Protective Clothing Put to the Test in Iceland

Imagine a workplace where workers must be outside in rain and ice with winds gusting up to 60 mph and there is limited natural light for several months of the year. Those are the challenges facing the chief of safety at Keflavik Naval Air Station.

When most of us think of protective equipment, we think of safety-toed shoes, gloves, hearing protection, safety glasses, etc. Depending on the work environment, we might add respirators, hard hats or coveralls to that list. Despite education and reminders, it''s sometimes a battle to get employees to wear their protective equipment.

But what about protective clothing at a workplace where workers must be outside when winds routinely gust at nearly 60 mph, with average winds blowing at nearly 20 mph? Add to that limited hours of natural light for several months of the year and you have an unusual work environment.

Those are the conditions Major Olaf Holm, chief of safety at the Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland, and the personnel stationed at the base must face. To protect them from the harsh outdoor conditions, personnel at Keflavik are issued Gortex jackets and pants, as well as gloves and boots from Danner Shoe Mfg. Co. of Portland, Ore.

Unlike some U.S. military bases, Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska for example, extreme cold is not a problem at Keflavik. "We get a lot more rain here than we do snow, so again with the wind, rain and some snow, the Gortex works great for us," says Holm.

But there are other challenges, admits Holm: darkness, for example. "In the darkest part of the year, December and January, we get 5 to 6 hours of light a day," reveals Holm. "And with the harsh winds and low visibility, just walking around can be a hazard. So we require our folks to wear something reflective while they are outside, such as reflective tape, belts or vests."

Efforts to protect and train employees have paid off, he says. "The only injuries I have seen over here for the last two years have been falling injuries due to slipping on the ice and the wind."

To reduce slips and falls, the safety offices provide strap-on shoe spikes. "They work great on those slick, wet, icy days," he notes.

So, the next time employees grumble about their personal protective equipment, tell them about the Naval personnel working in the ice, wind and darkness at Keflavik, suited up in Gortex, winter boots, gloves and shoe spikes. It''s possible that having to wear safety glasses and ear plugs might not seem so onerous.

(For more information about protective clothing, pick up a copy of the April issue of Occupational Hazards magazine and read "Taking it to the Limit: Protective Clothing in the Harshest Environments." The article examines the use of protective clothing at Eielson Air Force base, where temperatures drop as low as minus 55 F; Ford''s Cleveland Casting Plant, where the ambient air temperature around the metal pours can soar to over 100 F; and Level Four laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where incurable viruses and pathogens are studied. The article will be posted on OccupationalHazards.com after April 8.)

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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