This article looks not just at the types of clothing to keep us safe from arc flash, welding, and electrical hazards, among others, but takes a moment to look in detail at the physiology of what we’re protecting – our skin.

The primary reason, although certainly not the only one, for wearing protective clothing is to protect your body’s integumentary system. But what is the integumentary system and why should you protect it? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it contains the body’s largest organ, and while it is only a few inches thick it covers your entire body. Give up? It is your skin, hair, nails, and endocrine glands.

According to Dr Tim Barclay, Senior Editor of Inner Body1: “The integumentary system is an organ system consisting of the skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands. The skin is only a few millimetres thick yet is by far the largest organ in the body. The average person’s skin weighs 10 pounds and has a surface area of almost 20 square feet. Skin forms the body’s outer covering and forms a barrier to protect the body from chemicals, disease, UV light, and physical damage. Hair and nails extend from the skin to reinforce the skin and protect it from environmental damage. The exocrine glands of the integumentary system produce sweat, oil, and wax to cool, protect, and moisturise the skin’s surface.”

If you’re like me, you have probably believed that the purpose of skin is to keep your guts and organs from spilling out all over the floor, but, like me, you would be wrong.

“skin forms the body’s outer covering and forms a barrier to protect the body from chemicals, disease, UV light, and physical damage”

According to the BC Open Textbook, Anatomy and Physiology, by Rice University: “The skin and accessory structures perform a variety of essential functions, such as protecting the body from invasion by microorganisms, chemicals, and other environmental factors; preventing dehydration; acting as a sensory organ; modulating body temperature and electrolyte balance; and synthesizing vitamin D. The underlying hypodermis has important roles in storing fats, forming a ‘cushion’ over underlying structures, and providing insulation from cold temperatures.”2

And yet, despite the high importance of our skin and related organs, many of us take it for granted. We all know that the skin, hair, and nails play a key role in regulating our body temperature. Few of us are unaware of the dangers of UV rays on our skin and its role in melanoma and other forms of cancers and many people slather themselves in sun block every time they go outdoors.



Armour up


The authors of Anatomy and Physiology take things even further and warn against tattoos. According to them: “The word ‘armour’ evokes several images. You might think of a Roman centurion or a medieval knight in a suit of armour, yet the skin in its own way functions as a form of body armour. It provides a barrier between your vital, lifesustaining organs and the influence of outside elements that could potentially damage them.

For any form of armour, a breach in the protective barrier poses a danger. In the workplace we tend to consider accidental breaches, yet people often puncture the skin for aesthetics and medical necessity, too. Sharps injuries, impalings, having blood samples taken, and adorning the skin with piercings and tattoos all puncture our body’s first line of defence, with associated dangers including allergic reactions; skin infections; blood-borne diseases, such as tetanus, hepatitis C, and hepatitis D; and the growth of scar tissue. And of course, depending on the severity of the incident and whether infection is left to fester, death. Once having punctured or weakened the body’s natural first line of defence – whether through choice in your leisure time, or in a workplace incident – you’re an easy target for all manner of harmful germs, microbes and other infectious agents.

Many people damage their skin without realising it. Smoking, for example, has been shown to permanently damage your skin, and dehydration, or more accurately, lack of proper hydration plays a major part in skin that is damaged and that looks prematurely aged.

Protective clothing


The most common and effective way to protect your skin is to cover your skin using the most appropriate protective clothing. Here are some of the most effective ways of protecting your skin through the use of protective clothing.

Trousers


Your employer probably has a written policy requiring you to wear some sort of garment that covers the lower half of your body, but even if such a policy doesn’t exist it’s good policy to do so – especially when working outdoors. Yes, even if you are a professional lifeguard. Surfers for years would shed their wetsuits and put on loose-fitting trousers over their bathing trunks; if they can do it and still look cool and be comfortable then you can quit your whining about it being hot. The bottom of your trouser legs should be tucked into your socks to keep insects or other vermin from crawling up and biting you; take it from me.

Your employer probably has a written policy requiring you to wear some sort of garment that covers the lower half of your body, but even if such a policy doesn’t exist it’s good policy to do so – especially when working outdoors. Yes, even if you are a professional lifeguard. Surfers for years would shed their wetsuits and put on loose-fitting trousers over their bathing trunks; if they can do it and still look cool and be comfortable then you can quit your whining about it being hot. The bottom of your trouser legs should be tucked into your socks to keep insects or other vermin from crawling up and biting you; take it from me.

“I pulled down my trousers only to find an enormous spider scrambling out down my leg” I was once providing safety consulting for a motion picture when I felt pain in my knee. I inspected the knee of my trousers for signs that I may have suffered a trauma but saw nothing. It was extremely hot, but given the localised nature of the pain I ruled out sunburn fairly quickly. As the pain continued, I went into the toilet, pulled down my trousers only to find an enormous spider scrambling out down my leg. I tried to capture said arachnid by gently picking it up with a piece of tissue. I didn’t know what kind of spider it was and feared it might be poisonous. Well it turns out I was about as gentle as Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and when I opened the tissue I found a dead wolf spider. I felt really bad; wolf spiders in general are afraid of humans and this one was apparently just trying to get my attention – the outcome for me could have been far worse.

Shirts


Shirts should always be tucked into your trousers, and light-coloured long-sleeve shirts are the best protection when you are working in an area where insects might be present, particularly ticks which stand out on light coloured clothing. Ticks and other stinging and biting insects often attack from above so long-sleeved shirts are essential and as with the legs of your trousers either tuck the ends of your gloves into your shirt sleeves or select gloves with tight fitting sleeves long enough to be worn over your shirt sleeves.

If you are in an area where biting or stinging insects are likely, be sure to have a colleague do a quick visual inspection of your clothing to ensure no insect is on your person. A quick look is all that is required; I am not saying you should groom each other like a group of bonobos, but a quick visual inspection is essential so that you don’t inadvertently transport the insect to your vehicle or office.

Gloves


Gloves as protective clothing come in many shapes and sizes and selecting the right type of glove is dependent on the type of protection you are seeking. A driving or golf glove, for example, is to prevent blisters from forming after repetitive motion, whereas cut resistant gloves are designed to protect against the skin becoming slashed or punctured.


Socks should always be worn. Socks protect against blistering from friction with your shoes, cover exposed skin and offer limited protection against UV radiation. Your socks should extend high enough up the leg to allow you to tuck your trouser leg into them for the reasons stated previously.

Hats


Hats protect your head and sometimes your face and neck from overexposure to the elements. The appropriate hat can shield you from the sun, keep you warm in cold weather, and protect you from insect bites. Even if your job requires you to wear a hard hat or bump cap, you should carry a cap with you and don it when you are not wearing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Scarves


Scarves aren’t just for winter wear. A scarf made of a light fabric worn while working out of doors can protect your neck from sunburn. Scarves have also long been used to protect from the inhalation of dust.

Special-use protective clothing


Certain tasks will require specifically designed protective clothing, and not to wax melodramatic, but the right protective clothing can be a matter of life and death.



SOURCE:

https://www.hsimagazine.com/article/the-integumentary-argument/