Safety and personal protective equipment set for growth

Australia is a lucky country, privileged to have what are arguably some of the highest workplace safety standards in the world; however, figures released by Worksafe Australia in February this year paint the picture of a country with some work still to do when it comes to occupational health and safety measures. Kiera Taylor reports.

Statistics published by Safework Australia show that in the eight weeks between January 1st to February 23rd this year, there was a total of 18 deaths in Australian workplaces – that is an average of 2.5 deaths per week. (It is notable that this figure is down considerably from the same time last year, which was 32 deaths.) With three of the deaths this year occurring in the construction industry; two in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry; and one in electricity, gas, water and waste services, it becomes clear that hardware stores can play an important role in helping to reduce fatalities and accidents in many Australian workplaces. This can be done by not only stocking high-quality certified products, but also ensuring consumers are aware of the products needed to do a job safely.

Making PPE top of mind
3M is a global giant in the safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) space, specialising in the respiratory, hearing and eyewear categories.

3M’s Brand Manager for Safety and Abrasives, Construction and Home Improvement Markets, Jacqui House, spoke with Australian Hardware Journal recently, and applauded Australia’s high standards in workplace safety, but urges that there is still more workplace education needed.

“Workplace health and safety is certainly coming to life in more workplaces with the need for protection,” she explained.

“The Worksafe Australia regulations are serious. They provide practical guidance to achieve the standards of health, safety and welfare via its model Code of Practice for Construction Work. Plus we all have a responsibility to ensure that workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks within small and medium businesses, the tradie in a truck, and for DIYers. The behaviour is very slowly changing, but it needs to be changed a whole lot more.”

Ms House said that educating the end user on the long-term effects of not wearing PPE is one of 3M’s biggest goals, and that the products need to fit correctly, and the technology needs to work and protect the user efficiently. These messages are evident in recent updates to 3M’s product packaging. The new colour-coded packaging, currently being rolled out in hardware stores, is designed to both draw the attention of professional users and DIYers, and educate and help them to distinguish the right product for the job.
“Our new Pro Series packaging will reflect the extensive research and development behind 3M’s technology in respiratory, hearing and eyewear. These messages are key for our consumer, because it’s where the decision is made at the shelf,” she said.

“I believe [there is a] lack of knowledge, particularly around the importance for respiratory, how and when to protect our lungs . For example, with the ears and eyes people can feel it. If you’re sanding, you can feel the dust particles so you put eyewear on to protect your eyes. If you’re doing some drilling and sawing, you can hear it, so you put ear muffs or other hearing protection on, and if there’s damage to the eye or the ear, you feel it straight away. With respiratory it’s a long-term effect to the lungs. You can’t feel any damage being done by gases, dust particles or the odours from paint that you’re breathing in and what effect it’s going to have, and unfortunately the result is a long term [condition],” Ms House explained.

“We’ve found in our research that PPE is not top of mind [for the consumer] – so people are not going into a hardware store to buy a respirator or protective eyewear, they’re going in to, for example, buy paint. Respirators are recommended to be available in the paint section, or near the gardening tools and pesticides, to show that this product is needed when they are doing that job. So we’re part of the journey, as we call it – PPE is part of the journey. Retailers could benefit by dual-locating products or having them in areas where certain tools and certain paints and certain pesticides are. It needs to be easily available for consumers a whole lot more than what it is at the moment because it’s not top of mind.”

“And once consumers try it on, our products are recognised as very comfortable,” she said

Ms House pointed out that further research by the company has revealed that comfort is the number one aspect end users are looking for when selecting PPE, and has become a top priority for the company.

“Our products are bringing comfort for the 10-hour work day… be it eyewear, hearing or respiratory.” she said.
“Our research is saying that the professional is basically spending an average of 10 hours a day working, and they need to be protected for that duration.”

“In respiratory for example, there’s a mouldable nose so the mask, or the respirator, fits securely around the face, and we’ve got a mouldable, flexible band around the respirators so it’s comfortable if it’s sitting above the ears or at the back of the head. It’s all about fit for us really – fit and comfort.”

