NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge

Help us find new ways to provide better-fitting protective clothing for the full spectrum of U.S. workers. Let’s leave no body behind!
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Challenge Overview

U.S. workers require protective clothing that fits properly to perform their jobs safely. Protective clothing that fits poorly can compromise safety and performance of people as they work, resulting in injuries and lost-time to those trying to do their jobs and risks to those around them. Unfortunately, for many workers, finding properly fitting protective clothing is harder than it should be.

Traditional sizing approaches do not accommodate the shapes and sizes of all workers, and current designs and knowledge management materials (e.g., training) for protective clothing may not support differences that arise from important religious or cultural practices. Typical procurement approaches financially reward large-quantity purchases, which can negatively impact the availability of some protective clothing by creating a disincentive for manufacturers to make and distributors to carry lower-volume products. Further, access to protective clothing that meets the needs of all workers when and where that clothing is needed (i.e., the point of use) can be disrupted by a myriad of logistics challenges within the work environment.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeks your help in generating innovative solutions to address the above issues. These solutions will help to ensure that protective clothing designs and supporting guidance allow for safe use by all workers with these designs being equitably available in the marketplace and at the point of use. Solutions should consider the broad spectrum of U.S. workers in relation to factors that may influence fit such as body size and shape, gender, race, ethnicity, religious or cultural practices, or specific work tasks.

The “NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge—Leaving No Body Unprotected” will award a total prize purse of $55,000 to up to five teams whose innovations meet the challenge goals. This challenge focuses specifically on medical gowns, firefighter turnout coats and pants, and protective coveralls for various sectors as outlined in the Guidelines tab.

Help NIOSH leave no body behind when it comes to protective clothing!


Challenge Guidelines

Challenge Breakthrough

The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) seeks far-reaching solutions that will increase the percentage of U.S. workers with access to better-fitting personal protective clothing. We are interested in solutions that can have a positive impact on large numbers of people through innovations in technology, design, logistics, communications, or user training for personal protective equipment (PPE) categories with significant unmet needs.

Winning ideas will deliver improved fit and user comfort without compromising safety, job performance, or the dignity of a worker’s experience. 



Within NIOSH, the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) serves as the division devoted to research, evaluation, testing, and standards related to PPE for U.S. workers. NPPTL’s expanding portfolio includes promoting equitable PPE protections for the full spectrum of U.S. workers. NIOSH NPPTL seeks innovators who can help meet this ambitious challenge. 

The Challenge supports NIOSH NPPTL’s efforts to provide equitable PPE protections for all U.S. workers by identifying solutions in relation to factors that may influence protective clothing fit. These solutions may address protective clothing use, acceptability, knowledge, availability, or access challenges for any of the following protective clothing types: medical gowns, firefighter turnout coats and pants, and protective coveralls described in more detail below


The Need for Properly Fitting Protective Clothing

Examples of identified gaps to be considered in this challenge include: 

  • Use or acceptability challenges due to shape and size considerations such as pregnancy, health status, or ethnicity
  • Use or acceptability challenges arising from specific work, cultural, or religious activities
  • Use or acceptability challenges arising from gender norming assumptions
  • Lack of knowledge management materials about protective clothing selection or use by individuals with specific needs based on cultural or religious beliefs or practices
  • Lack of knowledge management materials related to sizing practices or standards
  • Lack of knowledge management materials identifying products on the market that meet fit needs of specific populations
  • Availability challenges caused by supply chain market practices
  • Access challenges at the point of use due to logistics challenges such as remote locations or space restrictions

These unmet needs present opportunities for innovators to propose far-reaching solutions that may result in improved use, acceptability, knowledge, availability, or access for medical gowns, firefighter turnout coats and pants, or protective coveralls. NIOSH NPPTL works in coordination, collaboration, and partnership with members of the PPE community to address complex challenges where NIOSH NPPTL focuses most of its protective clothing resources on research, testing, and evaluation to inform the development of performance requirements and test methods. For this challenge, proposed solutions may include the full scope of the PPE community, not just where NIOSH NPPTL focuses most of its protective clothing resources. All proposed solutions need to address unmet needs related to one or more of the below types of protective clothing. 


