Personal protective equipment in Western Europe provides growth opportunities for technical textiles according to a new report. Protective clothing and gloves - the predominant textile-based sectors of the market - are expected to generate almost €3 billion a year in sales revenue by 2008.

As legislation on health and safety at work gathers momentum, so too does the West European market for personal protective equipment (PPE), according to a report by Frost & Sullivan.

Highlighted in the latest issue of Technical Textile Markets, published by Textiles Intelligence, the report calculates that protective clothing and gloves - the predominant textile-based sectors of the PPE market - will generate almost €3 billion a year in sales revenue by 2008, compared with less than €2.5 billion in 2003.

In 2004 protective clothing and gloves accounted for an estimated 59.8 per cent of the total market for PPE in Western Europe, up from 57.5 per cent in 2000. By 2008 it is forecast that their share will reach 61.8 per cent.

Individually, protective clothing is the largest sector of the market for personal protective equipment (PPE) in Western Europe. End users spend almost twice as much on protective clothing as they do on head protection, gloves or footwear.

Sales of protective clothing are expected to grow from €1.4 billion in 2003 to almost €1.9 billion in 2008, equivalent to a growth rate of almost 5.5 per cent a year.

Meanwhile, sales of protective gloves in Western Europe are forecast to grow by 2.3 per cent a year between 2003 and 2008, from €992 million to around €1,114 million.

European Union regulations
The driving force behind the growth in the PPE market has been the creation by the European Union of regulations and industry standards which are then binding upon its member states.

Some countries, notably Italy and Germany, have preferred to enact their own versions of the European rules and in some instances these are more stringent. Other European countries, although not members of the EU, have also found themselves drawn into the process.

Within Western Europe a number of interesting variations show up between countries.

Germany, France and the UK have a far greater proportion of large PPE purchasers than Italy, Scandinavia or Spain. The actual expenditure on PPE per employee is also higher in Germany, France and the UK.

The pattern of PPE usage also differs with the industry concerned. As might be expected, petrochemical companies tend to have large numbers of employees using PPE, as do the national emergency services.

On the other hand it is striking that the chemical industry has fewer PPE users per company, which may be due to its relatively lower labour intensity than, say, the construction industry.

Out of a sample of 227 West European companies, all types of PPE (protective headgear, clothing, safety gloves and footwear) are used by 83 per cent of them.

For the two market sectors involving textiles (protective clothing and gloves), the figure rises to almost 95 per cent, which gives an idea of how universal PPE usage has become. A third of these companies buy some form of integrated protective apparel - such as chemical protection incorporating breathing equipment.

Of the sample, 90 per cent of companies which provide some kind of PPE to their employees include protective clothing. In fact, almost twice as much is spent by these companies on protective clothing as in any of the other three sectors.

Significant hazards
The most significant hazards encountered are mechanical in nature. Next in importance are those involving heat and flame, chemicals and flying particles. A large number of other hazards requiring PPE are mentioned, however, with protection against noise high on the list.

Of the companies in the sample which find it possible to identify their total annual PPE expenditure, almost three-quarters put the figure within the range €2,500 to €250,000.

A typical customer spends 50 per cent on protective clothing, 20 per cent each on headwear and footwear, and 10 per cent on safety gloves.

When it comes to choosing PPE products and suppliers, performance in hazard protection is obviously the number one priority. But it seems that many companies may be happy to sacrifice comfort in use if there is a lower price option on offer.

"West European Market for Textiles in Personal Protective Equipment" was published in Technical Textile Markets, Issue No 60.