Despite its shortcomings, last November’s IOM report on certification may have made a lasting contribution to the language. For the first time, a whole document recast what we’ve always called personal protective equipment, or PPE, into the more inclusive phrase personal protective technologies.
We think the IOM committee that was probably responding to its charter, as it was called the Committee on the Certification of Personal Protective Technologies. This echoes the name of the organization that requested and funded the study, the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL). The committee decided to use PPT throughout the report, and provided a brief, early explanation in chapter 1:
PPT are defined as the specialized clothing or equipment worn by workers for protection against health and safety hazards, as well as the technical methods, processes, techniques, tools, and materials that support their developient, evaluation and use. The broad umbrella term of PPT is used in this report as it includes a wide range of protective products and technologies, including the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by workers (e.g., hearing protection, gloves, protective clothing, respiratory protecton, protective eyewear, and fall arest harnesses) as well as technologies such as service life indicators and filtration. PPE is a subset of PPT and refers specifically to the various types of gear worn to prevent injury, illness, or death.
You can see what they’re getting at, even if the explanation is not entirely clear. Some could argue that devices such as service life indicators and filtration are simply components of PPE, and no more deserving of being described as “technology” than any other component. After all, there is a great deal of technology that goes into the design and manufacture of all types of PPE. Think of advanced coatings for lenses, electronic hearing protectors, cut-resistant fibers, strong and lightweight harnesses, breathable material for protective coveralls, and hundreds of other technological advances that are being applied to make PPE – or PPT – more comfortable, versatile and protective.
Maybe the IOM’s definition of PPT is too limited. A better, more inclusive definition of PPT could include not only PPE and components, but other products and technologies that fall outside the traditional definition of PPE, yet are improtant to worker protection. For example, how about instruments and sensors that warn workers about the presence or approach of a hazard, and products such as high-visibility apparel that warn others of the presence of a worker in a dangerous environment? How about technologies that mitigate the effects of accidental exposure to hazards, such as first aid kits and emergency eyewashes and showers? Taking it one step further, how about associated technologies such as system design and engineering, product testing and approval, user training and product maintenance? All these technologies are interdependent, and fall logically under the PPT umbrella.
So let’s call it PPT. ISEA is moving in that direction, recognizing that PPT is a more appropriate description of the products and services its member companies provide today, and that it’s open-ended, able to encompass new technologies that will evolve to provide worker protection.