Medical Gowns

Medical gowns will be restricted in this challenge to isolation and surgical gowns worn by patients, medical professionals, and visitors primarily (but not exclusively) in healthcare settings. Gowns provide protection by preventing transmission of microorganisms and fluids in two directions: (1) from a healthcare worker to people or the workplace, and (2) from people and surfaces to the worker. 

Gowns must meet a variety of safety standards. Also, because a worker may be wearing a gown for a long period, comfort represents a key consideration. For both disposable and washable/reusable gowns, trade-offs exist between how effectively the materials and design reduce the transfer of microorganisms and support the worker’s comfort in relation to heat build-up and mobility. Gowns must not contribute to contaminating the worker (e.g., when taking it off) or the workplace (e.g., rubbing against nearby surfaces) while permitting freedom of movement and being easy to put on and take off.


Firefighter Turnout Coats and Pants

A firefighter’s turnout coat and pants must be protective and durable without interfering with the wearer’s comfort and mobility. Firefighting requires a lot of bending, crawling, and working with one’s arms in different positions. Properly fitting clothing must accommodate these movements safely without causing fatigue. Turnout coats and pants must pass numerous performance tests to be approved for use. A typical turnout coat or pair of pants has an outer shell, a moisture barrier, and additional layers of fabric that make up the thermal lining. The garment must also be constructed to ensure that no gaps between layers exist as this would compromise the thermal protection. Extra fabric is required to maintain protective coverage while a firefighter moves, but too much extra fabric can be baggy and add both bulk and weight.


Coveralls (all sectors)

In healthcare and other work settings, such as construction and manufacturing, coveralls provide full body protection from infectious diseases, chemical hazards, radiation, hot or cold liquids, electric arcs, sparks and flames, molten materials, cuts or projectiles, toxic particulate matter, or other hazards. With full body coverage, and in consideration of the “street clothing” typically worn underneath, coveralls can be hot and uncomfortable for workers. Coveralls must meet a variety of safety standards. Fabrics and coatings vary depending on the hazard and risk exposure. Front openings, cuffs, neck openings (some coveralls have hoods), and foot openings (some coveralls include boot coverings) also vary. Highly limited sizing options do not reflect the real-world needs of many people who rely on coveralls to perform their work safely.


Streams of Innovation Needed: Proposed solutions should describe the tangible advancements they offer in one or more of the following innovation streams: 

Technology and Design Opportunities: Many of the unmet needs described in this challenge result from technology or design gaps. Most current designs for protective clothing do not consider diverse body shapes and sizes or how gender differences affect proportions and clothing fit. Protective clothing sizing reflects mannequin proportions rather than the diversity of human proportions. However, for innovative designers, engineers, materials scientists, and entrepreneurs, the above gaps represent opportunities to propose far-reaching solutions for protective clothing that will be more usable or acceptable to wearers, which will help keep workers and workplaces safe. 


Knowledge Management Materials: Many types of protective clothing require knowledge to ensure proper selection (including fit), purchase, and use. Training, guidance documents, job aids, and other knowledge management materials are needed for entities such as manufacturers, distributors, employers, procurement teams, and health and safety professionals responsible for protective clothing selection, and those individuals who must use protective clothing. Solutions related to the development, evaluation, distribution, and assessment of knowledge management materials are an important aspect of ensuring that protective clothing provides equitable protections for all users.


Pathways to Success: The market dynamics that impact the availability of properly fitting protective clothing for purchase presents often-overlooked opportunities for innovation. Procurement, distribution, and market forces play essential roles in the availability of properly fitting protective clothing for U.S. workers. Small businesses may struggle with the economics and logistics of obtaining protective clothing that meets the needs of their diverse workers. Designers, producers, and distributors may face similar economic and logistical challenges. Also, an often-overlooked opportunity for innovation are the challenges that impact access to protective clothing at the point of use. These access challenges present opportunities for innovators to propose logistics, workplace design, and other solutions. Solutions that address availability or access challenges are needed to provide equitable protective clothing protections for the full spectrum of workers who rely on this type of PPE.



