The importance of PPE in a water rescue situation
A drysuit can essentially save your life while you are working in cold water. During a water rescue situation, a rescuer can find themselves in the water for a prolonged period of time. Should you come into direct contact with the water at any point, especially early on, you have a higher risk of getting cold.
As your body temperature cools, the blood flow around your body reduces, as this is no longer keeping your vital organs warm, your body will start to shiver in an attempt to warm up, then goosebumps appear. As your body is working so hard to try and warm up, you can become tired over a prolonged period and you may ultimately lose concentration as your focus turns to self-survival. In extreme cases where your body is losing heat faster than it can generate it, hypothermia can occur. Therefore, the importance of a drysuit which keeps you dry and ultimately warm, reducing the potential threat of hypothermia will keep you focused on the task in hand; the rescue situation.
A drysuit is essentially a 100% watertight suit with seals around the neck, wrists and feet (in the form of seals or gloves / boots) to stop any water penetrating through and causing the wearer to get wet. A drysuit that is well maintained and cared for can last for many years, and as testament to how long a drysuit can last, Hammond Drysuits has customers who have reported that they are using the same drysuit 20 years on.
There are numerous different drysuits on the market available, which in principle have similar characteristics and properties. Most are made for a particular use and it is the features that ultimately differentiate the drysuits from one another. You should consider your individual requirements and expected longevity of the drysuit when making a decision on which one will be best for you.
There is plenty of information online, the internet is a great source of information from where to start your search and get a few of the key names to contact. For a start try searching ‘commercial drysuits’ and see what companies come up, get a feel for the names and who is providing what. “It is important to know that the suit that someone wears in their leisure time, sailing or scuba diving, is not the same suit that you would want to wear in a rescue situation,” explains Chris Hammond, managing director at Hammond Drysuits.
There is an abundance of information and options available and, as a guide Chris explains some of the most important features to look out for when looking at buying a drysuit as a form of PPE in a water rescue situation.
The material. Hammond use a non-breathable tri-laminate, reliable, and durable material which is known for its high strength. Hammond do not use breathable fabrics, as some other companies do, finding that they do not last as long, but it is down to the individuals’ choice and budget requirements.
Reinforcement is vital. Reinforcement of the seat area, knees and elbows help prolong the life of the drysuit as well as adding extra protection. The extra protection means the wearer does not need to worry about uneven surfaces if sitting down and it will reduce the chances of sharp objects penetrating through the drysuit.
Front or rear entry zips? Rear entry zips provide greater flexibility, and they are easier to get on, however the wearer will require assistance when getting in and out of the suit. Whilst the front entry zip provides stiffness in the suit across the body area, and they are harder to get on. If it is likely that no-one else will be around when you need to get suited up, then this zip profile is more suited to you as you can open and close the zip on your own. Covers can also be added over the zips for added protection and to avoid them getting caught on objects.
The seams. Seams should include a strong, robust yet flexible tape. Hand taping, although slightly more expensive will give longevity to the suit as opposed to machine taping.
The seals. This comes down to personal preference and how many people will be wearing the suit. Neoprene is more comfortable and warmer against the skin, however is it less forgiving and as it is not as stretchy as Latex, it is more likely to leak if it is not made to fit the person wearing the suit. Latex on the other hand is more forgiving, so if the suit is likely to be worn by multiple people then this would be the preferred seal.
Footwear. Boots can be added to a drysuit which prevents damage to your feet as well as protecting the drysuit. Steel toe and midsole boots are ideal to prevent accidents when stepping into muddy waters and when getting in and out of the water, when you don’t know or cannot see what is on the ground. Damage to drysuits usually occurs when sharp objects, out of sight, penetrate through the suit. This damage is prevented by adding the appropriate footwear to the suit.
Additional features for added visibility. Drysuits can be made out of bright colours and with reflective strips so you can be seen when working in poor light condition or during night time rescues. A number of leisure wear drysuits are dark colours, so it is important that visibility is one of the factors to consider when looking at the options for PPE.
Sizing. Ultimately drysuits as a form of PPE are part of the work uniform and as such they should enhance your role rather than hinder. Drysuits are available as standard sizes, or for additional comfort and protection some options are made-to-measure. As you will be wearing layers of clothing under the suit, measurements should be taken whilst wearing a layer of light clothing. Make sure the tape measure is not twisted and carefully make a note of all the digits, as the seals in particular need to fit comfortably tight enough so they stay secure and dry.
“Look after your drysuit and your drysuit will look after you,” explains Chris Hammond. Always transport your drysuit with the zip closed, it is much stronger and therefore less likely to crack. Every few months treat your zip with white paraffin candle or bees wax. By rubbing the wax along the inside and outside of the zip it helps lubricate it and protect it from the elements. This helps keep zips smooth and supple so they last as long as possible and avoid any splits or breakages. For the seals treat the Neoprene ones with baby lotion (not oil) and use talc on the latex versions. When storing the suit, it is best to keep it in a cool dark place, away from direct sunlight or heat. If possible, keep the suit on a hanger with the zip open. Regular annual services and inspections can prolong its life, which check water tightness, seals, seams and zips and certification for insurance purposes can be provided.
“It is a myth that if your drysuit fills with water, i.e. your zip is left open when you enter the water, you will sink. This is simply not true. The density of the water inside is no different to the outside, the problems will arise when you come to exist the water, then the suits becomes heavy due to the water inside and will hold you in the water,” explains Chris. A drysuit full of water is simply not a drysuit, a drysuit that leaks is not a drysuit, and for the reasons already mentioned it is important that your suit is fully zipped up, properly maintained and regularly inspected so it can look after you when you need it to most.
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