NC170: Personal Protective Technologies for Current and Emerging Occupational and Environmental Hazards

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NC170: Personal Protective Technologies for Current and Emerging Occupational and Environmental Hazards

Duration: 10/01/2017 to 09/30/2022

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Occupational workers such as firefighters, first responders, healthcare professionals, military personnel, industrial workers, and agricultural workers who perform their job tasks in hazardous environments often rely on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from occupational hazards that can result in workplace injuries and illnesses. The PPE systems they wear for protection offer both functional benefits and challenges. Personal protective equipment (PPE) makes working in hazardous environments possible, yet can interfere with the ability of the worker to perform essential tasks. Research and development of materials and product designs for PPE as well as development of consensus standards are critical to our nation's welfare, security, and ability to compete in a global economy. Providing well designed PPE for occupational workers who face challenging environments is necessary both to increase job effectiveness and preserve the health and well-being of the wearers. The U.S. industries that manufacture protective materials, clothing, and equipment currently lead the world in innovation and production. World class research and development are needed to maintain this position. The development and dissemination of effective PPE requires analysis and research in a wide variety of component areas, including novel functional textile and materials science, advanced materials testing and evaluation, anthropometrics and ergonomics, implementation of textile sensing technologies, garment design and testing, as well as outreach and policy-making. Development, evaluation, and dissemination of PPE has been the focus of the NC-170 research group since 1982, and we have become nationally and internationally recognized for our leadership and contributions to the state of the art in this area.

To date our focus has been on development and testing of functional textiles and protective clothing systems and other wearables.  We aim to continue to innovate broadly in these areas. Our recent focus has been on firefighters, concentrating on protection of the head, hands and feet. The shortcomings of these categories of protective clothing for firefighting can be seen in the statistics: of the 1.13 million firefighters that protected the US in 2014, 63,350 were injured in the line of duty. Between 2007 and 2011, 21% of total injuries were to the leg and foot, 20% to the arm and hand. Thirty eight percent of burns happened to the head, and another 30% to the arm or hand. Forty nine percent of wound, cut, or bleeding injuries happened to the hand or arm, followed by 20% to the head and another 17% to the leg or foot. As job duties and work environments change (for example, firefighter job duties have transformed significantly over the last decades with medical and emergency calls reported in 2011 being nearly four times as frequent as they were in 1980, making up 66% of all fire department calls) protective equipment must similarly adapt to meet new needs (NFPA 2015). Taking into account the needs of firefighters (as evidenced by the statistics presented above) we will continue our research with attention to problems related to protecting the hands, feet, and head.

 Other areas of concern in firefighting include fire induced injury that can occur due to inhalation of toxic and/or heated gases and thermal injury to the skin (Butler, 2014).  Firefighters are exposed to varied risks and dangers that challenge physical well-being in terms of injury, however there is also a critical need to monitor the physical condition of firefighters during each incident due to the effect of these extreme stressors on each responder. The most common causes of on-duty firefighter fatalities from 2010-2014 were heart attack (51.5%) and trauma (23%). In 2014 alone, 56% of firefighter deaths were from sudden cardiac events and 58% resulted from overexertion/stress and medical causes. The number of firefighter deaths from sudden cardiac events has risen in the past year despite stringent medical requirements that must be met by candidates and incumbent members as well as development of firefighter health and fitness program guidelines (NFPA 2015). Physiological injury or death can occur due to cardiovascular stress, exertion, and rise in core temperature. Typically, emergency responders themselves do not respond appropriately to dangerous physiological states due to adrenalin production and dedication to their task interfering with their judgement. Command and medical personnel can make better judgments of firefighter deployment based on physiological responses, but they have no way of monitoring individual emergency responders to determine critical health status. Development of effective sensing and monitoring systems for this purpose will provide a technological solution to this need.

Many of the afore-mentioned PPE professions have similar job hazards to those of firefighters. Our focused research on problems in other hazardous occupations has shown that both similarities and dissimilarities exist in functional needs as well as in issues of failure or lack of performance in PPE. Evaluation of PPE in one use context will often provide valuable insight, background, and expertise that transfers to other domains. Our approach will implement the systems perspective that has produced effective innovation in previous projects to take into account the materials, human factors, design, and dissemination components identified above. The application of our approaches of anthropometric and ergonomic analysis, implementation of new technologies, and community-centric research and outreach will result in significant advances in garment-based PPE as well as protective gear for the feet, hands, and head.

Even as occupational conditions grow increasingly diverse and hazardous, new technologies offer the opportunity to impart increased functionality, wearability, and usability to PPE systems. In materials science, the development of new textiles, fibers, and finishing technologies can better meet the worker’s functional and comfort needs. In anthropometrics and ergonomic analysis, body scanning and motion capture technology can bring increased speed, accuracy, and insight into the development of design parameters, the design of new systems, and the evaluation of garments and related equipment. In garment design, smart materials and electronic components can impart novel functionality to PPE systems and allow the wearer’s health and safety status and needs to be monitored continuously to inform system functions or oversight. In policy making and enforcement, developing standards (e.g. ASTM, ISO) for design, evaluation procedures, performance, and care of PPE can ensure harmonized requirements and ultimately increased safety across all units within an occupation. Continued research into the development of methodologies to effectively and reliably measure functional properties of both materials and garment systems to inform standards that will ensure that appropriate protection is provided by the PPE, as well as information on the use and care of these items to maintain their effectiveness, will result in systems with proven effectiveness. 

