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Uniforms make a difference in safety and security

September 19, 2010
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You’ve checked the latest OSHA requirements, written memos to your staff about safety procedures and made certain that your employees comply with facility security requirements.

As important as these tasks may be, you may be overlooking one of your most important tools for safety and security: Employee uniforms.

Whether a worker is mopping floors near a facility entrance on a 100-degree day, working on an electrical system or cleaning an area with potential biohazards, safety issues can be addressed with the right uniforms.

Security of your workers, and all employees and visitors in your facilities, is also an aspect of personal safety and can be enhanced by a strategically planned uniform program.

Uniform service companies (businesses that rent, lease and sell uniforms) provide assistance to customers beyond simply providing garments, picking up dirty uniforms, washing and delivering clean ones.

They also suggest improvements in uniforms and uniform design that can strengthen the role of uniforms in safety and security.

These companies consult with clients — offering performance-related information about the latest textile technologies available for uniforms.

The Uniform and Textile Service Association (UTSA) is an international trade organization that represents these companies.

Uniforms and employee safety
A worker wearing a comfortable, breathable uniform that allows for freedom of movement may be safer than one who is distracted by constricting clothing — less likely to spill a cleaning solution or neglect to don needed protective gear for certain jobs.

In a warm environment, a breathable fabric helps reduce the risk of overheating; today’s spun polyester fabrics can be the answer.

These fabrics are not all like 1970s-style polyester. These fabrics use spun yarns that give a truly cotton-like feel, creating soft garments that people like to wear.

Their moisture management systems ensure that perspiration is moved away from the skin and then evaporates.

The fabrics thus enhance comfort for very active workers and provide odor resistance because, without available moisture, odor-causing bacteria don’t thrive.

Color-retention, durability and wrinkle-resistance properties are as good as or better than the same properties in 65 percent cotton/35 percent polyester blends, while affording much greater breathability and ease of movement.

Darker colors in particular have excellent color retention with this fabric technology.

Socialized safety issues
Employees in different work functions often need specific safety enhancements in their clothing and textile manufacturers are answering.

For example, garments with flame-resistant properties are very important to workers in contact with electricity.

And, the National Fire Protection Association has introduced NFPA 70E, a voluntary standard that covers workers in a variety of occupations, including maintenance personnel who install, maintain or repair electrical systems.

The standard covers five risk categories based on worker tasks, requiring varying combinations of flame-resistance and protection depending on the risk category.

Flame-resistant clothing is ranked using Arc Thermal Performance Values (ATPVs).

Although, some flame-resistant garments have been the subject of complaints about being too warm while working in them, today’s flame-resistant fabrics are more breathable and comfortable than those of the past.

Nomex®, perhaps the best known flame-resistant textile, can be used to make uniform pants, shirts, coveralls and outerwear.

Alternatives to synthetics include adding a flame-resistant finish to cotton garments, which also increases the fabric’s color retention.

New textile advances in splash protection allow workers to be comfortable at work, while having some protection against chemicals or other hazardous liquids. NFPA 1991 is the standard for liquid splash protection.

Workers in need of such short-term exposure protection can be outfitted with uniforms made of fabric, such as GORE®, which provides both protection and breathability to allow perspiration to evaporate, helping avoid overheating.

Situations that may involve uncontrolled chemical flow or chemical vapors, however, may require clothing with higher levels of liquid-tight protection or vapor-protective ensembles.

A uniform rental and service provider can assist with the development of a uniform program that delivers the types and levels of protection needed by your workers.

Uniforms enhance actual and perceived security
A well-designed and distinctive uniform will leave much less room for doubt about a maintenance or janitorial worker’s identity than will a generic outfit with a planned color scheme, but little or no other distinguishing visual content.
To make a uniform design as effective as possible from a security standpoint, apply the following guidelines:
  • Logos and other unique, identifiable business elements, such as slogans, should be incorporated into all possible employee wear items, using consistent colors and designs.
  • Store uniforms collected for laundering in a secure location.
  • Make certain to collect all uniforms distributed to employees who resign or who are terminated.
  • If you change the design of your uniforms, a courtesy announcement, perhaps accompanied by a photo of your new uniform design, should be sent to your facilities’ security management and other key contacts.
  • Keep all employee uniforms in good repair.
A service worker’s less-than-neat uniform may cause employees and visitors to feel uncomfortable, potentially impacting perceptions of safety and security.

A uniform service provider will ensure that needed repairs are made to uniforms, stains are completely removed, worn uniforms are replaced with new ones, and larger or smaller-sized uniforms are promptly delivered if needed.

When you choose uniforms that provide comfort, safety and convenience for employees, and that also reflect sound security practices, you get the greatest possible return on your investment in these garments.

Visit to learn more or to find a UTSA member uniform service provider in your area.

David Hobson is executive director of the Uniform Textile and Service Association. He can be contacted at

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