There are lots of industries where protective clothing is a necessity. Although technology makes a contribution and advancements have been made, such Kevlar, by and large, some of the protection and the technology used seems to be stuck in a bygone era.
Chain mail is still used as protection in meat processing factories. Many boots still have metal toe caps. Plastic hard hats have been around for over 60 years. Surgical gloves are made from simple polymers… or are they?
Surgical gloves have always been ideal for preventing contamination and infection between patient and carer. But healthcare is littered with sharp objects such as needles and scalpels, which exposes doctors, nurses and carers to constant risk of personal injury.
In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) reports there are around 40,000 ‘sharps’ injuries a year. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are more than 384,000 needle-stick injuries each year in hospitals.
These types of incidents increase the chances of contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
But things may be about to change thanks to some chemical engineers at the University of Delaware. They have harnessed a ‘smart’ technology called shear thickening fluids (STFs), which have the ability to instantly and reversibly change from a liquid to a solid-like material in response to impact or stress.
The STFs can be added to textiles to create protective equipment that moves with the wearer but reacts instantly to provide protection when it is needed. The thin, lightweight materials can easily be integrated into personal protective equipment occupations like healthcare that demand the highest degree of flexibility, dexterity and sensitivity.
Medical gloves, military equipment, construction safety, waste handling and home and garden are just some of the potential product areas currently being looked at by chemical engineers, Dr. Richard D. Dombrowski and Dr. Norman J. Wagner, who have established STF Technologies LLC to commercialise the technology.
Let’s hope they can bring their technology to market soon to boost safety for the millions of workers exposed to occupational risks every day.
For more information, take a look at their video below.