 Our group is uniquely positioned to address problems associated with PPE from multidisciplinary approaches. We are comprised of members with a wide variety of areas of expertise and of research backgrounds. We have an established track record of successful collaboration, both internally and with community/user groups and external research partners. We have accumulated an impressive array of cutting-edge research equipment and research facilities, and have developed expertise in the implementation of new technologies to further the state of the art in PPE. The approaches we have developed leverage our collaborative skills and our technologies to address the design, development, and dissemination of PPE technologies in a process that looks at 1) barriers to acceptance and use of PPE, 2) design, development and testing of PPE materials and technologies, 3) development of performance standards for PPE, and 4) development of novel textiles, materials, and functionality for PPE. We will identify new opportunities for research and development in PPE for firefighters, first responders, law enforcement officers, military personnel, pesticide operators, and healthcare workers through foundational and empirical research on under-investigated areas of the human body and its relationship with PPE. We will address these identified opportunities to assess and improve protection and human factor performance of PPE through research and product development. We will communicate, standardize, and validate these findings through the development of research-based performance guidelines for PPE.

Related, Current and Previous Work

The level of complexity when addressing PPE is very different from other engineering fields where a fairly limited range of monolithic materials (i.e. wood, concrete, metal, ceramics) interface with static monolithic objects (i.e., the ground, highways and runways, other manmade materials). For most products the relationships among the user, the designed object and the environment are less complex. Our task is to address the organically shaped, moving, and breathing human form with its metabolic activity and functional needs, and its relationship to the clothing envelope. Many new data are needed to understand and optimally design PPE. Here we focus on several areas that bring emerging opportunity: 1) development of novel functionality and textile approaches to navigating the tradeoff between comfort and protection, 2) investigation of the human factors that influence wearability and functionality of PPE, and 3) investigation of the ways to protect the extremities (i.e., head, hands, feet), which we find to be under-investigated and particularly complex challenges. Finally, we translate research to policy by working to develop research-based standards for PPE and extend that knowledge to the end users through educational resources and programs.

Development of Novel Textiles, Materials, and Functionality for PPE

At home, medical workers, emergency responders, and pesticide handlers are facing increasing challenges in their daily tasks, against potential threats or hazards. Materials with novel functions in sensing/detecting, performance protection, and smart functions can address and mediate the more difficult emerging challenges. The members of the NC170 team  have been working on the development of breathable self-decontaminating and self-detoxifying clothing materials  as well as self-decontaminating biocidal fibers, membranes, and fabrics. These efforts have been funded by DTRA, NSF, local governments, and industry partners.In this proposal, we focus on two specific areas of research and developments in PPE and functional materials: 1) improving functional performance of protective textiles for chemical and biological hazards while enhancing comfort properties, and 2) developing novel sensing materials for PPE by taking advantage of nanotechnology.

NC-170 members are working on the development of functional protective materials and prototyping of PPE.  For example NY has explored the use of metal oxides, polyoxometalates (POM), metal organic frameworks (MOF), and metal organic polyhedras (MOP) on fibers of a conventional fabric or very high surface area nanofibers (. CA has developed highly powerful halamine biocidal materials for biological protection, photo-induced biological and chemical functional materials with and without on site light exposure for biomedical and pesticide protection applications. KS has explored  protective functionality for anti-biofouling and air filtration. Furthermore, CO, CA, and WA have been working on wearable sensors for chemical agents, temperature and human body factors.  We aim at combining some of these unique functionalities to design and manufacture a new generation of PPE materials that can address multiple threats.

Human factor barriers to PPE functionality and wearability

The human factors that influence wearability and functionality of PPE are complex, and include elements such as ergonomics, weight bearing and load distribution, mobility and movement, thermal balance, sizing and fit, and physical comfort.  An overview on the needs and methods of designing for mobility was developed based on several of the research projects from the group (Ashdown, 2011). Issues in understanding and creating sizing systems were also described in a review article (Ashdown, 2014). Our group has established many innovative techniques for evaluating the human factors of PPE and garment systems, using emerging tools like 3D body scanning and motion capture system for anthropometric and ergonomic analysis.

The use of 3D anthropometry is a relatively new field of research in the areas of human factors and apparel design research. NY has conducted numerous studies of apparel fit and function using 3D body scan technology.  Issues related to the use of novel body scanning technologies to collect anthropometric data were explored in one study (Bragança, Arezes, Carvalho, , Ashdown, 2014). A method using anthropometric data from body scanning to analyze body shape variation has been developed that incorporates complex circumferential, width, and depth measures that has implications for development of sizing systems (Song, & Ashdown, 2013). Methods for comparing and validating sizing systems were developed as well (Petrova, & Ashdown,  2012).

