Will Smart Clothes Improve Occupational Safety?

April 25, 2005

öSmart clothesö are clothes that employ new technological developments that make it possible to integrate electronic components into conventional clothing. In demanding conditions, such as working in heavy industries, very specific demands are placed on work apparel and materials, as they must protect the wearer from any hazards found in the working environment. Smart clothes design offers new material technology applications to make work apparel safer and more specifically suited to the work and environment in question. Smart clothes also make it possible for the wearerÆs vital functions to be monitored using, for example, an electromyograph.

The goal of the Academy of Finland has funded a research project is to develop methods and models for the research and design of smart clothes as well as to study matters related to their usability and social acceptability. The project approaches new, multidisciplinary research fields through the research of clothing design, fiber material technologies and physiology.

The material applications used in new types of work apparel include impact-protective materials, which can be divided into two categories: phase change materials and auxetic materials. "One example of phase change materials might be d3o, which is made of ösmart molecules.ö Phase change materials move normally with the body, but when impacted, they protect the wearer by instantly hardening and then returning to their normal state once the impact load is released," explains researcher Mailis MSkinen.

Auxetic materials, on the other hand, are energy-absorbing materials, whose cross-section expands when stretched. "Auxetic materials include metals, ceramic or polymer materials or composites. These materials withstand pressure better than standard materials," says MSkinen.

Garment-integrated electronics or other types of components in particular present problems in the washing or maintenance of the garment. In many cases the high cost of new materials discourages their adoption. Intelligent garments are being studied as part of the AcademyÆs PROACT Research Program The University of Lapland Department of Textile and Clothing Design, Tampere University of Technology Institute of Fiber Material Science, and University of Kuopio Department of Physiology are participants in the research project. The project is part of the Academy of FinlandÆs Proactive Computing Research Program.

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards û Download Free

The NPG is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals/classes for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals. Although the NPG does not contain an analysis of all pertinent data, it presents key information and data in abbreviated or tabular form for chemicals or substance groupings (e.g. cyanides, fluorides, manganese compounds) that are found in the work environment. The information found in the NPG should help you recognize and control occupational chemical hazards.

The Pocket Guide includes:

      1. Chemical Names, synonyms, trade names, conversion factors, CAS, RTECS, and DOT Numbers


      2. NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits (NIOSH RELs)


      3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Permissible Exposure Limits (OSHA PELs)


      4. NIOSH Immediate Dangerous to Life and Health values (NIOSH IDLHs)


      5. A physical description of the agent with chemical and physical properties


      6. Measurement methods


      7. Personal Protection and Sanitation Recommendations


      8. Respirator Recommendations


      9. Information on Health Hazards including route, symptoms, first aid and target organ information.



Broom Software for Biohazards from Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories researchers have developed a software-based tool called BROOM ù short for Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model ù to assist in the gathering of samples following a release of biological warfare agents in a public facility.

BROOM is intended to help officials of airports, transportation centers, and high-traffic public buildings during planning for a possible reoccupation and return to service and assist cleanup personnel in restoration operations. A major piece of the BROOM tool is a hand-held electronic device that assists HazMat crews in collecting and managing the many thousands of samples that are collected to characterize contamination in a facility and to verify that the facility is clean following decontamination.

The three-year joint development project, a collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and includes partnerships with San Francisco Bay area airports as model facilities for restoration. Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration lab. Sandia researcher Mark Tucker says the main objective of the BROOM project is to develop methods to minimize the economic impact of a release of biological agent by conducting restoration operations more rapidly than can be done now.

ôThe current process in collecting samples is very cumbersome,ö says Tucker. ôBROOM helps streamline the process.öHazMat responders can gather samples only during short periods of time due to the heavy gear they must wear, and for safety reasons. To make it easy for the responders to carry the software tool, the researchers assembled a handheld device that incorporates the BROOM software, a barcode scanner, and a wireless laser range finder to accurately identify where the sample was taken. The handheld device looks simple, but lots of information can be stored in the pocket PC. The device also holds the contamination map and layout of the location where the responders are collecting samples.

The deviceÆs scanner reads barcodes placed on vials where the samples are stored. Sample barcodes provide a way to monitor the transfer of samples from the field to the lab. They also help automate the process of merging field data with laboratory results. In addition to barcodes, data specific to each sample are recorded in the handheld device. Information such as the sample type, surface type, surface orientation, surface area, and surface texture are recorded for each sample. The sample collector records himself as the person who acquired the data and may also write additional information about the sample in a notes field.

All data are then transferred to a PC outside the contaminated area by wireless transmission. The results are displayed on a map on both the handheld device and the PC. The first sampling is done right after a determination is made of what the contamination is, where it occurred, and what techniques should be used to gather samples. If spores or other biological contaminants are found, the facility requires decontamination.

During the decontamination process, strips of paper containing a nonpathogenic bacterial spores similar to anthrax are mounted throughout a facility. Immediately following decontamination, these spore strips are collected and analyzed for live spores. If live spores are found on the spore strips, the decontamination process must be repeated.

Collection and analysis of the spore strips constitutes the second stage of sampling. The third stage focuses on clearance sampling to ensure that the area is safe and clean for reentry. The BROOM tool can be used to assist in each stage of the restoration process.

