Did you know that the Garment ‘Categories’ PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 refer to three “Categories of PPE”. These categories demonstrate that the manufacturer of the product concerned has complied with the relevant performance requirements. In terms of protection, these categories relate to the protective properties of the entire garment where Category I offers the least protection and Category III relates to the highest protection. Category I PPE will protect against minimal risks for example contact with hot surfaces not exceeding 50C or damaged to eyes due to sunlight. Whereas Category III PPE will protect against more serious risks that may caused irreversible damage or even death for example falls from a height or exposure to extreme temperatures above 100C or below -50C. Category II PPE includes any risks in between or not included in Category I and III.
There are many different risks you can encounter in the workplace, and it is important to ensure you and your employees are protected to the correct standards and categories. PPE is tested to strict regulations before it is released into the market and in this blog, we will guide you through the different levels of protection to help you understand the relationship between garment categories, types, and classes.
Category III Protection
For Category III garments, the manufacturer must ensure the product continues to conform and meet the declared performance EN Classes shown in the instructions for use, this is in addition to the basic CE certification according to Module B – Annex V of the PPE Regulation. Unlike Category I and II PPE, Category III is subject to an annual audit by a Notified Body, which certifies continued conformity and issues a “Quality Surveillance Certificate” as per Module C2/D – Annex VII/VII of the PPE Regulation. Note that all Category III PPE must be identified with the digit code of the notified body appended to the CE mark.
Garment types to facilitate the selection of Category III protective clothing are split into six levels of protection (‘Types’) with each Type being associated with a defined ‘level of exposure’. Type I represents the ‘highest’ level of protection down to Type 6 which generally offers the ‘lowest’. The six exposure levels are designed to equate to different modes of exposure to increasingly serious threats and are a frequently referred-to when specifying protective coveralls.
Garment Selection, Types and Classes
When selecting or specifying a Category III garment it is often referred to by its CE ‘Type’ certification. However, this is not sufficient for an appropriate garment selection. Different protective garments that all meet the standards do not necessarily offer the same protection performance. Different protective clothing products produced in compliance to a specific CE ‘Type’ can exhibit very different protection, durability, and comfort performance characteristics. The CE ‘Type’ designation simply implies that a suit has passed one or more of the defined ‘whole-suit’ tests and meets the minimum mechanical and barrier requirements.
Fabric ‘Classes’ in addition to the overall garment performance, the European standard for each garment Type also specifies a number of minimum performance requirements, known as the performance class for the constituent fabrics and seams. These performance properties include technical attributes such as abrasion resistance, puncture resistance, tensile strength, and chemical permeation and penetration. Each fabric property has usually between 1 and 6 performance Classes where Class 6 relates to the highest performance and Class 1 to the minimum performance requirement.
This classification system for the fabric helps specifiers to differentiate between different functional characteristics. These mechanical properties are a very important part of the protection equation because they introduce a ‘durability’ factor into the garment appraisal. Because fabric barrier tests are conducted on brand-new garments under static conditions, they do not indicate whether a barrier property will be maintained over time under real working conditions. Protective garments must perform from the moment they are put on to the moment they are taken off and in an operating environment they can be subject to stresses which might compromise the protective performance e.g. by abrasion or tearing.