A study of merged scans of firefighter’s hands, and the same hand in a firefighter glove contributes to an understanding of design flaws in glove styles that were perceived by the firefighters, and that have the potential to impact hand function (Ashdown, S.P., Maldonado, M. and Stull, J.O., 2016). In addition to these studies, IA collaborated with other states also assessed user needs for for firefighters (Barker, Boorady, Lee, Lin, Cho, & Ashdown, 2013; Boorady, Barker, Lin, Lee, Cho, & Ashdown, 2013; Barker, Boorady, Lin, Lee, Esponnette, & Ashdown, 2012; Barker, Boorady, Lin, & Lee, 2010; Barker, Lee, Boorady, Ashdown, & Lin, 2009). IA also has on-going project focusing on the key issues of chemical protective clothing (CPC) performance associated with wearing protective materials, which includes multi-level evaluation approaches to determine the comfort and strain in CPC, to relate the characterized fabric and garment properties to the physiological responses from human wear trials.

Previous study by OK (Park, 2011) of lower body mobility evaluation while wearing heavy protective garments and carrying a load shows that an increase in the weight of the garment and the carried load significantly decreases walking efficiency resulting in changes in gait patterns and range of motion at each joint, early muscle fatigue and discomfort. The study also shows that an increase in garment weight changes plantar pressure distribution, which suggests a high possibility of foot blisters and musculoskeletal injuries causing safety issues and decreased work efficiency.

CO has performed studies in the field of PPE and functional clothing, using various research approaches, e.g., 3D body scanning, virtual fit, critical biomarker measurement, range of motion (ROM) evaluation, and gait and balance analysis, as well as surveys and interviews. Anthropometric evaluation of PPE in female firefighters (Park & Langseth-Schmidt, 2016), footwear fit (Park, 2013), identification of an optimum sizing system for hospital patients (Park, 2014), 3D virtual technology in rapid prototyping (Park & DeLong, 2009a, 2009b), occupational risks assessment of firefighter PPE (Park, Park, Lin, & Boorady, 2014) serve as examples of the work.

HI has collaborated with Chinese Culture University to create and investigate the application of cool textile including phase-change materials for heat absorption textiles, called cool textiles to apply hoods, vest, and gloves (Lin, Boorady, & Chang, 2016; Lin, Boorady, Ashdown & Chang, 2016; Lin, Boorady, & Chang, 2015). Cool textiles are ideal and effective in the manufacture of vest, hoods, gloves and other clothing for fire protection and over-heated working environments and/or challenging conditions. The assessment of heat absorption variables in protective clothing includes hoods, gloves, and vest will adopt thermal image analysis and differential scanning calorimetry. Data will be collected from laboratory experiments and from human subject testing. The test methods include both standard methods and a thermal image analytical process. After the prototype is developed, HI will work with NY, BUFF, and MIN for the human subjects wear tests. These tests will include both laboratory tests and field study.

PPE for the hands, feet, and head

The extremities offer unique challenges for the analysis and design of PPE. For example, the hand is both the area of the body most likely to be exposed to hazards, and the functional unit that makes the presence of the person (as opposed to a robot) in a hazardous environment necessary. The hand is a complex unit that provides both flexible and powerful manipulative functions, and is ideally also a sensing tool that provides kinesthetic feedback from an activity. Gloves protect hands from many potential injuries ranging from thermal challenges, cuts or other traumas, chemicals that can permeate the skin, and harmful microganisms. However, the use of ill fitting or badly designed gloves reduces manual dexterity which can contribute to inability to function effectively, and accidents. Improper selection and use of protective gloves by workers looking for increased dexterity and comfort can result in hazardous exposure and injuries to the hands, particularly for occupational and emergency workers. Protection of hands from various hazards while providing best fit and effective wearing conditions are two competing aspects of the design of gloves. Only very basic studies have been conducted on 3D hand anthropometry (Rodgers, Barr, Kasemsontitum, & Rempel, 2008; Kasai, Kouchi, Miyata, & Mochimaru, 2003), but the tools and methods exist for reliable collection of 3D data, and the analysis of the hand, the glove, and the fit interface between the active hand and the glove.

The feet and the head offer similar challenges. Here we propose a detailed analysis of the anthropometrics and ergonomics of PPE in these areas to parallel that of the whole-body PPE. Many of the techniques described above will be applicable to the localized environment (e.g. body-scanning, motion-capture techniques, application of wearable sensors to analysis and development). OK has completed one project comparing prototype gloves to an existing firefighter glove available on the market using standard, modified standard tests as well as tests developed for the purpose of evaluating fit, mobility, flexibility and effect on dexterity (Petrova & Peksoz, 2010) . NY (Cornell) evaluated impact of wearing fireboots on mobility of male and female firefighters and discovered that fireboots (~7lbs) have a greater negative impact on firefighters’ lower body mobility and body balance than an air pack (~20lbs), based on an analysis of change in dynamic joint angles using a 3D motion capture system (Park, H., Kim, S., Morris, K., Moukperian, M., Moon, Y., & Stull, J. 2015). The findings of this study discovered that longitudinal flex resistance of fireboots (measured by the modified ISO 17707, Footwear–Test methods for outsoles–Flex resistance) can predict the level of restriction of foot function, body balance, fatigue, and possible injury risks on unfavorable fireground. In addition, another study by NY-Cornell (Park, H., Trejo, H., Miles, M., Bauer, A., Kim, S., & Stull, J., 2015) found a greater reduction in the range of motion at the ankle and the ball of the foot for female firefighters, which implies greater risk for women compared to men while wearing fireboots.

