Will Your Workwear Weather the Challenges of Climate Change?

We’ve all seen the effect of climate change on the planet; soaring temperatures, extreme weather events, and unpredictable seasonal weather patterns. For the many thousands of people who work outdoors or in environments where they rely on PPE and specialist workwear to perform their jobs safely and comfortably, climate change is having a more direct impact.

We work with clients from across a range of industries; from utilities and construction to grounds maintenance facilities and refuse collection services, where a great deal of the work is done outdoors, often in extremes of weather. Traditionally, companies will procure different types of workwear and PPE for the winter and the summer. Towards the end of September, as it gets colder, wetter, and darker, we see a peak in sales of thicker waterproof garments, bulkier jackets, and warmer items for the winter. In the run-up to Spring, the focus is on lighter-weight showerproof garments in anticipation of warmer weather, typically, a poly-cotton polo shirt underneath a Hi-Vis vest or jacket.

 

Adaptable PPE and workwear

Thanks to the effects of climate change, the seasonal lines are blurring. As we’ve recently seen, searing heat waves can be replaced by cold winds and torrential rain very quickly. This unpredictability requires a layering approach to workwear that ensures workers stay warm and dry with a thin, mesh-lined waterproof breathable outer layer worn over a selection of different thicknesses of warmer garments. Layering provides the flexibility to adapt to whatever the weather brings.

 

Longevity versus cost

However, the most important factor for the workwear procurement team is the quality of the PPE and workwear garments they are providing for their staff. Buying the cheapest products; lightweight or poorly made garments at the lowest end of the quality spectrum can seem cost-effective, but a lack of longevity of these garments could mean you end up buying it twice. A more cost-effective approach is to procure workwear that might be 50% more expensive but will last three or four times longer.

In the PPE and workwear industry, there are three groups of people to be considered: the workforce, the procurement team, and the health and safety team. When staff are working outdoors, whether that’s on the docks on the Scottish coast, in freezing weather conditions, or on a construction site in searing temperatures, they are wearing boots, gloves, and other items of workwear for up to 12 hours a day. It must be comfortable and have the right ergonomic fit; the comfort, safety and wellbeing of the workers are paramount. The procurement manager needs to be happy with the quality and longevity of the workwear products they are buying, while the focus of the health and safety management team will be on ensuring that protective garments meet the required specification.

 

Quality and longevity; key to sustainability

Another important issue is sustainability and the environmental impact of PPE and workwear. Recycling workwear and PPE has posed challenges due to the complex materials used in their manufacturing. However, modern advancements have enabled the recycling of many items of workwear, such as Hi-Vis clothing, gloves, eye protection, helmets, and footwear. The most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of clothing is to increase the useful life of garments. WRAP research shows that extending the life of clothes by nine extra months can reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by around 4% to 10% each. Buying quality workwear and PPE reduces the need for regular renewal and therefore any environmental impact while easing pressures on the PPE and workwear budget.

 

Focus on climate change

The changes that we’re already seeing; unpredictable weather patterns and a rise in extreme weather events are having a profound effect on the workwear industry, yet, from our own experience, we believe that it will take even more dramatic climate change to significantly impact companies’ PPE and workwear buying decisions.

The garments are there, but what’s needed is a greater understanding and insight into the procurement of PPE and workwear against a backdrop of climate change, with a focus on quality and longevity that will enable workers to stay safe, comfortable, protected, and productive, whatever the weather.

Published on 11 August 2023

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