Protective Clothing Put to the Test in Iceland

March 27, 2002
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])

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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