An exercise, in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), to test BROOM was held recently at Sandia. NIOSH establishes standards and methods for biological sampling. Previous work done by NIOSH includes anthrax sampling at the Hart Senate Building and at the Brentwood and Trenton postal facilities after the 2001 anthrax incident. The exercise at Sandia involved a release of a harmless simulant used to mimic a biological agent. NIOSH crews in full HazMat gear using the BROOM tool conducted a realistic sampling exercise.

During the first day of the three-day exercise 24 samples were collected and entered into BROOM. The diagram showed hot spots in the area where the contamination occurred. The remaining two days consisted of additional sample collection, as well as analyzing and testing BROOM. The exercise was a tremendous success, says Tucker. ôAlthough the NIOSH crews provided some feedback about minor changes to the BROOM software, they were, in general, very impressed with the product,ö Tucker says. ôIn fact, they want to further evaluate BROOM by using it in their future sampling operations ù both those that involve biological agents and those that involve more routine sampling operations for investigations of occupational hazards.ö

Health Effects of Welding

NIOSH and the West Virginia University (WVU) Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health (IOEH) are teaming up to sponsor an international seminar, ôHealth Effects of Welding,ö on July 23-24, 2005 in Morgantown, W.Va. Leading experts from around the world will gather to share the latest information in key research areas regarding potential respiratory, neurological, and reproductive effects associated with welding fumes or inhaled welding particles.

OSHA Says Lack of Training Leads to Fatal Austin, Texas House Collapse

OSHA recently cited an Austin-based house leveling company for alleged violations of safety standards, following the investigation of a fatal accident last December. Proposed penalties total $14,700.

Austin House Leveling & Soil Stabilization Inc., which employs about 12 workers, was cited by OSHA's Austin area office for seven alleged serious safety violations. OSHA's investigation began Dec. 28 when a 100-year old house workers were renovating shifted and collapsed on them.

"One worker was killed and another injured as the workers scrambled to escape the falling structure that was not properly supported," said John B. Miles, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas. "This accident was preventable had the company followed construction standards and trained employees to recognize hazards."

The alleged serious violations were issued for failing to train employees, failing to require hard hats, improper use of jacks, and failing to follow OSHA's excavation standards, including those which require support for structures adjacent to excavations. A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard of which the employer knew or should have known.

As part of a special emphasis, the OSHA regional office in Dallas has implemented an outreach program to address and improve job safety and health in the residential construction industry in Texas. "An important objective of this special emphasis program is to reduce work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses among the large Hispanic workforce in the state's residential construction industry," said Miles.

OSHA's seven area offices throughout Texas will focus their resources on local factors that have contributed to serious injuries or fatalities. Other program objectives include motivating workers and employers to emphasize safety; encouraging the involvement of employees in analyzing and eliminating hazards; and establishing sound safety and health programs in English and Spanish that covers the full range of work practices used by local companies.

OSHA Issues Guidance for Reducing Perchloroethylene Exposure

Perchloroethylene is a commonly used chemical in the dry-cleaning industry that can pose serious health hazards. 

"This booklet provides practical and effective guidance on ways for dry-cleaning operators to reduce worker exposure to perchloroethylene," said Jonathan L. Snare, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "Reducing exposure to this potentially hazardous chemical is emphasized through a combination of preventive maintenance and control of leaks in dry-cleaning equipment, proper ventilation, and good work practices."

Perchloroethylene is a volatile organic chemical that can cause serious health hazards. Dry-cleaning workers who routinely breathe the solvent's vapors or spill it on their skin are at risk of developing health problems, including skin, liver, and kidney damage, and possibly cancer. The inhalation of the chemical has been shown to cause numerous health effects such as dizziness, loss of coordination, memory loss, and blistering of skin.

The new document provides information on the health hazards and current regulations, as well as recommendations on methods for reducing worker exposures. It also provides information on training, personal protective equipment, and some of the new technologies available in the dry cleaning industry.

The publication also addresses how good work practices can greatly minimize worker exposure to perchloroethylene vapors. For example, peak exposure levels can be reduced by several hundred parts per million simply by proper positioning of the head and body during transfer operations. Other effective work practices to reduce exposures are listed in the accompanying fact sheet.

OSHA Renews Partnership with AMEC Americas

OSHA and AMEC Americas have renewed their partnership that encourages construction employers to improve their safety and health performance and eliminate the most common workplace hazards affecting the construction industry.

"We welcome the opportunity to continue our partnership with AMEC and build upon our efforts to improve worksite safety and health for construction workers," said Jonathan L. Snare, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "We will continue to work toward our objective of significantly reducing occupational-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the construction industry."

The partnership stresses the implementation of enhanced safety and health management systems and increased employee training. The partnership also underscores the importance of employee involvement in the daily implementation of work site safety and health.

OSHA and AMEC Americas will work together to accomplish the following key goals:

      1. Reduce workforce injuries at each participating work site to 30 percent below the national construction industry rate;


      2. Expand awareness of the value of effective safety and health management systems;


      3. Support and encourage subcontractors toward greater participation in OSHA's cooperative programs; and


      4. Convey safety and health best practices and injury/illness reduction lessons learned at participating worksites.


AMEC provides design, project delivery and maintenance support to clients in the oil and gas, transportation, industrial and infrastructure sectors. AMEC has previously entered into local OSHA partnerships with the city of Chicago, as well as site-specific construction projects in New York City.