The virtue of protective clothing
I visited a high-tech company recently. As usual, we were asked to put on some air-tight protective clothing before we were ushered into a dust-free room. Everything was new and disposable, protective overalls, gloves, hats and galoshes, and the security check was very thorough, aimed at keeping products free of contamination.
This reminded me of the security check at the airports in the US. The security officers open your suitcases and lift the items inside for examinations, but you never see them changing their protective gloves at all. One time in Chicago, an officer went through a fellow passenger's bag filled with dirty laundry, before he started to check the items in my luggage. He opened my toiletry bag with his gloved hand and randomly went through my toothbrushes and under garments, etc. His gloves were not only discolored, they were smelly as well. Watching all this, I couldn't help saying to him: "No need to go any further. Keep everything. I don't want it anymore." Wearing gloves may protect air security officers from contamination but it contaminates passengers' possessions.
I have yet another experience related to protective clothing. During several of my visits to the nuclear accident sites at Fukushima in Japan and Chernobyl in Ukraine, I had to wear thick protective clothing. On the one hand, it kept our clothes and skin from contamination so that contaminants wouldn't be brought outside the enclosed area; on the other hand, it prevented contaminants from making inroads to our health. Such stringent protection measures serve to protect us from contamination and ensure that a contaminated area will not be enlarged.
I have also been asked to put on protective clothing during some of my visits to hospitals. I don't know whether it is meant to protect the patients or the visitors. But relatively speaking, such protective measures are never strictly enforced.
In spite of the difference in reasons, the purpose of such protective measures seems to be the same. No matter how you look at it, "human beings" don't seem to be the most important protection targets, at least the majority of them have not been given due attention.
In the first example, machinery seems to be more important than human beings; in the second, airport security officers are more important than the multitude of passengers; in the third, the protection humans get seems to fall far behind the protection given to machinery in the first example. With hospital visits, wearing protective clothing has never been treated with the same care as in previous examples.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (26 October, 2015).
9 November, 2015