibers push moisture away, spreading it out so it can quickly dry. Fast drying also helps to mitigate heat stress by through evaporative cooling.
- Design. Fit and garment features can help combat heat stress without sacrificing protection. Looser fitting garments allow for more breathability and moisture release, while features like venting and gussets also improve airflow.
Per ISHN, “even with proper training, workers who have to wear specialized PPE for long, grueling hours might avoid properly wearing items they consider uncomfortable, which can put them at risk.” An easy way to keep PPE comfortable and adjustable throughout daily tasks is with high performance layering. Layering with lightweight, moisture wicking, and breathable garments results in the ability for the wearer to stay comfortable, without sacrificing protection.
Using a performance FR base layer cannot only play an important role in combating heat stress, but the first thing a worker puts on becomes their last line of defense. An FR layer against the adds additional protection and eliminates the very real possibility of a non-FR undergarment (even 100% cotton) igniting underneath their FR shirt. Plus, clothing that is comfortable is more likely to worn, encouraging compliance, and reducing the risk of injury for the worker.
Wearing a 100% cotton undershirt can get uncomfortable on a hot day, making it tempting to cheat the system and wear one of your favorite athletic tees. FR performance base layers like DRIFIRE provide all the comfort of your favorite workout attire without the risk of injury. Moisture management helps to naturally cool the body and combining light layers increases your protection without adding significantly to your heat load.
So what are your key takeaways for staying healthy and productive in high heat work environments?
- Set an acclimatization plan within a 14 day period to settle into the conditions.
- Take frequent rest breaks as needed.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- Lastly, choose the proper PPE that won’t hinder the body’s natural ability to cool down.