Roger Salmon explains that it is economic, best practice and good governance to adhere to legislation on workwear and choose a professional option
9 April 2015 | By Roger Salmon
Clothes can define you, but if you work in the service sector you often don't have a choice of uniform, PPE or workwear.
There is a choice about the care of the clothes you wear. But that choice needs to be made by the employer - the FM - and not the employees.
The implications of making the wrong choice are set to become more severe if recommendations to turn European Union directives on workwear into legislation - covering the whole garment life cycle from manufacture and supply to aftercare - are realised.
Protective clothing refers to garments designed to protect the wearer's body from injury caused by blunt impacts, electrical hazards, heat, chemicals or infection. For job-related occupational health & safety purposes, garments such as flame-retardant overalls, chemical-resistant aprons or anti-viral barrier garments exist. When they are not cared for properly they will not do their job - and that is the fault of the company providing the protective clothing.
What are the rules?
FMs and all service solution providers have a duty of care to their staff. You must know the rules or you are not meeting your legal obligations. There are eight European guidelines ranging from EN 471-ISO 20471 regarding high visibility, to EN 14058 and EN 342 about ensembles garments for protection against cool environments and EN 13034 covering requirements for chemical protective clothing. The standards mainly apply to the manufacture and supply of the garments, however, it is the after care that is going to be critical to their whole life and the performance of the clothing.
Simply supplying your employees with protective clothing that meets European standards in that it 'preserves the health and safety of users' and 'provides adequate protection against all risks encountered' fulfils only one part of your legal responsibility. As an employer, you are not only responsible for selecting and supplying suitable protective clothing for the specific hazards of the job, but also for its correct care.
Correct maintenance means professional care - not washing at home. It involves more than keeping a protective garment looking clean and fresh. Some garments have protective coatings that require special cleaning; others have to be checked for holes or dangerous residues that can compromise your employees' safety. Every garment also has a limited number of times it can be cleaned while retaining its protective qualities, so this also needs to be monitored to ensure that the garment can be replaced at the appropriate time.
Duty of care
Garments with high visibility and protection against chemicals, extreme heat or cold are easy examples, but there is also a cost for not caring for something as mundane as a woollen jumper. We are aware of public bodies where staff are given uniform sweaters and then regularly supplied with replacements because they have washed them at home and shrunk them - repeatedly. So, the duty of care covers the legal obligations around protection and the responsible management of budgets, especially public money.
Decision-makers are recognising this and our members are seeing some changes in attitude, particularly in the food production market. Keith Donovan, commercial director at Clean, said: "There is a growing trend for companies to move from domestic care to professional, industrial care for their workwear garments because they know it gives better control and compliance. Cost control and accountability are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to measure when adopting a 'domestic wash' approach. You cannot track garments and you have no idea if they are clean, let alone if they are technically 'fit for purpose'."
The best approach is to form a partnership with a professional, full service provider to provide your employees with physical protection and your company with legal protection over the full lifetime of a protective garment. A full service company will check each garment every time it is laundered and has staff with the skills, facilities and equipment to ensure that every garment it sends you meets the requirements of the many European standards that apply.
Full service extends the lifetime of a garment as it is given the optimum care at each laundering. The service provider manages your protective clothing inventory and carries out regular reviews to ensure the correct levels. You should also save on staffing costs for managing your protective clothing. Another benefit is you don't need to hold stock for emergencies or seasonal peaks as your supplier takes care of this. You'll also know that the laundry will have efficient equipment designed to make the best use of water, energy and chemicals - and waste treatment will be closely monitored to meet the most stringent environmental standards.
This approach is not just best practice; it is good governance. And if EU guidance becomes law this spring, then not pursuing best practice will have severe consequences.
Roger Salmon is chief executive of the Textile Services Association