Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to protect workers from serious workplace injuries or illnesses resulting from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards.
Besides face shields, safety glasses, hard hats, and safety shoes, PPE includes a variety of devices and garments such as goggles, coveralls, gloves, vests, earplugs, and respirators.
OSHA’s general PPE requirements require that employers conduct a hazard assessment of workplaces to determine what risks are present that require the use of protective gear. They also must provide workers with appropriate equipment and require them to use and maintain it in a sanitary and reliable condition.
PPE is generally the last line of defense after engineering controls, work practices, and administrative controls. Engineering controls address physically changing a machine or work environment. Work practices involve training on how to perform tasks in ways that reduce exposure to workplace hazards. Administrative controls are changes in how or when workers do their jobs, such as scheduling work and rotating employees to reduce exposure.
If your assessment determines the presence of hazards that require the use of PPE, you must select equipment and require workers to use it, communicate your choices, and select PPE that fits.
You must also train workers on how to do the following:
- Use protective equipment properly.
- Be aware of when PPE is necessary.
- Understand the limitations of equipment to protect them from injury.
- Put on, adjust, wear, and take off equipment.
- Maintain equipment properly.
How Do You Choose?
Once the need for PPE has been established, the next task is to make selections according to the degree of protection required and the appropriateness of the equipment to the situation.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (www.ccohs.ca) recommends the following selection guidelines.
Match PPE to the hazards. A welder may require protection against multiple hazards such as welding gases, harmful light rays, molten metal, and flying chips. That requires providing multiple protective items like a welding helmet, welder’s goggles, and the appropriate respirator or air-supplied welding hood.
Get input. Discuss your needs with sales representatives and ask for recommendations. Consider alternatives, check out product claims, and test data. Try out PPE to see that products meet all criteria before approving it.
Involve workers. Get workers (and members of your safety committee) involved in the process. Introduce initially approved gear into the workplace for trails and ask for evaluations. This will provide essential information about fit, comfort, and acceptability. Give workers two or three approved models to choose from based on personal preference.
Finesse the fit. Once your selection has been made, fit each worker individually. The fitting is also the time to demonstrate how to wear and maintain the equipment. Turn to qualified people to conduct your fitting program, for example, an optician or optometrist for eye protection.
Fit is about more than comfort. If safety glasses slide down a worker’s nose, protection from flying particles is reduced or eliminated. The calculated and required degree of protection cannot be achieved unless the equipment fits and is worn at all times when the hazard is present.