Technical

New high-tech respirators get thumbs up from Kier workers

JSP’s PowerCap Infinity provides all-in-one protection
PowerCaps – lightweight air-purifying respirators which protect workers against dust inhalation – have been trialled by Kier staff. Neil Gerrard reports.

Kier workers have given their seal of approval to new air-purifying respirators that incorporate motorsport technology to provide the highest possible level of protection against dust and other airborne particles. Kier has been trialling JSP’s PowerCap Infinity on various projects for around 18 months.

The PowerCap Infinity provides protection against dust and other airborne particulates, giving users an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 40, the highest possible level (as defined by standard EN 12941:1998 + A2: 2008).

It combines head, eye, face and respiratory protection, with the option of adapting the unit to offer hearing protection with Sonis helmet-mounted ear defenders.

JSP worked with motorsport aerodynamicists to use computational fluid dynamics to develop a twin impeller system that controls the airflow through the head top to maximise user comfort and optimise energy efficiency. The twin impeller motor unit delivers a minimum of 160 litres per minute of filtered air and uses real-time diagnostics to deliver the optimum airflow for the wearer.

Meanwhile, its polycarbonate impact visor, which can be flipped up when not required, conforms to EN 166 optical class 1 and offers B grade impact protection. The EVO5 industrial safety helmet offers head protection to EN 397.

The modular system also monitors both the level of the battery, which runs for about eight hours between charges, and the filter condition, with audible and heads-up display notifications. Key components such as the filters, visor, helmet, turbo drive unit and battery pack are all independently replaceable.

Mark Starling, safety health and environmental manager at Kier Construction, is keen to see wider adoption. He says: “If you go to HS2 or Tideway, they are more common but in more traditional construction projects, these things are not out there because they cost around £700.

“But there are significant advantages – a disposable mask is £2.50, so if you go through a load of those in a year, you will save money by getting a PowerCap. You also don’t need a face fit to use them and they offer all-in-one protection.

“They are heavy but when it is hot I can walk across the site and be perfectly cool with the PowerCap on. For me, it is the perfect gear for carpenters and bricklayers. In instances where we have given these to workers to try, I can’t get them back off them afterwards.

“We need to make people more aware of the longer-term cost benefit as well as the benefits to their health. Anyone who is going to wear one who does make a lot of dust is never going to go back.”

What are PowerCaps?

Kier workers using the PowerCaps on site

The PowerCap Infinity has been designed by JSP’s research and development team, with feedback from the Chartered Institute of Building’s safety special interest group (SIG) and Kier workers.

In the course of its research, JSP determined that wearers of existing air-purifying respirators found that they would underperform when under pressure, as well as being heavy and complex to use. Many existing models involved a waist-mounted filter unit, which workers reported restricted their movement.

It was this feedback that encouraged JSP to produce a fully integrated solution combining head, eye, face, respiratory and hearing protection.

The modular PowerCap system measures air pressure, orientation, battery voltage, motor current, exhaust pressure and remaining battery charge twice a second to help maximise airflow.

The company subjected the PowerCaps to hundreds of hours of human treadmill tests conducted in a purpose-built salt dust chamber to optimise mass, balance and sealing elements.

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