Firefighting PPE to Protect and Serve

Sponsored Article by NSCA Foundation

Record-breaking temperatures and months of drought fuelled 2019/2020, one of the worst Australian fire seasons to date, affecting hundreds of homes, businesses and communities, and putting many lives at risk. At the forefront of the conversation across Australia and the globe is the resilience of the affected communities and frontline workers. In the aftermath of the fires, important discussions were conducted around the durability of uniforms and equipment used by our frontline workers. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used by many Australian workers every day, keeping frontline workers safe and secure when carrying out their essential work.

In 2020 we have seen bushfires and then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, meaning the use and uptake of PPE has been in the spotlight more than ever before. Whether it is steel-capped boots, P2 respirators and surgical masks, reflective eyeglasses or firefighters’ helmets, these items are essential to safe work practices across industries. Standards are important tools in equipping industry with PPE and are continuously reviewed and updated to align with new technology. Standards Australia works with a range of stakeholders across differing sectors to develop standards that cover the various needs of our frontline workers. To better prepare for future fire seasons, throughout 2020 Standards Australia has engaged with industry experts and stakeholders to assist in equipping industry with safe and sturdy essential PPE.

Due to the nature of their work, firefighters can experience increased exposure to gases, chemicals, particulate and other substances that could potentially damage the respiratory system. Standards Australia works with a range of experts to develop standards related to respiratory protection in an effort to better protect firefighters and other frontline workers from damaging exposure. One of these experts, Russell Shephard, has worked in standards development for more than 25 years, chairing committees nationally and internationally and representing Australia in international standards development. He is Chair of the committee SF-052, Personal Protective Equipment, and the Director of Standards and Strategic Procurement at the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services.

Shephard says that when fighting fire on the frontline, “PPE becomes the last line of defence for firefighters.” During 2020 Shephard has been involved in major projects including the continual update of respiratory protection PPE and standards for cleaning and maintaining PPE. “With significant incidents like the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in the US and the continual loss of firefighters around the world while performing high-risk activities such as urban and wildland firefighting, the importance of PPE for these sectors has never been more apparent,” Shephard said. The ongoing discussion into different types of masks for firefighter protection has called directly on the standards involved. Particulate filters are classified and marked as P1, P2 or P3, with P3 providing the highest level of respiratory protection. According to Shephard, respiratory protection is one of the biggest challenges firefighters face and standards need to respond to.

Australia’s mirror technical committee is working with international standards bodies to update and develop standards that are internationally applicable for respiratory protection equipment, which includes the potential adoption and publication of several international respiratory protective device standards in the coming months. When it comes to PPE standards, Australia is a key player internationally. The intent of the ongoing work developing standards is for firefighters PPE to enhance the support for safety of our first responders. “In the area of firefighters PPE, Australia certainly takes the lead,” Shephard said.

Chaired by Shephard, Standards Australia committee SF-052 is a PPE leader internationally. Alongside respiratory protection standards, the committee oversees several working groups including
eye and face protection test methods and protective gloves. The committee also represents Australia in ongoing standards development at an international level, along with the ever-important conversations surrounding PPE.

In February 2020, the committee worked tirelessly with their international colleagues to adopt key standards for PPE, from eye and face protection to protective gloves. These standards included test methods for protective equipment and general requirements. Last summer, we saw firefighters from the US and Canada deployed here to support our men and women on the frontlines. Aligning Australian and international PPE standards is an essential step in nations supporting each other in emergency situations and importantly, means international firefighters do not have to be supplied equipment but can use their own.

In 2019, the Australian Standard for PPE specific to occupational footwear was adopted and modified from international standards, meaning the standard was updated to suit Australian conditions. The standard, AS 2210.5:2019, Personal protective equipment Part 5: Occupational footwear (ISO 20347:2012, MOD), is an important support piece for workers on construction sites and other professionals in workplaces that pose an occupational risk. The objective of this standard is to specify basic and additional requirements for occupational footwear that is not exposed
to any mechanical risks and is an adoption with national modifications reflective of the Australian conditions.

With COVID-19 with us, and other challenges on the horizon, it is important to continue the ongoing work in PPE standards to better support our frontline workers and all involved. Amid the 2020/21 bushfire season, our work and that of Shephard and other committees will continue as usual. With more improvements and updates to come, Standards Australia will continue to support our firefighters and the Australian community with up-to-date and efficient standards development.

NSCA Foundation is a not for profit, member based organisation in Australia that inspires, educates, informs and engages organisations in staying up-to-date with best practice for workplace safety, health and wellbeing. Membership with NSCA Foundation includes complimentary tickets to webinars, free or discounted tickets to events, complimentary subscription for the National Safety magazine, discounts for WHS training and qualifications, and more. With a legacy spanning over 90 years of supporting the work health and safety professional, NSCA Foundation membership ensures you and your business are supported to protect your most important asset – your people. Visit to find out more.

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

  • __cfduid
  • CookieConsent
  • local_storage_support_test
  • TawkWindowName

Decline all Services
Accept all Services