Research work by the PI in CO evinced the influence of obesity on foot morphological changes (Park, 2013). With the use of 3D foot scanning technology, this study determined that the overweight/obese subjects have different foot morphology from the normal weight subjects; their feet tend to be overall longer and wider and more voluminous in forefeet than the normal weight. This finding indicates that the increment of plantar pressure on the feet tends to deform human foot shape and size. Additionally, CO’s research efforts (Curwen & Park, 2014; Park & Curwen, 2013) identified internal and external variables that affect the mechanism of footwear comfort and performance evaluation. Yan & Park’s study (2011) affirmed the positive impacts of the end-user s knowledge about foot measurement methods and footwear purchase guidelines on the formation process of post-purchase satisfaction.

Along with footwear and gloves, our group also aims to collect information on headwear issues. While this is currently not an area of our expertise, anthropometrics of the head and the fit of headgear are extensions of our work in 3D body scanning and developing sizing systems. Headwear protects the most important part of the human body: the head, and by extension, the brain. Head injuries can be devastating and lead to a disabling injury or even death. Helmets can only protect properly the user if they fit properly. Improper fit may lead to reduced sight lines, not remaining securely positioned, and unnecessary weight and bulk. NY has a head scanner that we plan on using to collect data on the head and face. We plan to hold focus group sessions to look into issues on headwear for opportunities to improve user’s fit, comfort, and safety.

Development of PPE standards

Objective 4 for 1997 - 2002 NC170 project was to propose standard methodology for industry-wide consensus standards for chemical protective clothing. Research conducted during this funding cycle served as the basis for the development of ASTM and ISO standards to measure the penetration of pesticides through textile materials. For almost two decades PI from MD has served as the technical contact for pesticide related PPE standards developed by ASTM International and ISO. During this period several international standards have been developed for PPE for pesticide operators. The performance requirement standard is now in the process of being revised as an ISO/EN standard. Currently two additional standards are being developed/balloted concurrently as EN (European) and ISO (International) standards. Collaborative research on permeation of chemicals with low vapor pressure was the basis for the new standard that was approved as a Draft Information Standard (DIS) in November 2016. In addition, a performance specification standard for gloves is scheduled to be balloted as a DIS in 2017.

Development of a New Standard Guide for Protective Gloves Worn by Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers While on Duty is being developed by ASTM E54 committee on Homeland Security Applications.

Our prior work in analysis and development of sizing systems (Ashdown, 2007; Ashdown & Loker, 2010) will inform the establishment of size standards for footwear and gloves in the proposed research.


  1. Investigate factors that impact selection, use, care, and maintenance of PPE products and protective clothing, including hand, foot, and headwear.
    Comments: Investigate factors that impact selection, use, care, and maintenance of PPE products and protective clothing, including hand, foot, and headwear: -basic and applied anthropometric and ergonomic research; -user acceptance and barriers to acceptance in domain areas of fire protection, chemical protection, and health and safety; -address decontamination issues that impact maintenance
  2. Assess and improve protection and human factor performance of PPE and protective clothing items and systems (including hand, foot, and headwear) through research and product development.
    Comments: Assess and improve protection and human factor performance of PPE and protective clothing items and systems (including hand, foot, and headwear) through research and product development: -assessment of human factor variables in protective clothing; -design research and product development in domain areas of fire protection, chemical protection, and health and safety
  3. Develop/revise and implement research-based performance guidelines and standards for items and systems of personal protective equipment and protective clothing
    Comments: Develop/revise and implement research-based performance guidelines and standards for items and systems of personal protective equipment and protective clothing: -establish performance guidelines and/or standards for PPE -establish sizing and fit guidelines for PPE
  4. Develop novel functionality and applications of materials for PPE and health/safety solutions.
    Comments: Develop novel functionality and applications of materials for PPE and health/safety solutions: -research novel materials and technologies that can provide desired functions; -research novel textile-integrated sensing techniques; -evaluate the performance of the materials for personal protective applications


Objective 1 Investigate factors that impact selection, use, care, and maintenance of PPE products and protective clothing, including hand, foot, and headwear.

Participating States: NY, OK, IA, CO, BUFF, MD, MN

We will implement a mixed-methods approach to explore and identify opportunity areas for PPE development by conducting quantitative studies of current anthropometric and ergonomic conditions in parallel with qualitative studies of user satisfaction and challenge in using current PPE solutions.

In order to determine the current needs and barriers to effective use of hand, foot, and headwear protection in firefighting, we will conduct anthropometric analyses of the body parts in question, and focus group interviews of firefighters on issues with current equipment. NY, OK, CO, BUFF, and IA will collaborate on a series of focus group interviews with firefighters to assess: perceived protection, fit, comfort, dexterity, mobility, work efficiency, safety, balance, and convenience of donning and doffing with a focus on hand, foot, and head protection.