This challenge seeks solutions to improve fit in any of these three types of protective clothing:

  • Medical Gowns (e.g, surgical, isolation)
  • Firefighter Turnout Gear (coats and pants)
  • Coveralls used in a variety of sectors

We encourage submissions that improve fit for additional types of protective clothing as long as they address at least one of the above three categories. 

Additionally, solutions should fall into at least one of these three innovation streams:

  • Technology or design advancements
  • Pathway improvements (distribution and availability)
  • Wild card innovations (communications, training, or other areas to improve fit issues)

We also invite submissions that address opportunities in more than one innovation stream. Prizes will be awarded to concepts that best meet the judging criteria, regardless of stream. 

Up to five prizes will be awarded to the best submissions received that provide innovative solutions that increase the percentage of the working population that has access to better-fitting personal protective clothing.

  • $25,000 1st prize
  • $15,000 2nd prize
  • $5,000 3rd prize (up to three awarded)

All proposed solutions will be assessed for their potential positive impact on the largest number of users or groups of users. At a minimum, submissions will deliver improved fit and user comfort without compromising safety, job performance or the dignity of a worker’s experience. 










3rd  (up to 3 winners)



Total Prize Purse  




Open to submissions       April 21, 2022

Submission deadline        June 30, 2022 @ 5pm ET

Judging                                June 30-September 1, 2022

Winners Announced        September 8, 2022


How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at minimum:

  • Satisfy the Judging Scorecard requirements
  • Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions
  • Be scored higher than your competitors!

Responsive submissions will address unmet needs such as:

  • Fit issues experienced by females
  • Fit issues experienced by pregnant workers
  • Fit and sizing to accommodate various body proportions or sizes
  • Issues of fit or functionality that might be affected by one's ethnic background or religious practices
  • Fit issues that interfere with job performance
  • Technology or design limitations in relation to the availability and acceptability of personal protective clothing
  • Training or communications limitations in relation to the selection and use of properly fitting protective clothing.

Competitive solutions will additionally:

  • Thoughtfully discuss how the solution will increase the percentage of the working population that has access to properly fitting personal protective clothing
  • Include a high-level discussion of how the concept can succeed within safety standards and market realities
  • Provide diagrams, schematics, references, or other files that support the submission.


Judging Criteria

The determination of the winners will be made by a panel of judges, as determined by NIOSH, based on the following evaluation criteria.

Section DescriptionOverall Weight

What is the potential of this concept to increase the percentage of the working population that are using properly fitting personal protective clothing? 

How well does the idea address one or more challenges in relation to factors that may influence protective clothing fit for U.S. workers?

Does the proposal identify and offer a reasonable high-level strategy for managing potential risks and unintended consequences?

Can the proposed solution be confidently developed to meet applicable safety standards and would not compromise worker safety?


What is the likelihood that the solution can successfully meet the challenge objectives when prototyped or piloted (i.e. will it work)?

Can the proposed solution confidently succeed within current safety standards

Can the proposed solution confidently succeed in the current market environment?

How convincing is the evidence for how and why the solution would be adopted by producers, distributors, procurement bodies, employers, and workers (over existing options)?

Technical or Conceptual Maturity 

How well does the explanation and supporting evidence support why the solution is identified at a particular maturity level?

What is the likelihood that the submission can be prototyped or piloted within 18-24 months? 

What is the likelihood that the proposed innovation could be developed to demonstrate meaningful impact in 3-5 years?


How well does the proposal describe how the solution overcomes limitations and constraints of existing technologies, designs, pathways to success, or knowledge management materials? 

How novel or creative is the solution?

Does the solution introduce possible pathways to additional improvements in other PPE categories?




Participation Eligibility:

The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a Federal employee your participation in this challenge is prohibited (see HeroX challenge specific agreement).

Submissions must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at https://www.acquisition.gov/far/part-25#FAR_25_003), OR have been substantially transformed in the U.S. or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c). 

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.

You are required to ensure that all releases or transfers of technical data to non-U.S. persons comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) 22 C.F.R. §§ 120.1 to 130.17.

Submissions from outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions are encouraged.

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.

