Do we know enough about the workwear being used in and around the workplace? Murray Simpson, of the Textile Services Association, explains that FMs should be taking far greater responsibility for work clothing.
12 September 2014
Workwear is not high on the priority list for facilities managers.
But the management, protection and selection of workwear could make the difference between success and failure in some situations and can certainly affect the performance of a service provider.
Think of the places where the right protective clothing is critical. All workers need the appropriate clothing because workwear serves two purposes: to protect the employee from the product, or to protect the product from the employee.
Personal protective clothing, or PPE, is a specific sub-set of workwear whose purpose is to prevent injury and mitigate the risk of hazards in the workplace.
Think about the technical teams working in heavy industry such as steel plants or petro-chemical facilities - or maintenance teams in a food production unit. The performance of the workwear is crucial.
Workwear performance is the responsibility of the employer, which more often than not means it is an FM who has to ensure that the clothing is performing correctly. It is the employers who have a duty of care to provide and repair the apparel necessary for a specific type of work. That also means it is the employers' responsibility to make sure that workwear is clean, hygienic, and fit for purpose.
Consequently, understanding workwear and how to manage it better is becoming an important element of the FM's routine. That also means taking control and educating employees and colleagues about how to take care of the clothing.
One crucial area is hygiene, recently looked into by the European Textile Services Association (ETSA). Failing to wash workwear can generate a risk of infection in the workplace and also among the people with whom you or employees might come into contact. ETSA assessed the washing habits of people to determine what the risks of infection might be. More than 30 per cent of respondents to the ETSA survey wash their own workwear worn in an industrial environment with their ordinary clothes, and 91 per cent use the same dryer for both types.
Only 48 per cent separate the two sets of clothes and only 25 per cent are concerned about a risk of contamination, which is probably why, although 40 per cent of respondents know that bacteria can be eliminated if garments are boiled or washed at 90°C, the average temperature used at home is 48°C. Perhaps more worryingly, even though they know that their hands can carry vast numbers of germs only 25 per cent of people asked bother to disinfect their hands when handling clean workwear.
This attitude to washing work attire - and clothes generally - is all too common and can seriously jeopardise the hygiene and safety of the workplace. Clothes washed at home that are visually clean and fragrant are not necessarily microbiologically hygienic. What's more, PPE that is washed at home might actually be damaged during each washing cycle and its protective qualities - be they high-visual strips or infection-resistant fabric - may be slowly eroded. But despite the fact that the employer's duty of care means they are directly responsible for the occupational health and safety of their employees and customers, the ETSA survey indicates that only half of employers check the state of their employees' workwear.
It is a risk employers should avoid, which means making sure the FM team oversees the professional commercial cleaning of all PPE as well as its initial procurement. It saves time and money in the longer run. There are clear steps an FM to ensuring that workwear is maintained effectively and is hygienic. First, select the right workwear:
- The correct selection of garment (conforming to all relevant British Standards and European standards and regulations) is a prerequisite, as is the delivery of a competent wash process that doesn't damage the inherent protective qualities of the garment. The most efficient method is to choose a laundry that provides a specialist service subscribing to the 'SUCAM' principles that PPE should be correctly Selected, Used, Cared for and Maintained.
- Save time and money by working with an external supplier. The alternative is time spent sourcing, sampling or trialling workwear (plus the outlay), and then the cleaning or getting staff to wash them. Can you guarantee that domestic cleaning is not damaging the properties of the fabric? Are you or your employees able to organise repairs? Are the garments fit for purpose and do they comply with health and safety or hygiene regulations, and how can these garments be correctly tracked or audited?
- FMs should avoid the false economy of home laundering or use of a non-specialist contractor as it often puts the integrity of the garment at risk.
- Provide onsite changing facilities and secure lockers where employees can store their own clothing to encourage a culture that enables you to manage the workwear of your team and stop them taking it home.
- The critical need for any FM dealing with PPE is to take control. It is vital not to take the workwear for granted and trust the employees. Take precautionary measures to ensure that the duty of care is met - talk to a Textile Services Association member or direct to the TSA. To take charge effectively FMs must find the right commercial partner - one obliged to adhere to strict European and international standards using professional and high-tech laundry equipment.
Murray Simpson of the Textile Services Association