Certified to Prevent Painful Encounters

Certified to Prevent Painful Encounters

Personal protective equipment (PPE) saves lives – full stop. Have you ever thought about what happens before you strap on your live-saving gear? JACO DE KLERK takes a look at the origins of PPE as well as the manufacturing and testing processes behind some of today’s equipment.

Humans, like most every other creature on the planet, are obsessed with self-preservation. It’s no wonder that PPE – while perhaps not exactly as we know it today – has been around for thousands of years …

After studying lice in modern humans, David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History, at the University of Florida in the United States, found that humanity started wearing clothes 170 000 years ago.

Why lice? “It’s because they are so well adapted to clothing. We know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn’t exist until clothing came about in humans,” Reed explains. So, his five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

The data shows that modern humans started wearing clothes about 70 000 years before migrating into colder climates and higher latitudes, which began about 100 000 years ago. “It’s interesting to think that humans were able to survive in Africa without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn’t until they had clothing that modern humans began moving out of Africa into other parts of the world,” adds Reed.

Clothes are thus our original PPE that protected us against the elements and broadened our horizons. Things have become a lot more high-tech, however; the personal protective clothing manufacture Charnaud’s Metal-Safe gear being an example.

Thanks to a blend of high-strength fibres, the Metal-Safe range provides protection to workers undertaking welding, electrical and metal foundry tasks. It offers protection against life-threatening hazards such as fire, static, electric arc flash and severe molten red metal splash. (And, believe it or not, it can be washed in water at residential or industrial laundries.)

Andrew Charnaud, founder and chairman of the company, adds that all its materials are sourced locally; “thereby reducing overhead costs and turnaround times.”

Charnaud has been at it for quite a number of years. Established as a husband-and-wife team in 1975, the Ladysmith-based company now has a large number of employees and a geographical footprint that spans over 30 countries on five continents.

It’s clear that PPE has come a long way since its prehistoric, cold-combating origins to where it’s protecting people’s lives … “So it’s super important to get it right from the word go,” adds Colin Oliver, managing director of MSA Africa.

This is why research and development is non-negotiable. “Our products go through very rigorous testing processes at these facilities,” Oliver emphasises. He adds that they have to comply with a vast range of standards and specifications.

To drive his point home, Oliver explains the testing process behind MSA’s locally manufactured hard hats – which comply with both European (EN) and South African National Standards (SANS). “The product has to go through two specific tests that we conduct on every batch manufactured at our facility in Johannesburg.”

First up is an impact-resistance test. “For this test we use a mock-up head onto which the product is installed,” Oliver points out, adding that a 1 kg weight is then dropped onto it from a height of one metre. The impact on the neck’s vertebra is then measured to determine if it is in accordance with the standard. “If it is below a certain measurement, then the product complies with this part of the standard.”

Next up is the penetration resistance test. “In this case there is another weight, of slightly less than 1 kg. It has a sharp point and has to be dropped from a height of one metre onto the hard hat,” Oliver elaborates. He says that the weight is allowed to penetrate the outer shell of the hard hat, but isn’t allowed to touch the liner that touches the head.

“The specifications also require that the tests are done under three different temperature conditions; room temperature, 50°C and -5°C,” states Oliver. “We do those tests on every batch of hard hats that we manufacture, and we get audited by the South African Bureau of Standards on an annual basis. If our products pass all the tests, we get to continue to apply the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark to the product.”

However, the company doesn’t only take regulatory specifications into account. “Typically, as part of our research and development process, we expose out prototypes to various customers on a global basis before we make the last refinements to the products and then start manufacturing the final version.”

One example is the Gallet F1XF Fire Helmet launched at the end of last year.” The research and development on this product started three years ago,” Oliver points out. MSA showed the prototype to various customers worldwide and incorporated their feedback into the design of the product.

It is evident that PPE walks a long and very tested road before it makes its way to the workplace … and with companies, like MSA, investing massive amounts of money into research and development, in order to stay abreast of the latest lifesaving developments, PPE will continue to protect people for many years to come.

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