Intellectual Property

Innovator grants to the Federal government an irrevocable, paid-up, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide license to reproduce, publish, post, link to, share, and display publicly the submission on the web or elsewhere, and a non-exclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to practice, or have practiced for or on its behalf, the solution throughout the world. Each Innovator will retain all other intellectual property rights in their submissions, as applicable. To participate in the Challenge, each Innovator must warrant that there are no legal obstacles to providing the above-referenced nonexclusive licenses of the Innovator’s rights to the Federal government. 

To receive a prize for their submission, Innovators must agree to grant the Federal government a non-exclusive license right to the inventive concept or inventions and patents in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/award submissions. Full intellectual property rights also remain with the licensor. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details.

You may be required to complete an additional form to document this license if you are selected as a winner.

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before 5:00 pm ET on June 30, 2022. No late submissions will be accepted.

Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.

Judging Panel:

The determination of the winners will be made by a panel of judges, as determined by NIOSH, based on the evaluation criteria found in the Challenge Guidelines.

Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.
  • By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) agrees to indemnify the Federal government against third-party claims for damages arising from or related to Challenge activities.

Participants shall not use the NIOSH, CDC or HHS names, logos or official seals in their submissions and must not claim endorsement from those entities.

Participants agree that HHS may disqualify the submission if, in HHS’ judgment, the program is inconsistent with HHS’ public health mission, may be ineffective or harmful, or any other reason deemed necessary.

Record Retention and FOIA: All materials submitted to HHS as part of a submission become HHS records and cannot be returned. Any confidential commercial information contained in a submission should be designated in accordance with 45 C.F.R. § 5.41. Participants will be notified of Freedom of Information Act requests for their submissions in accordance with 45 C.F.R. § 5.42.


Challenge Updates

Did you miss yesterday's webinar?

May 25, 2022, 1:53 p.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Greetings innovators, 

We hope you enjoyed yesterday's panel discussion! If you were unable to join our webinar, you can watch the recording below.

You are also able to download the slides using this link.

Have a question that we didn't answer? Comment in the ​Challenge Forum and we'll get back to you with a response.

REMINDER: NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge Q&A Webinar starts in two hours!

May 24, 2022, 9 a.m. PDT by Lulu

The NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge Webinar starts in 2 hours!


Click here to register


When: Today, May 24 2:00 PM Eastern Time

What: Join HeroX and NIOSH for an introduction to the NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge and a live Q&A!

Webinar in 2 Days!

May 22, 2022, 6 a.m. PDT by Lulu

On Tuesday, join HeroX and NIOSH for a live webinar where you have an opportunity to ask your questions! You won't want to miss this opportunity to get the inside scoop on the NIOSH Protective Clothing Challenge!

When: May 24, 2022 2:00 PM Eastern Time.

Click here to register

Working from Home

May 17, 2022, 6 a.m. PDT by Lulu

If you’re used to working in an office environment, the process of working on a crowdsourced project can be daunting. Luckily we’ve been doing this for a while, and we’d like to share with you the tips that we’ve learned along the way.

Here are three tips to optimize your work from home experience:

1. Focus on results, not time spent working

In an office environment, we’re often led to think that we should be working eight hours a day, five days a week. In reality, not all of these hours are productive. When you’re able to control your own time at home, it’s a good idea to structure your day around specific tasks and goals.

2. Find the tools that work for you

If you’re working on your project with a team, you’ll need to find a way to connect with them remotely. Your team members may be from all around the world, and it’s important to figure out an effective communication strategy. Slack is a great tool for instant messaging, group chats, document sharing and reminders. For video calls, Zoom is a good go-to.

3. Boost your team’s morale

It’s easy to feel isolated while you’re working remotely. If you’re working with a team, it’s a good idea to schedule regular check-ins to connect with each other and boost morale. Zoom meetings don’t have to be all work, all the time. Take the time to connect with your team and find ways to support one another.


Body Diversity and the Problems with Protective Clothing

May 13, 2022, 7:10 a.m. PDT by Jamie Elliott

Dear innovators,

We are excited to review your awesome submissions, and we have a blog post we would like to share with you, giving context to the problem NIOSH is using this challenge to help solve - check it out!


Body Diversity Across Gender, Race and Beyond S, M, L, XL