All innovation begins with creative ideas, and innovation can be defined as “the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization,” says Teresa M. Amabile, director of research at Harvard University’s School of Business Administration.

Every company worth its salt strives to be creative and innovative — or, at least, they should be. And to reach that end, innovative companies look for innovative solutions. They listen not only to their customers, but also to their employees in order to achieve optimal results both in the marketplace and the workplace.

As a safety manager, no matter the size or purpose of your company, there’s a lot on your plate each and every day. From ensuring your employees are using eyewash stations and wearing steel-toed boots to issuing hardhats, monitoring the operation of heavy equipment and much more, responsibilities can seem endless.

As a result, implementing innovation in your department often can be difficult. But that’s exactly why safety managers need to partner with innovative companies. Such companies can help them manage risks and find novel solutions to avoid the chance of incurring work-related injuries or deaths.

Partner for better success
One such way to accomplish this goal in regard to personal protective equipment (PPE) is by taking advantage of the recent advancements in flame resistance (FR) materials. This can be done by working with companies that design FR wear that’s not only comfortable, but also moisture-wicking, odor resistant and antimicrobial — all features that are intended to make workers happy. And, not coincidentally, happy workers often are safe workers.

Every day in the U.S., shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast are responsible for fatalities in the workplace. About 8,000 workers each year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by electrical contact, resulting in enormous human costs and financial costs for companies.

In spite of such dangers — and warnings — safety managers know that a difficult part of their jobs is ensuring that all employees are wearing FR clothing as they’re instructed to do. Noncompliance happens largely because workers usually won’t wear an uncomfortable garment— as FR apparel has traditionally been known to be — even though they are unprotected in a dangerous job that puts them at risk of exposure to serious burn injury. Fact is, in many situations, comfort is often considered to be paramount to safety. Some workers simply will discard uncomfortable FR undergarments in favor of a favorite cotton T-shirt.

Rather than trying to force compliance, however, an innovative company will instead listen to what their employees’ actions are telling them, and they’ll then look for innovative solutions. By partnering with the right FR apparel provider, such solutions can be discovered and implemented.

Challenge leads to innovation, solution
FR wear traditionally has been considered uncomfortable because, in fiber-based garments, the application of fabric coatings and other topical additives has been one of the principal means of achieving FR protection. These add weight to the garment and also alter its feel, meaning that the type of clothing people find comfortable cannot be produced using old FR technology additives and topical applications.

Besides that, the effectiveness of these applications fades with multiple cleanings, meaning the clothing works only for a while because it has been treated. Innovative apparel companies have recognized this fact and emphasized developing FR clothing that is comfortable as well as effective. Comfort in FR wear is not just the feel of the garment, but its ability to wick and dissipate moisture.

Innovation in action
These developments in FR apparel were made possible by a technological breakthrough spawning a fiber blend of clothing that wicked moisture and dried four to ten times better than 100 percent cotton garments, yet was just as comfortable as cotton.

It was discovered this formula could be created using a naturally self-extinguishing hydrophobic fiber, resulting in comfortable, high-performance wear with built-in FR protection that doesn’t wash out.

It’s a reality that FR apparel can be comfortable and, in turn, employees will wear it, remaining well protected in dangerous workplace occupations. Safety versus comfort is no longer an either-or scenario.

In his book Making Innovation Work, author Tony Davila says that the words creativity and innovation are often used interchangeably, although they shouldn’t be. The reason, he says, is “while creativity implies coming up with ideas, it’s the ‘bringing ideas to life’ … that makes innovation the distinct undertaking it is.”

By truly listening to employees and also recognizing their safety needs and desires through their behavior, creative ideas can abound in the workplace. Many safety managers may have the insight needed to develop solutions, but not the time or the resources to fully explore or implement them.

Safety managers, however, need to remember that they are not alone in their work. By partnering with innovative companies — such as those that produce comfortable FR wear — ideas and insight can become a reality. And a genuine difference can be made in the workplace.