The development and validation of protective clothing test methods are very important to industrial hygiene practitioners. These methods will eventually help to ensure that protective clothing performance data are comparable, meaningful, and available to field personnel. However, field problems are typically very complex, with multiple challenges placed on protective clothing, as well as the users. The “perfect” protective clothing item is rarely, if ever, found in practice.
Protective clothing challenges can often include combinations of heat, tear, and cut hazards, rough surfaces, puncture hazards, and complex chemical mixtures. Fitting problems, differences in performance of similarly-described clothing from different manufacturers, and occasional poor quality control can cause additional complications for users. Training in the proper wearing of clothing, whether or not the equipment is considered disposable, worker acceptance, comfort, flexibility, compatibility with the work being done, and other more subtle issues also influence whether or not clothing is actually used. Dermatitis aggravated by personal protective equipment use, skin cleaners, and hand creams can also present problems to clothing users. In addition, practical guidelines for assessing toxic risks from dermal exposures to chemical agents are critical if we are to meaningfully apply protective clothing performance data.
This paper presents some of the factors that must be considered during personal protective equipment selection, and gives specific examples of typical selection problems. Engineering, job layout, and skills' training solutions are needed to minimize the need for personal protective equipment and to ensure effective use when it must be specified for protection.