MD will work with Pesticide Safety Educators to obtain similar input from pesticide applicators on decontamination of clothing worn by pesticide operators. MD will conduct studies in collaboration with members of the International Consortium on decontamination. Washed garments obtained from pesticide operators as well as washed materials contaminated in the laboratory will be used to better understand removal of pesticides from contaminated garments. The information from this study will be used to update guidelines for cleaning that can be used as training materials used by pesticide safety educators in Cooperative Extension, States Departments of Agriculture, and other entities.

CO will determine unmet needs of occupational PPE for firefighters, healthcare workers, and military, in collaboration with research partners and professional communities. Recently, a survey was administered to U.S. firefighters to identify emerging needs of the occupation’s work uniform given the increased risks of threats. This work will be continued and expanded to contribute to objective 1. In addition, CO has developed a footwear fit model to quantify static and dynamic footwear fit based on product and user characteristics, and the model will be validated in various practical applications, including firefighter PPE boots.     

Objective 2: Assess and improve protection and human factor performance of PPE and protective clothing (including hand, foot, and headwear) through research and product development.

Participating States: HI, NY, IA, OK, BUFF, MN, CO

Research under this objective will apply results from Objective 1 and 2 to improve functionality and investigate new functionality for PPE.

In continuation of the work done on firefighter glove design, an anthropometric project will be undertaken to explore scanning tools and protocols that will allow data to be collected at multiple sites around the country. A hand anthropometry study will be conducted at six locations using new handheld 3D scan technologies. Participants’ hands will be scanned in an anthropometric position, a neutral relaxed position, and active grasping and holding position. Measurement data will be analyzed to establish changes that occur in active positions. Data will be collected for both males and females, and analyzed to determine whether there are gender based differences in hand anthropometry that will affect glove sizing and fit. The advantage of the 3D data is that the critical design factor identified in the initial study (finger crotch height) can be most effectively analyzed from the 3D scans. NY - Cornell and Buffalo, MN, OK, HI, and IA will collaborate on this study. Collection of data from multiple sites will increase the validity and range of variation of the dataset.  IA will also use real-time 3D imaging system to capture hand movements. The data captured in active positions will be analyzed for the functionality between hands and gloves. Recommendations on glove design and on sizing of gloves that incorporate this factor will be developed. A parallel study of foot anthropometry will be conducted by CO, and NY (Cornell and Buffalo).

HI will continue to collaborate with Chinese Culture University to investigate the application of cool textile including phase-change materials for heat absorption textiles, called cool textiles to apply hoods, vest, and gloves. Cool textiles are ideal in the manufacture of vest, hoods, gloves and other clothing for fire protection and over-heated working environments and/or challenging conditions. The assessment of heat absorption variables in protective clothing includes hoods, gloves, and vest will adopt thermal image analysis and differential scanning calorimetry. Data will be collected from laboratory experiments and from human subject testing. The test methods include both standard methods and a thermal image analytical process. After the prototype is developed, HI will work with NY, BUFF, and MIN for the human subjects wear tests. These tests will include both laboratory tests and field study.

IA, BUFF, MO and OK will collaborate in the development of glove prototypes based on results from the focus group meetings and the anthropometric study of active hand positions. We have identified industry collaborators who will provide support for production of prototype gloves. These prototypes will be tested in fit and function tests will be performed by comparing them to existing gloves on the market. Participants will assess fit and comfort, and will perform a series of dexterity tests in each glove model for comparison. IA will collaborate with OK in analysis of glove function, fit and mobility using 3D scanning, motion capture, real-time 3D imaging system, and sweating hand in an environmental chamber. OK will also perform similar fit and mobility tests for headgear and other garments developed in the course of the project.NY (Ithaca) will also continue to evaluate the thermal comfort of all types of protective clothing including firefighter's PPE and gloves.

Anthropometry of the foot, static balance analysis, dynamic plantar pressure and gait analysis will be executed through human performance laboratory tests with firefighters. CO and NY (Cornell) will research on the adverse impact of firefighter PPE on biomechanical measures of occupational performance. Anthropometric foot morphology and load distribution, as well as perceived comfort and exertion, will be measured to test research hypotheses.  NY increase participant pool. NY will assess the change in gait patterns and plantar pressure distribution while performing, in given garment conditions, specific tasks such as walking and other firefighters  task related movements. Collected data will be statistically analyzed to assess comfort, balance, and mobility related to the firefighter footgear size and fit.

NY (Cornell and Buffalo), MN, CO, MO, IA  and OK will collaborate on analysis of sizing and fit issues for female firefighters, which is limited by a lack of anthropometric data. Collection of these data will be undertaken at multiple sites, as the numbers of female firefighters are limited at any one site. Collection of reliable data on body measurements using traditional anthropometric tools is difficult over multiple sites, as different landmark location and measurement procedures can result in inter-site variation in the data. For this reason 3D body scanning will be used to build a database of scans that can then be measured using a consistent methodology. An additional advantage of this method is that if a new measurement is determined to be important in the future, it is possible to return to the scans to acquire this measurement. Data on body size and shape variation of female firefighters that are important in the development of sizing systems will be acquired in this study.  The anthropometric data set developed in this study will be analyzed to evaluate effectiveness of current firegear sizing systems for the female fire service population and to propose improved sizing systems.

