Understanding the importance of PPE and high-visibility clothing for engineers

High-visibility clothing can make an engineer more visible to others.

By Nick Warrick November 14, 2022
Courtesy: Cementex Products, New Products for Engineers Database

High-visibility clothing insights

  • High-visibility clothing can make an engineer more visible to others workers and protect them from unforeseen circumstances.
  • Flame-resistant clothing is also imperative for those who work around explosive chemicals.
  • PPE is a necessity to keep plant floor employees and operators safe.

All industries carry risk. From mechanics to bakers and construction workers, window installers, and dog trainers, occupational safety is a factor everyone must consider. Plant engineers aren’t excluded from this “club.” Plant engineers must wear flame-resistant (FR) gear and clothing when they work around or with chemicals and organic solvents that may explode, as well as high-visibility clothing. It’s also necessary for engineers to wear the proper type of personal protective equipment (PPE) too.

What type of PPE should engineers use?

Regarding PPE for engineers, two of the most important types are high-visibility clothing and FR clothing. Modern FR clothing has several unique characteristics. What you need and should use depends on the specific occupational risks. As a result, there are many different types of FR clothing for all types of occupations. While this is true, most flame-resistant clothing is uniquely designed to resist intermittent exposure to heat or flame.

Why is PPE for engineers necessary?

Plant engineers need to use PPE any time they work around chemicals that may react with the water or air around them, resulting in a combustible explosion. If these chemicals combust, there are a range of risks that occur, including:

Flash arcs

Also called an arc flash is the flash of light and heat seen after a reaction. It is released from the energy that can heat the air to around 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, the risk to the engineer is real, and there’s also the possibility of a pressure wave being released.

Flash fires

Like a flash arc, a flash fire occurs after the accidental emission of some type of flammable fuel. The longevity and size of the flash fire are determined by several factors, which include how much fuel is released accidentally.

Flash fires can reach temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the injuries that most plant employees suffer usually occur within the initial six seconds of the flame burst.

Combustible dust

Any type of fine particulate material that moves through the air and has the potential to explode when it contacts an ignition source is considered combustible dust. These materials include fine metals, textile fibers, or solid organic materials.

What type coverage should you look for when choosing PPE?

Engineers should consider the amount of skin coverage required if employers don’t have set requirements regarding FR clothing. This will help them figure out what clothing is needed. For example, some tasks may require coveralls, while others require long gloves and an apron.

NFPA’s PPE categories

The NFPA (National Fire Protective Association) in the U.S. has identified four types of hazardous risk categories for flame-resistant PPE. In these four categories, “one” represents the least PPE requirements while “four” requires the most PPE requirements. The categories are considered set performance criteria and used to guide the minimum requirements for FR testing after undergoing a series of testing protocols.

Employers must provide plant engineers with flame-resistant clothing requirements if they are needed for the job being done. This could or could not be a safety requirement based on the jurisdiction. Engineers need to consider requesting information regarding the safety processes their employers have in place if they have not been provided.

Tips for engineers to know what type of PPE they should wear

Even if you have a solid understanding of the different types of FR clothing, it’s challenging to know what should be worn and when to wear it. Risk exposure and plant requirements are two important pillars that can help you determine the proper PPE selections.

Assessing occupational hazards

It’s the employer who is responsible for the occupational safety and health of workers. They must often comply with the local occupational health requirements related to PPE, too. In the U.S., OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) oversees worker rights and established protections.

The guidelines established by OSHA establish that plants need to conduct hazard assessments to figure out what PPE is required for workers on the job and when it should be worn. The hazard assessment also needs to outline the type of clothing an engineer needs to wear. If there are any grey areas in this assessment, it may be wise for the engineer to review general information regarding PPE when selecting FR clothing.

Is high-visibility clothing a type of PPE?

High-visibility is a type of PPE. It is made using highly reflective materials that help reduce the potential of worker injuries and fatalities. Equipment operators and motorists can easily see workers in dark or low-light environments with high-visibility clothing. A person’s eyes respond best to bright, contrasting, or large objects. Because of this, the significant contrast in color between hi-vis clothing and the background will improve worker visibility.

One of the most used types of high-visibility clothing is fluorescent lime or orange vests that include reflective stripes in an “H” pattern on the front and the back. The bright fluorescent color ensures the wearer can be seen during the day, and the reflective stripes make it more likely to be seen at night, increasing their overall safety. A few options are available for this type of PPE apparel, including pants, t-shirts, jackets, and vests.

The right PPE reduces risks, injuries and fatalities

When plant engineers know and use the right type of PPE, it will help to reduce risks, injuries, and potential fatalities. They will also know what type of PPE they should use daily when in a certain work environment or working around certain potentially dangerous materials.

– DEP is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Author Bio: Nick Warrick is the sales manager at All Seasons Uniforms, a professional workwear company based outside of Chicago that has been in business since 1991.