Stab-proof bicycle panniers / Source: FKT

High-tech textiles for protection in the workplace: a question of liability

The Protec section at the up-coming Techtextil is, given the increasing number of available products, all set to provide some surprises when it comes to materials. Since the 2015 trade fair, the areas of work apparel and workplace protective clothing, in particular, have received considerable stimulus from industrial research.

One major trend, which has made itself felt since the last Techtextil in 2015, is identified by Stefan Schmidt from the German Industrial Association of Finishing, Fabrics, Yarns and Technical Textiles (Industrieverband Veredlung – Garne – Gewebe – Technische Textilien e.V.): “The experience gained in the use of sensor technology in medical textiles and functional sports apparel is increasingly being investigated with a view to its suitability for application to health and safety issues in the workplace.”

Input relating to smart textiles comes, for instance, from the Textile Research Institute of Saxony (Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut – STFI) and the Institute for Textile Technology (Institut für Textiiltechnik – ITA), as well as from the RWTH University of Aachen. With a self-activating alarm to provide puncture protection for bicycle panniers and a whole-body airbag for building workers, the two institutions are both opening up new horizons for possible applications. And there is a third group, too, (the guild of taxi and bus drivers) who can look forward to improved protective clothing: a puncture-resistant jacket, that is intended to minimize the impact of unexpected knife attacks. Involved in the innovations are researchers from the Hochschule Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach and an embroidery company from Rheinberg. Current thinking is that the jacket will be combined with textile sensors, which will automatically give out an emergency signal in the case of an attack.

According to data supplied by the German Association of Finishing, Fabrics, Yarns and Technical Textiles (IVGT), turnover in protective clothing and workwear in Germany has grown from around € 100 million to € 480 million over the last five years – a growth market comparable to that in the Indutech and Mobiltech segments. The total market for textiles in the areas of application covered by Protech is around € 700 million in Europe and over € 7 billion worldwide. Conservative estimates assume, from the current situation of the market, that further worldwide grow of an annual four or five per cent will be achievable.

To return, however, to the new products that have often not come onto the market, because questions of liability in the case of failure have, in most cases, not yet been conclusively resolved. The consequences, to which Stefan Schmidt points, are obstacles to use and / or export, particularly with regard to the US market. “Currently such products are still being marketed there in very limited numbers,” says textile expert Schmidt. For this reason, he suggests, there are numerous on-going standardisation and normative projects, that are intended to ensure that occupational safety concerns become a matter of course at international level.

Hans-Werner Oertel

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