MN and CO will explore human factors of protective equipment in medical environments. CO will evaluate comfort of patient hospital apparel by evaluating anthropometric fit and mobility of diverse profiles of patient samples. CO will also explore technology-based novel approaches to improve protective properties and wearability of healthcare PPE as a means to enhance occupational safety and healthcare workers’ health.  MN will research and evaluate novel design methods of surgical PPE, as well as evaluating the system of use for the hospital gown.

Objective 3: Develop/revise and implement research-based performance guidelines and standards for items and systems of personal protective equipment and protective clothing:

Participating states: NY, OK, BUFF, MD, CO, MN, IA, HI

Sizing systems for gloves will be investigated by NY and OK, based on the results from the Objective 1 anthropometric study of active hand positions. Seven basic hand dimensions are available for 3,982 men and women from the 1988 anthropometric survey of U.S. Army personnel (ANSUR). These data, or data from more recent large scale studies if available, will be compared to corresponding measurements from the 3D data of the active hand study. Correlations of the measurements for the active positions from our study can be made to identify the variation of this larger sample of the population. Recommended sizing systems based on these combined data will therefore encompass dimensions needed to accommodate the full range of movements of the hand for the population as a whole. BUFF will use a similar method to analyze 3D scans of feet and heads to determine size breaks and conduct a statistical analysis to determine any possible assumptions of measurement linkages to established sizes.

MD will continue to work as the Project Leader for the ASTM and ISO/EN standards for protective clothing for pesticide operators and re-entry workers that were developed as a part of previous NC-170 projects. MD will lead the development of a surrogate test chemical for the performance specifications for protective clothing and gloves. Validation of the new surrogate test chemical will include testing of reference and other fabrics with the existing challenge chemicals and the possible surrogate formulations. MD will coordinate the interlaboratory study and revision of the pipette test for pesticide penetration.

Based on analysis of data from Objective 3, CO, NY, OK, BUFF, NY, MN, HI, and IA will collaborate to develop design guidelines through analysis of research from earlier objectives and through wear studies for firefighter protective footgear, gloves, and headgear, to minimize the occupation-related hazards and risks associated with the manufacture and use of the PPE. Efforts will be also be made to regulate the suggested design guidelines through ASTM and NFPA. New guidelines, standards, and sizing information will be incorporated into existing websites and educational efforts.

Objective 4: Develop novel functionality in materials for PPE.

Participating states: NY, OK, CA, KS, CO, WA

Several areas of new functionality and application will be explored in this objective: breathable, self-decontaminating textiles for chemical/biological protection; textile-integrated sensing; fiber-based sensors and biosensors for water; medical textiles; fabrics with directional liquid flow; and fibers with controlled wettability.

NY will explore the use of metal oxides, polyoxometalates (POM), metal organic frameworks (MOF), and Metal Organic Polyhedras (MOP) which will be grafted or incorporated into or onto the fibers of conventional fabrics or nanofibers nonwovens. These molecules can act as catalysts with the ability to degrade toxic chemicals, resulting in a self-decontaminating material. By making fibers with high surface area to act as an immobilization medium for these catalysts, it is believed that enhanced chemical protection can be achieved, while maintaining the breathability of conventional fabrics. Ideally, the comfort level will be maintained while providing the necessary protection for a soldier against chemical warfare agents, or for an agricultural worker against pesticides. NY has developed a scalable process of grating Polyoxemetalates (POM) onto  on cotton fabrics for protective coveralls for agricultural workers. Further work can be carried out to extend this to other nonwoven fabric commonly used for coveralls in industry and to evaluate the comfort of these coveralls.

CA will incorporate novel halamine structures with powerful rechargeable biocidal functions for biological protection against Ebola and other microorganism transmitted through contiguous processes.  Light active colorants such as anthraquinone structures with different derivative groups will be explored to be incorporated onto cellulose, protein, nylon and polyester fibers. The related light induced biocidal and chemical detoxification functions of the treated fabrics will be evaluated under different lighting conditions. Materials with light-chargeable biocidal functions will be developed.  Quantitative measurement of the biocidal power on the treated fabrics will be conducted by using chemical and visual methods. Fabric mechanical properties and comfort performance in terms of air and water vapor transport properties will be measured.  In addition, CA will continue the research on development of personal sensors for fumigants and environmental hazards and seeking financial supports from State of California and NIEHS.

OK will conduct an assessment of prototype textiles using standard laboratory testing. For novel prototype materials it may be necessary to develop new methodologies based on the desired performance outcome.

CO will develop effective fabrication strategies to create novel nanofiber-based biosensors for detecting external stimulus in the surrounding environment via colorimetric indication, including temperature, pH, the presence of bacteria and viruses. Responsive nanostructured materials will be manipulated into fibers and fabrics offering built-in sensing and monitoring functionality. CO will also develop nanofiber-based sensors that can be used as tools to investigate the fate and transport behavior of engineered nanomaterials, which are released into the environment and generate human health concerns in the environment. Further, CO will explore new opportunities to integrate nanofiber-based biosensors into healthcare and safety products, and evaluate feasibility and practicality of the bio-sensing smart products.  

