Opinion: Fit for purpose

Published: 27-May-2011

Uncomfortable clothing can affect mental as well as physical performance

Nobody can perform at their best if they are uncomfortable. A quick look at the way in which specialist clothing has evolved over the past couple of decades is ample evidence that specific tasks require apparel designed with that task in mind.

But until now research has focused on the physical benefits of high performance clothing and little attention has been paid to the mental stress created by uncomfortable garments. Like a nagging toothache or shoes that pinch, eventually the discomfort becomes an overwhelming distraction, making it impossible to concentrate.

Recent research carried out by the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim, Germany, in cooperation with DASTEX Reinraumzubehör, aimed to test the extent to which mental performance was affected by protective clothing such as that worn in the pharma or semicon industries. The results were conclusively in favour of reusable garments, which generally exhibit greater “breathability” than disposables.

There are, of course, more issues in the reusable versus disposable debate than just worker comfort, but this study may prompt companies to look again at their choice. Equally, it may cause the textile companies to see if the properties of disposable fabrics can be developed to be closer to reusable grades.

Discomfort leads to less than optimum performance, and that is both a quality issue and a health and safety concern if it results in errors. Thanks to this research, there is now an objective way of measuring the effect of clothing on mental as well as physical performance, making comfort a greater priority than ever before.

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