Growth through innovation and compliance
Brett Birkill started workwear company Primemover from the ground up 14 years ago in Melbourne, manufacturing high vis safety clothing. He recently merged his business with Irish company Portwest.

Mr Birkill says that public knowledge on the importance of PPE is growing, as is the need for both compliance and innovation.
“Safety and PPE are becoming more than just an add on,” he said.

“And where it is an add on, it is vitally important that the supplier and the product ticks all the boxes… the continuation of new and latest technologies must be totally up to date and compliant.”

Now trading under the name Primemover Portwest, the company is truly global, which comes with the capacity for large volumes of new innovations. One such recent development is a new tape used in vests and jackets, called Glowtex.

“It’s a triple technology high vis tape. As well as the standard reflective tapes that you see on a lot of safety garments, we add Glowtex specialised tape which glows in the dark. It charges under the sun so at times when there’s no light to reflect off standard reflective tape, the Glowtex tape glows for up to six hours,” he explained.

“So for night use where light to reflect off standard tape isn’t available, which is in a lot of circumstances, we have a new line of products that incorporate this new Glowtex innovative tape. It has been very positively accepted and we expect the range will certainly keep growing,” he said.

According to Mr Birkill, growth in the PPE industry can bring challenges, particularly for hardware retailers, who can end up as the victims of profiteering.

“People come in and see a growing and buoyant industry, and they import or produce cheap and/or mostly non-compliant products, and then travel around to hardware stores, and everywhere else, and offer product that is not compliant, but in almost all cases they will claim it is,” he said.

Mr Birkill recommends that retailers protect themselves firstly by being diligent and asking to see product certification documents if feeling uncertain, and secondly to align themselves with reputable suppliers.

“Good people and good businesses like Primemover and Portwest survive and grow because we do the right thing and make sure everything is right on behalf of our consumers or our resellers, who then pass that on to the end consumers,” he said.

“It’s businesses like ours that put everything on the line, back the product, provide the compliance and give, whether it be to the reseller or the end consumer, complete peace of mind that the product being consumed and worn, is protecting the end consumers on sites and within their businesses every day – which is what the products are for. It’s fully and totally taken care of by us.”

An enhanced consumer experience
Family-owned Australian company, Denbies Group, manufacturer of Rhino Gloves, has set its focus recently on helping hardware retailers maximise return on space, which has led to the launch of a new patented point of sale system.

Rhino Gloves’ Brand Manager, Lance McAlpin, says the point of sale system incorporates into a store’s existing shelving and has assisted in transforming the glove category in-store.

“It educates the consumer as to the best glove for the job. So rather than sticking Rhino Gloves signage all over the store, it promotes the actual specific features and benefits of the product,” he explained.

According to Mr McAlpin, the point of sale system was developed following extensive market research, and looking through the eyes of the consumer.

“[We] extensively profile the customers that shop at hardware stores… asking who’s coming in to this store, what do they require, what are they looking for in a glove.”

What this research revealed, Mr McAlpin explained, was a change in consumer behaviour.

“What we are finding more and more is consumers are looking for a solution to their need, and quickly. And we’re finding they are self-shopping the stores to meet this need. I guess it’s a sign of the knowledge age that we find ourselves in really, where Gen Y are prepared to pay to get the perfect fit. They’ve got quite a lot of knowledge at their fingertips so we provide exactly what they’re looking for with the Rhino Gloves magnet system.”

“The system is designed so that they can come in, go to the glove bay, and they’ve got all the range and information there available. It empowers them to make informed decisions at the glove bay, because often what we find is that by the time the sales staff in the store get to the consumer, quite a bit of the decision has already been made. So the magnet system gives them the information they need,” he said.

According to Mr McAlpin, research is an ongoing process at Denbies, which means the company is always fine tuning its range to suit changing consumer needs and niche markets.