NY will continue development of chemical protective fabrics with directional liquid flow. Recent work at NY has demonstrated the possibility of having fabric with directional liquid flow resistance so that it allows sweat to pass through the fabric to the external environment, but prevents external liquids, including toxins from penetrating into the clothing.

In order to accomplish this NY will work on developing fabrics of differential hydrophobicity and hydrophilicity, by applying differential finishing on both sides of fabrics so that its inner side is hydrophilic to absorb sweat for comfort and its external side is superhydrophobic to repel toxic liquids.

KS will investigate design strategies to control the wettability of fibrous materials as a way to impart protective functionality. Nonwoven type materials with varied topographic patterns and surface energy levels will be fabricated to manipulate the wetting characteristics. Materials with a wide range of wettability and surface patterns will be investigated for their influence on bacterial adhesion to examine its potential application in anti-biofouling materials. Also, highly repellent fibers are often regarded to be beneficial for electret filtration because the repellent surface would protect the surface charges of electrets from being masked by oily contaminants. The benefit of using oleophobic fibers in filtration will be examined to suggest material options for superior filtration.

WA will focus on developing nanofiber sensors for continuous sensing of human vital signs. The sensors are flexible and can be integrated in garments for medical/sports/military uses. Both the sensing efficiency and those physical/mechanical properties (e.g., strength, durability, and washability) of the sensors that are critical to the end uses will be evaluated.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Output 1: The results of the studies of hand, foot, head, and body anthropometry will build upon data collected in the last five years. These data will describe ranges, proportions, variation, and gender differences in body measurements. This data pool will also provide practical implications for design of PPE for improved fit, comfort and mobility.
  • Output 2: Prototype gloves that are being designed will be tested to provide insight into effective combinations of materials, pattern shapes, and construction techniques.
  • Output 3: 3D foot scan data, and the change in gait pattern will provide practical implications for firefighters footgear design.
  • Output 4: Development of novel human factors evaluation techniques using emerging technology including glove models and half scale forms will facilitate new understanding of the body/garment relationship and provide inputs to the design process, and sizing and fit of PPE.
  • Output 5: Development of fibers with high surface area that can be used to create advanced functional materials including self-decontaminating and super-repellent materials and sensors for biological and chemical hazards while maintaining breathability will advance the state of the art in PPE.
  • Output 6: Development of self-decontaminating membranes and fabrics with different fiber compositions and biocidal and chemical detoxification properties that will advance the state of the art in PPE.
  • Output 7: Identified design parameters to develop anti-biofouling surface and oleophobic filter media.
  • Output 8: Harmonized standards for PPE for pesticide operators and re-entry workers can serve as the basis for defining garments and accessories for dermal protection.
  • Output 9: Research activities will result in updated educational materials for users and designers of PPE.
  • Output 10: Textile-based sensing systems that gather biometric information will be developed to gather data for analysis to identify cardiovascular incidents and predict critical states so the PPE wearers remain healthy.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • 1: Improved glove, footwear, headgear and system design will result in improved safety, comfort and ability to function in hazardous conditions for a variety of end users. Features created for the firefighter gloves, shoes, helmets and protective apparel will also provide a model for similar PPE. Data from anthropometric studies of the hand, foot and head will benefit designers of PPE for a wide variety of end users.
  • 2: Standards, guidelines, and performance specifications for PPE will be used as the basis for standardization of fit by firefighters and others who might encounter very high temperatures at work.
  • 3: Performance requirements for garments and gloves can be used as the basis for conformity assessment for PPE worn by pesticide handlers
  • 4: The information regarding PPE decontamination will become available to develop guidelines for pesticide applicator training.
  • 5: Novel techniques for assessing the human factor performance of PPE will be beneficial for our target user groups, but will be widely applicable to many other user groups as well as for performance ready-to-wear clothing.
  • 6: Biomechanical experiments will determine occupational risk factors of firefighter protective footgear, and demonstrate the significance of design regulations for the specific PPE item, to minimize potential line-of-duty fatalities, especially resulted from falls, trips, and slips.
  • 7: Data analysis from textile-based sensing systems will flag critical health conditions due to excessive exertion, heat, or exposure to chemicals and will be communicated to the user and the command unit in order to minimize potentially fatal consequences. Such systems will be applicable to active duty soldiers, and bomb diffusers, as well as oil field workers and athletic training teams.
  • 8: The work on self-detoxifying materials contributes to the growing field of chemically engineered materials aimed at enhancing the safety of medical staff, chemical workers, and first responders.
  • 9: With the increased interests in wearable technologies and smart materials, the development of chemically engineered nanofibrous functional materials can contribute to meeting the public demands for detection and signaling of and improved protection against the emerging biological and chemical hazards. These materials can also be used for sportswear, underwear and other health related products.
  • 10: The research on self-decontaminating and self-cleaning materials contributes to address the emerging concerns on the growing terrorist attacks and improved protection of public and first responders from such threats. The use of self-decon textiles materials can increase protection of medical and chemical workers, pesticide handlers, and first responders, and improve preparedness of emerging diseases and terrorist attacks. These materials also have potential applications in consumer products such as sportswear and hygienic materials. The identified design parameters to control the wetting characteristic of fibrous materials can be widely utilized in developing protective textiles.


