Comfort is a safety issue. Perhaps more so with protective clothing than with any other type of PPE. Simply because protective clothing that is too uncomfortable is unlikely to be worn correctly. Users take risks – unfasten zips, tear holes in the back and so on – to gain a little comfort. And risks mean accidents.
The biggest influence on comfort is the breathability of the suit; the ability of the suit to allow air in and out. Lakeland’s Cool Suits have been specifically engineered to address the problem of comfort, using a unique and innovative design to allow some breathability. This blog looks at how Cool Suits work and where and when they can be safely used.
Chemical Safety Clothing: Breathability by Design.
The best ideas are often simple. The Cool Suit design is no different. Chemical suits cover the whole body. And yet, walk into any factory where they are in use and you will notice that where contamination has occurred and is visible, in most cases it is limited to the legs, arms and front of the garment. Rarely will you see contamination on the back of the garment (for obvious reasons; in most cases users face the hazard). This highlights that for most applications the primary need is for protection to the front of the garment and on the sleeves and legs. This allows for some flexibility on the back of the suit where some breathability can be introduced.
All Lakeland Cool Suits feature a breathable rear panel of “SMMS” Safegard GP, allowing air to pass in and out of the suit. In the case of Cool Suits certified to Type 4 (MicroMax TS Cool Suit, ChemMax 1 and ChemMax 3 Cool Suits, and Pyrolon CRFR Cool Suits), this breathable panel is protected by a cover of the suit’s main material, sealed at the top and sides, and left open, with a generous over-flap at the bottom.
Thus, whilst the air can pass in and out of the suit under the bottom of the protective flap, in the unlikely event of a splash of liquid chemical on the back of the garment, the liquid will simply run down the flap and off the garment harmlessly. Only if a liquid sprays up the back of the garment and inside the flap, might there be a risk of the liquid entering the garments. Even if some minor splashes do enter behind the protective flap, the breathable panel provides a “safety buffer” preventing penetration inside the garment. Through this innovative design, Lakeland Cool Suits achieve effective Type 4 chemical protection, with a level of comfort that no other suits can match, and without an unacceptable compromise of safety.
The Bellows Effect and Chemical Hazmat Suits
The Bellows Effect is a natural result of a coverall made of non-breathable material. In effect, when the wearer moves around through walking, climbing or any other normal work activity, air is pumped around the inside the suit because it cannot escape through the fabric (You can see the result when the legs of a coverall “bellow” as a wearer walks).
However, the breathable panel on a Cool Suit provides an easy route for this “pumped” air in and out of the suit, thus assisting and increasing the flow of air. So, in a Cool Suit, because of the “Bellows Effect” the more active the wearer, the more the air circulates, and the greater the comfort!
Are You Type 3 or Type 4 for Chemical Protective Clothing?
European CE standards identify five different Types of chemical protective clothing. Liquid protection is defined by Types 3, 4 and 6. Whole suit testing for these Types involve the chemical suit (worn by a test subject) entering a spray cabin and being subjected to different liquid sprays according to the Type.
Type 6: Light aerosol Spray
Type 4: Liquid “shower-type” Spray
Type 3: Liquid jet Sprays
Cool Suits are acceptable in most cases for Type 6 and Type 4 applications. However, more commonly in Type 3 applications Cool Suits would not be acceptable – especially where the risk includes the possibility of a spray of liquid up the back of the garment and under the protective flap. (Even in a Type 3 application, unless a strong jet is sprayed up the back of the garment and under the flap there should be no problem. Though Cool Suits are certified only to Types 4, 5 and 6).
Understanding the difference between Type 3 and Type 4 is important in answering the question “Can I safely use a Cool Suit?”
Where can you use Chemical Cool Suits safely?
In general terms then, Cool Suits are available and suitable for most Type 6 and many Type 4 applications, but generally not for Type 3. There are, however, exceptions: –
- For very high hazard and highly toxic chemicals, where very small amounts of chemical may be harmful, Cool Suits are probably not a good choice. Even the small compromise of protection at the back of the suit is not appropriate.
- In any application (whether Type 3, 4 or 6) if there is a realistic possibility of the liquid spraying up the back of the garments and underneath the protective cover, then Cool Sits are probably not appropriate (Though remember, the breathable panel is SMMS SafeGard fabric, so does provide effective Type 6 liquid protection)
In short, many users involved in applications requiring chemical protection are currently using suits that are more uncomfortable than they need to be. Lakeland Cool Suits provide a realistic option for an improved level of comfort for those users. The key is to understand the application and through a risk assessment establish whether a Cool Suit is a safe option.
Chemical Safety: When in doubt…
Of course, with any situation requiring PPE to protect against workplace hazards the best policy is “if in doubt, maintain the highest level of protection possible”.
However, the danger presented by chemical suits that are too uncomfortable should not be underestimated. Leaving aside the problem of heat exhaustion – itself recognized as a hazard – the possibility of users taking risks to gain a little comfort is real. Walk into any factory where chemical suits are used, and you will see the reality of too uncomfortable suits.
Meanwhile, the benefits of improving comfort should also not be underestimated. You can read more about these here, but they include better work rates, better productivity, improved job-satisfaction and lower staff turnover rates. In short, better comfort can have a direct benefit on a company’s bottom line.
You can read about other ways to enhance the comfort of chemical suits here.