Recently, the term Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become fairly common and many Americans immediately think of facemasks and possibly gloves when they hear it. However, PPE has been around the safety industry much longer than our recent challenges. Furthermore, PPE includes much more than a facemask and is a vital component to keep workers safe in many work environments. Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms. OSHA requires that employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury. Controlling a hazard at its source is the best way to protect employees. However, when mitigating workplace hazards does not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide PPE to their employees and ensure its use.
The Requirement for PPE
Specific requirements for Personal Protective Equipment are presented in many different OSHA standards, published in 29 CFR. Some standards require that employers provide PPE at no cost to the employee while others simply state that the employer must provide PPE. In order to ensure the greatest possible protection for employees, employers and employees must cooperate in establishing and maintaining a safe and healthful work environment.
Employers are responsible for:
- Performing a “hazard assessment” of the workplace to identify and control physical and health hazards.
- Identifying and providing appropriate PPE for employees.
- Training employees in the use and care of PPE.
- Maintaining PPE, including replacing worn or damaged PPE.
- Periodically reviewing, updating, and evaluating the effectiveness of the PPE program.
- Properly wear PPE.
- Attend training sessions on PPE.
- Care for, clean, and maintain PPE.
- Inform a supervisor of the need to repair or replace PPE.
Some Types of required Personal Protection Equipment:
- Eye and Face Protection: safety spectacles, goggles, welding shields, laser safety goggles, & face shields
- Head Protection: hard hats (Types A, B, & C)
- Foot and Leg Protection: leggings (with safety snaps), metatarsal guards, toe guards, combination foot and shin guards, & safety shoes
- Hand and Arm Protection: protective gloves, leather, canvas or metal mesh gloves, fabric and coated fabric gloves, chemical- and liquid-resistant gloves,
- Body Protection: laboratory coats, coveralls, vests, jackets, aprons, surgical gowns, and full-body suits.
- Hearing Protection: single-use earplugs, pre-formed or molded earplugs, earmuffs
PPE can help save lives. It can only do this if it is worn. Further, it must be worn properly and worn throughout the job. All PPE clothing and equipment should be of safe design and construction. Employers should take the fit and comfort of PPE into consideration. Selecting appropriate items for each workplace is essential. PPE that fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employee use. Most protective devices are available in multiple sizes and care should be taken to select the proper size for each employee. If several different types of PPE are worn together, they must be compatible. If PPE does not fit properly, it may not provide the level of protection desired. This can discourage employee use. Tragically, it also can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed.
Training Employees in the Proper Use of PPE
The best way to ensure compliance with the Personal Protective Equipment policy is to train workers. Employers should make sure that each employee demonstrates an understanding of the training as well as the ability to properly wear and use PPE before they are allowed to perform work requiring the use of the PPE. They must know the risks posed by the job, and how PPE can protect them from these risks. Training in the proper use, care, and storage of PPE are equally necessary. Furthermore, the employer must document the training of each employee required to wear or use PPE. This documentation must include a certification containing the name of each employee trained, the date of training, and clear identification of the subject of the certification.
In addition to proper equipment and training, knowing how to inspect PPE to determine when the equipment should be removed from service is vital. A visual inspection is not always enough. When it comes to PPE the rule is: when in doubt; throw it out. It pays to err on the side of caution. It might be time to purchase new PPE.
Appropriate PPE is important in protecting workers it plays a pivotal role in keeping workers safe.