(2018):Methods for capturing and analyzing effective 3D data on active hand anthropometry and assessing comfort through visual vigilance will be developed. Initial focus group meetings will be held with firefighters on glove function. Glove preference information will be collected from pesticide applicators. TiO2 will be incorporated into high surface area porous channeled fibers for enhanced chemical protection. Development of photo-active chemistry of anthraquinone compounds and interactions with different polymeric materials will begin. Prototypes of bend and stretch sensing techniques will be developed and evaluated. Preliminary data for the bacterial adhesion on polymeric materials on nonwoven materials will be investigated for the selected strains of bacteria. Development of oleophobic surface will begin to apply for air filtration. Textile-based sensing systems will be developed, prototypes tested for comfort and effective signal gathering. Biometric data will be collected for initial algorithm development. Searches and initial applications for external funding will begin. Ballot process will be completed for ISO 27065

(2019):The active hand anthropometry study and further firefighter focus group meetings will be conducted. POM, MOF and MOP - network structures on polypropylene (PP) materials will be developed. Development of photo-active chemistry of anthraquinone compounds and interactions with different polymeric materials will continue. The scope of anti-biofouling work will expand to test the fibrous materials with different surface energy, topography and wettability. Begin to search an interested industry partner to test filtration performance. Integration of sensing textiles with ergonomic assessment applications will begin. Further algorithm development for biometric data analysis. Protocol will be finalized for glove permeation tests. Pursuit of funding sources will continue.

(2020):Glove prototypes will be developed and work will begin on correlating ANSUR data with data from the active hand study. Work will continue on POM, MOF and MOP - network structures on polypropylene (PP) materials. Evaluations of photo-induced self-cleaning properties of various textiles including cotton, wool, nylon, nylon/cotton, PCM textiles (cool textiles), and Nomex will begin. Work will continue on anti-biofouling materials. Comparative ergonomic assessment of existing vs. prototype PPE will be completed. Assessment of ergonomics using textile-integrated sensing will be completed. Textile-based biometric sensing system will be field tested with firefighters, further data collection for algorithm testing and development.

(2021):Evaluations of photo-induced self-cleaning properties of various textiles including cotton, wool, nylon, nylon/cotton, Nomex will continue. Performance specification for ISO glove standard for Pesticide operators will be completed. Proposed sizing systems will be completed and new glove prototypes will be tested. POM-network structures will be combined with high surface area polypropylene (PP) fibers. Textile-based biometric sensing system will be refined with further testing.

(2022):All project outputs will be completed and disseminated. Existing websites and other educational materials will be updated as new standards, guidelines, and other relevant research results become available.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

The results of the research conducted for this project will be made available through presentations at national/international meetings, through submissions to refereed and non-refereed publications, special technical publications, and the annual reports published through NIMSS website. In addition, research information will be disseminated through individual interactions with textile companies, PPE manufacturers, and standards organizations such as ASTM, AATCC, and ISO. Guidelines/information will be developed for pesticide safety education programs. Educational materials will also be disseminated through the University Extension System at member Land Grant Institutions networks of educators in counties across the country.



Every member must be present at or connect electronically to the annual meeting at least once every three years in order to continue membership; a voting member from each institution must be present at every meeting; must show proof of collaboration with multiple authors from within the group once every five years through publications or other collaboration including extension/outreach.

The proposed members of the technical committee for this project are listed in Appendix E. For those states having more than one participant, one member will be designated as the voting member, as determined by that institution or Agriculture Experiment Station (AES) director. The organizational structure consists of a chair, a vice chair, and secretary nominated and elected annually; the vice chair serves as chair the next year. Any member of the technical committee can serve as an officer. The chair will appoint subcommittee members as necessary to complete specific tasks. The officers along with the project USDA-CSREES representative and USDA-ARS administrative advisor will serve as the executive committee. The advisors will be non-voting members.

The chair is responsible for notifying the members of the date and place of the annual meeting, preparing an agenda, and presiding over the annual meeting. The vice chair will assume the duties of the chair in the event that the chair cannot do so. The vice chair will be responsible for advance planning and organization of meeting sites. He/she will serve as chair for the next year. The secretary will be responsible for taking minutes of the annual meeting and filing them with the administrative advisor for distribution within 30 days of the meeting.

The duties of the technical committee (members in Appendix E) are to coordinate the research and other activities related to the project. The technical committee will meet annually (usually in the fall) for the purposes of coordinating, reporting, and sharing research activities, procedures, and results, analyzing data, and conducting project business. The administrative advisor will be responsible for sending the technical committee members the necessary authorization for all official meetings.

Sub-committees and meetings may be designated by the chair, if needed, to accomplish various relevant research and administrative tasks, such as research planning and coordination, the development of specific cooperative research procedures, assimilation and analysis of data from contributing scientists, and publication of joint reports.


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Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Baylor College, Brenau University, Buffalo State College, Florida State University, Mississippi State University, Missouri State University, University of California, Davis, University of Oregon, Washington University in St. Louis
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