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Top 5 Surprising Facts About Personal Protection Equipment

Personal protection products or personal protection equipment  (PPE) – from hard hats to safety vests – are a familiar sight in many workplaces. But did you know there's more to their story than meets the eye? Here are five fascinating facts about PPE that you might not have known:


1  - A WWI Veteran & the Birth of the American Hard Hat: Fresh off the battlefields of World War I, soldier Edward Bullard returned home in 1919 with a mission. He'd witnessed the devastating head injuries sustained by his comrades and was determined to prevent similar tragedies in the workplace. Bullard's solution? The first American hard hat, featuring a wide brim for extra protection – a design innovation inspired by the helmets worn by trench soldiers.    

2 - Kafka, the Literary Father of Safety Gear? Franz Kafka, the renowned author of surreal tales like "The Metamorphosis," might have another, unexpected claim to fame. While the evidence is shrouded in a bit of mystery, some historians believe Kafka, who worked as an insurance adjuster processing claims from injured workers, played a role in the development of the first European hard hat design in the early 20th century. Imagine that – the man who wrote about men turning into bugs possibly helping to keep actual human heads from getting squashed!

3 - A Photo, a Rescue, and the Power of PPE: One of the most famous photographs of the 20th century was captured in July 1967 in Florida. Some accounts claim that the day was sweltering and the relentless air conditioners had caused a power surge. Others maintain that it was an ordinary day, and electricians Randall Champion and Jay Thompson were simply performing routine maintenance on a power line, replacing old wires. Regardless of the exact circumstances, the incident itself is what matters. While working at the top of a power pylon, Champion accidentally grabbed a live wire. In an instant, a 4,000-volt current surged through his body, stopping his heart. His safety harness prevented him from plummeting to the ground. Fortunately, his partner was working nearby and sprang into action. Thompson, who was about a hundred meters away, heard a cry and saw his colleague's lifeless body suspended by the safety harness. He rushed towards him and quickly climbed the pylon. Recalling his training from first aid courses, Thompson immediately began performing a kind of CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on the unconscious Champion, right there on the pylon. He was unable to perform CPR given the circumstances, but continued breathing into Champion’s lungs until he felt a slight pulse, then unbuckled his harness and descended with him on his shoulder.

The image of Thompson administering CPR to his colleague, suspended high above the ground, became an iconic symbol of the importance of PPE and the quick thinking of those who wear it. It's a reminder that PPE isn't just about following rules; it's about having the right equipment and training to save lives in split seconds.

4 - Van Gogh: More Than Just Sunflowers and Starry Nights: Vincent van Gogh's artistic genius is undeniable, but his social conscience might surprise you. Before pursuing his artistic career, Van Gogh worked as a missionary in a Belgian coal mining district. He became a fierce advocate for miners' rights, particularly regarding safety measures. His unwavering commitment to their well-being even led to his dismissal from the mission. Who knew the man who brought us "Starry Night" was also such a champion for worker safety?

5 - The Artistic Roots of the High-Visibility Vest: The now-ubiquitous orange safety vest has a surprisingly artistic origin. Pioneering artist Kazimir Malevich, known for his abstract Suprematist paintings, is credited with suggesting the use of bright orange for increased worker visibility on roadways in the early 1900s. His artistic sensibilities helped pave the way for a crucial safety innovation.

PPE orange article

The next time you see someone suited up in PPE, take a moment to appreciate the unseen story behind it. It's a testament not just to following the rules, but to a constant evolution driven by innovation, empathy, and even a touch of artistic flair. Beyond the surface of safety protocols lies a deeper narrative, whispering of battlefield experiences, literary connections, and artistic insights. PPE is more than just a barrier – it's a tangible expression of our collective commitment to protecting one another. And who knows, perhaps this glimpse into the past will inspire the next generation of safety pioneers to create even more ingenious ways to keep us all safe. The story of PPE is far from over, and the next chapter could be waiting just around the corner, waiting to be written.

01 July 2024
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