For the rail industry, it’s safe to say that the devil is in the detail. As an industry committed to increasing and improving safety and performance, it’s never been more important to have a clear knowledge of Personal Protective Equipment product specifications.
With this comes the need for a full understanding of why some standards, specifications and European Norms are simply not sufficient when considering wide scale procurement.
Selecting The Correct Product For The Job
When selecting workwear for a specific job or environment it’s now common practice to work closely with a variety of suppliers and manufacturers during the early stages of the tender process. Their individual offerings can be assessed and the clothing, fabrics and components which are best suited to the task in hand selected.
It’s not just within the Rail Industry but also across many other industries which rely on foul weather PPE that comfort and performance are the biggest concerns for the majority of workers. Simply put, they want garments that keep them visible, keep them dry and block out the wind for an entire shift. If the PPE supplied does this then it will actually get worn on the job. Garments which fall short on comfort or performance, can slow down their work or for any other reason result in dissatisfaction or non-use which are likely to increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
It would, therefore, seem logical and strategic to involve workers in all the stages and processes of choosing and procuring protective clothing. Purchasing for safety but also worker satisfaction is key.
To Start With…
As a starting point all products should, at the very least, meet the minimum health and safety requirements which conform to industry standards such as CE, Railway Group Standard GO/RT and EN Norms. It could be said, however, that checking to ensure workwear provides the correct level of protection against identified risk, while also suitable for the job in hand, is too simplistic and can open up the process to risk. Selecting products based purely on entry levels or minimum requirements and which are not validated could lead to, or result in procurement failure because it does not allow other important factors to be taken into account, whether physical or financial.
Financial Costs Due To Failure
Sourcing and selecting PPE which ultimately fails to perform due to lack of validation of performance or proper wearer trials can be a very costly business if the original garments are unused and/or continued need for replacements. As well as these ‘known’ costs there are also ‘hidden’ costs, such as time spent managing end user complaints or wasted in meetings needed to solve the problems. In addition, there are costs involved in workers’ downtime, when they are unable to perform tasks, work effectively and complete work schedules to timeline, while the impact on staff morale and job satisfaction when PPE fails also needs to be considered.
Clean and Seen
Being seen is vital, especially operating in high risk environments due to the nature of rail and track-side work. An important factor for visibility is ensuring supplied PPE is certified and proven to be industrially launderable so that a garment is maintained to EN 20471, GO/RT3279 specifications and SUCAM.
Foul Weather: Consider Using EN 14360 Alongside EN 343
EN 343 tests the performance of the outer material of the garment against rain but not the entire garment. What sets EN 14360 – the European Norm for ‘Protective Clothing Against Rain’ – apart from EN 343 and other norms is that it tests and assesses the functionality of the entire garment, not just its component parts.
EN 14360 is important regarding foul weather protection because it ensures other wearer factors are brought to the fore, such as checking seams are securely sealed to prevent rain penetration, pocket flaps are designed to keep out rain and that the garment continues to perform after laundering and continuous wear.
The cost of testing to EN 14360, carried out by an independent body such as EMPA in Switzerland, can be off set against the potential overall costs when a procurement process fails and the wrong PPE, which doesn’t protect the worker, is supplied.
The importance of procuring exactly the right type of PPE to meet the specific needs of rail workers should not be underestimated. Working closely with suppliers to ensure garments are designed and constructed to minimise risks in the workplace and offer durability in wear and laundering is not only beneficial for staff but also cost effective for employers.
Wearer trial check list
- Before wearer trials commence – test all fabrics, components and garments in independent laboratory conditions
- Agree best location and time of year to conduct assessment
- Clearly define the aims of the wearer trial and provide instructions to the wearers
- Consider the need for each garment in the trial to be tested by each person.
- Have designated control and organisation to the trial
- Ensure the laundry process is included as part of the validation – each product should be laundered several times between wearing periods
- Test foul weather PPE during the worst end use conditions possible
- Wear every fabric or garment under the same conditions
- Ensure wearer feedback is easy to complete, straight forward and conducted daily
- Carry out ‘blind testing’ so wearers don’t know different products are being tested
- Duplicate at least one test so data quality can be verified.
Wearer trials do have a cost implication and they can be complex. Whilst it may take several months to obtain and validate product suitability in order to mitigate the risk identified, the alternative is that products do not meet the required end users’ needs for safety, comfort and foul weather protection.