NC_OLD170: Personal Protective Technologies for Current and Emerging Occupational Hazards
Statement of Issues and JustificationCurrent events from hurricanes to sabotage of transportation systems highlight the importance of improving personal protective equipment for "first responders" and "first receivers" as well as members of the agricultural community. The proposed project will address the needs of all three groups and facilitate transfer of best practices among them.
America's first line of defense in any terrorist attack or natural disaster is the "first responder" community - local police, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals as well as the "first receivers" in medical care facilities. There are over 1 million firefighters in the United States, of which approximately 750,000 are volunteers. Local police departments have an estimated 556,000 full-time employees, sheriffs' offices have an estimated 291,000 full-time employees, and there are over 155,000 nationally registered emergency medical technicians (EMT). According to the Department of Homeland Security "Properly trained and equipped first responders have the greatest potential to save lives and limit casualties after a terrorist attack." (http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0197.xml). Current U.S. capabilities for responding to a terrorist attack or natural disaster vary widely across the country. Even the best prepared states and localities do not possess adequate resources to respond to a full range of terrorist threats. (Source: First Responder Website.) Without clothing that is more protective and suitable for first responders at a variety of levels of preparedness, these people face an unacceptable level of risk.
Personal protective technologies protect individuals from a wide range of existing and potential occupational health hazards. Researchers and designers with expertise in textiles and apparel play an important role in the development of textile materials and garments to address protective clothing needs for various occupations. The education of stakeholders in the appropriate use and integration of personal protective equipment (PPE) is an important part of the development and use of these systems.
The development of effective PPE and training personnel in its use are the focus of NC-170 research. The group is recognized in the agricultural community for leadership in addressing the protective clothing needs of pesticide applicators. We have recently taken the lead in the development of national and international standards in this area. Our established track record as NC-170 researchers and the transferability of the existing body of knowledge to address similar issues for additional occupations clearly positions us to address the needs of other stakeholder groups; firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians, emergency room personnel and armed forces personnel.
Since the hazards facing first responders are often unknown, these people must be prepared for multiple hazards. This entails provision of and training with multiple types of clothing and equipment. There is a need to examine this issue from a systems perspective. Whatever hazard is being considered, the success of protective clothing is dependent on multiple interacting issues. Garment design, user input, textile properties, anthropometric data, garment/equipment interaction, worker acceptance, thermoregulatory response, range of movement, decontamination, and cost all affect the selection or performance of protective clothing. Clothing that protects the worker from the hazard at the expense of mobility or thermal response will affect work performance; clothing that does not fit well cannot offer protection or safety; and clothing components not considered from a systems perspective may leave areas of the body exposed to the environmental hazard. Basic work in human factors related to PPE is required to develop the knowledge base in the field to address these issues. Resolving these complex issues for the first responder community requires materials and prototype development, testing, design and redesign in an iterative process using systems thinking and research collaboration in order to find optimum solutions. The facilitation of research collaboration and communication with users can be optimized with the development of communication systems and strategies that make information available for all researchers, designers, and users of the technologies under development. The approach that we have designed for this project is broadly divided into three major stages: materials research, garment design, and development of communication systems. Progressing from concept to a viable outcome requires iterative work within each stage as well as collaborative work among the stages of the process. See attachment for a schematic illustrating this process.
Research activities related to work for first responders and first receivers is in an early phase of research and design development. Work on protection for the agricultural community is in more advanced stages of the process and the development of communication systems for users of PPE for pesticide applicators is underway.
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