“We’ve introduced the GoFlex glove which is specifically for off-location and is an impulse buyer option in the store, which has worked really well. The other thing we’ve introduced is the Golden Rhino range, which was recently launched as an addition to the original range. It is a premium leather glove range with products such as the Premium Deerskin glove, which is a very unique and specialised glove,” he explained.

“The deer skin glove was actually designed for leather enthusiasts – people that know leather and love its natural properties. The deer skin leather has a unique property that allows it to dry soft and supple, which is different to a standard leather which will dry brittle like cardboard.”

Mr McAlpin said that all of this reflects Denbies’ strategy to provide an enhanced consumer experience at every touchpoint.
“It’s at the forefront of everything we do… it’s at every touch point. So whether it’s in the product material, at a store, the point of sale when they’re making the purchase, and when they’re actually using the glove, so that they return and continue to use the brand for years to come.”

Fit for purpose… and people
A focus on the user, it seems, is universal across PPE suppliers and manufacturers. And where traditionally products were created to suit a particular application, companies like Paramount Safety, parent company of ProChoice Safety Gear, are now broadening their focus to accommodate individual differences.

Paramount Safety Gear’s National Sales Manager, Darren Cook, explains.

“We’ve always created products that are fit for purpose, which means fit for the application – that glove will suit that application, or that spec will suit that application – but that doesn’t always mean that product fits the person properly. If we look at respirators, people’s faces have different shapes, and some respirators might fit my face and work well, but the same respirator may not suit your face because it might be smaller or a different shape. So a respirator might be fit for purpose, but it may not be fit for that person.”

“We’ve got a range of disposable respirators that may suit people who have got a different shaped face. So where I think the industry has changed a little bit is more of a focus to fit the person as well, and not just fit for the application or the purpose, because otherwise it’s pointless,” he said.

But in addition to focussing on consumer needs, Paramount Safety is also dedicated to the retailer, and recently changed its product packaging based on retailer feedback.

“We just redesigned – and it’s starting to be rolled out – the packaging for our whole glove range, which now comes individually heavy carded. In the past, each glove was individually wrapped, so if the retailer had it on the shelf and someone wanted to touch and feel it, they would have to open up the package, and if they didn’t like the glove they tended to just throw it back on the shelf, which leaves a mess and it looks untidy – we’ve all seen that happen. How we’ve designed it now, we’ve taken away the plastic inner packaging so the glove hangs on the retailer’s shelf, which means the punter can take that glove off and try it on without actually ruining any packaging, and can put it back on the shelf if they don’t like it – or of course take it to the counter and buy it.”

Continual innovation
Mayo Hardware has been distributing DeWALT® PPE and safety work boots for the last five years, and has recently developed a new range of both work and performance gloves, footwear and eyewear for Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to significant investment into research and development, Mayo Hardware’s Product Manager, Troy Wagstaff, says the range meets changing consumer demands.

“Our customers are really looking for quality, comfort, value for money and innovation. And we’ve also found that a lot of tradies and DIYers go for brands they trust when it comes to PPE. A lot of them are wanting to align with the brand of their power tools as well,” Mr Wagstaff explained.

“DeWALT® has been working on some innovative safety work boots. We see this as a growth category for the brand and also the marketplace, and a lot of retailers are really jumping on. And innovation has really been the key driver behind the brand in growing and exploring new materials and new technologies, and they go for fit, comfort, weight, and moisture-wicking properties.”

In addition to safety work boots, Mayo has also launched DEWALT’s® RotexTM safety glasses and consumer goggles, which were also made possible thanks to DEWALT’s® investment into research and development.

“The RotexTM are light weight and very comfortable. They come with technology behind the lenses, with a special hard coating process and anti-scratch treatment, and an anti-fog treatment as well. A lot of time is spent on R&D and the engineers have developed high-quality machine tooling, materials and processes. The benefits of using high-quality machinery and tooling is that it gives us the edge with high clarity lenses, which allows the users to be able to wear the products for long, extended periods of time. The level of quality aids in reducing eye strain and fatigue and gives you uninterrupted vision. You can wear the glasses all day if required and they will feel nice and light on your face, and without the effects of eye strain… they’ve been selling really well for us throughout the marketplace,” he said.

