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NIOSH's new testing tool could help improve protective clothing
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently announced that it will use sweating thermal manikins in research aimed to improve protective clothing worn by workers at risk of heat stress. This new testing tool will be used in NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) to measure heat transfer through various garment types.
The manikin’s ability to sweat helps researchers evaluate the performance of protective garments in hot environments. Pores in the manikin’s fabric skin layer secrete water when set temperatures are reached. By simulating a sweating human, scientists can calculate the evaporative resistance of a garment.
According to Jon Williams, Ph.D., research physiologist at NIOSH, additional testing methods were necessary because tests used prior to the manikins did not account for garment features and scenarios that could affect heat retention, like pockets, padding, zippers, and the fact that many workers use several layers of protective clothing on the job. Using the manikins will allow scientists additional experimental control since they will be able to test all of the ensemble types on one subject.
NIOSH traditionally used human subjects for these types of tests. While these studies provide great real-world value, they also have limitations since human bodies vary in gender, fitness, and size. The sweating thermal manikins will provide an additional testing method that produces a standardized response. This research may help to improve the design and manufacture of safety clothing, because the manikin’s reaction is always constant and any differences in test results can be attributed to qualities of the clothing.