A second line of defence to electrical hazards
By Dr Caleb Wegener, Footwear Research & Innovations at Mack

Contact with electricity is the third largest cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for 15 per cent of all fatalities in the industry. As would be expected, electricians account for 49 per cent of the construction industry fatalities due to electrocution. However, other trades are also at a substantial risk of electrocution because of exposure to electrical cables and power tools on construction sites.

Electrical hazards are serious threats in the workplace that are invisible to the worker. While most workers understand the high risks involved with electricity and treat it with due respect, many of the hazards are not easily identifiable. Some construction sites for example, are especially dangerous due to temporary electrical supply and the use of electrical power tools that can easily expose or sever electrical cables.

The majority of health and safety personnel only think of safety footwear as providing protection to impact injuries in the toe region. However, international safety footwear standards also provide protective features to other risks that occur in the workplace, including electrical hazards.

Electrical shock resistant footwear (EH) can provide a secondary source of protection to workers who accidentally come in contact with live electrical circuits, electrically energised conductors, parts or apparatus. EH certified footwear is tested to ASTM F2413-11 and is required to resist 14,000 V (rms) at 60Hz for one minute under dry conditions. EH footwear however, needs to be maintained in good condition to remain an effective second line of defence to electrical shock, as the electrical insulating properties can deteriorate when the footwear has an excessively worn outsole, and/or has been exposed to wet and humid conditions. Due to these potential changes in the level of protection provided by EH footwear during wear, it is essential that workers consider EH footwear as an additional line of defence to accidental contact and not part of their primary protection plans.

Safety footwear typically contains metal components in the safety toecap, shank and eyelets that have the potential to conduct electricity if exposed. It is important to note that these items do not typically comprise a specific safety risk to electrical shock when the footwear is in good condition as they are typically covered with non-conductive materials. However, excessively worn upper or lining materials can expose metal componentry, potentially reducing the effectiveness of EH footwear. Conversely, EH footwear can be manufactured to be completely metal free while still providing the same levels of protection from impact or crush injuries by utilising composite toecaps, non-metal eyelets and TPU shanks. This means that even if the leather on the footwear happens to be split and the toecap is exposed, the toecap will not conduct electricity.

EH footwear can be an effective second line of defence against accidental electric shock. This is particularly beneficial in workplaces such as construction sites where it is difficult to control workers’ exposure to electrical hazards. EH footwear should be monitored and replaced regularly to ensure that it provides a level of protection comparable to those provided in the test environment.

Future outlook
All suppliers unanimously agree that the number one thing end users are looking for in PPE is comfort, followed closely by value for money and overall compliance, and they all agree on the importance of continual innovation and product development. One other thing they unanimously agree on is that the safety and PPE market is growing at a considerable rate, primarily because of Australia’s tight OH&S legislation, and still presents plenty more opportunities for growth.

Brett Birkill from Primemover Portwest, sees possibility for growth in the potential to introduce new products to existing customers.
“The outlook is one of continual growth and development of the industry. PPE is certainly well entrenched now within most businesses around the country, but there’s still room to grow,” he said.

“There might be areas where staff are wearing safety clothing but they have issues with eye protection or hand protection, and so employers will move further into making their employees safer in the workplace. And the emergence of good businesses that provide single source distribution to the end user I think will grow dramatically: so where the end consumer can go to one place to buy multiple items,” he explained.

Darren Cook from Paramount Safety believes the market’s strength also comes from confidence in industry.

“For all workplaces out there, it’s legislated that employers must give employees PPE to protect themselves, so that drives sales obviously… and there’s a bit more confidence in the market as well,” he explained.

“The strong economic market, the mining upturn, and the infrastructure, that’s where I see that confidence is coming from.”
And Jacqui House from 3M believes that growth in the industry is essential.

“I think it’s a strong market and I believe it’s got a lot more potential for growth. It needs to be growing really, to protect Australians,” Ms House said.