Personal Equipment

A New York cement producer was fined $509,000 in 2009 for, among other violations, failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers.

PPE can help reduce accidents and injuries associated with hazardous materials or other potentially unsafe workplace conditions.

As with most risk management efforts, selecting and using the most effective PPE starts with assessing the hazards in your facility or worksite. Federal and state safety regulations require employers to analyze and document potential hazards in a variety of categories, as well as to document corrective measures.

Employers should pay attention to hazards including:

  • Impact, penetration or compression injuries
  • Chemical, heat, excessive dust or loud noise exposures
  • Potentially hazardous, combustible or infectious materials

Employers should also identify hazards such as welding or cutting operations, objects that may fall, sharp objects or edges, electrical hazards or other sources of potential injuries.

It is important to review state regulations carefully because they may differ from federal requirements.

While all employers have to comply with regulations that apply to general industry, a number of additional standards have been developed to address specific hazards inherent in industries such as shipyards, marine terminals and other types of workplaces.

Choosing Equipment

To provide the most effective protection, companies must provide PPE best suited for the hazards in a given workplace or procedure. For instance, some types of gloves offer suitable protection from certain chemicals, but can be damaged by exposure to other materials. It is important to check the recommended types of PPE listed on Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the substances your company is using.

Particular care should also be taken with the following types of equipment:

  • Head protection: Helmets are rated according to their ability to protect against impact and penetration, as well as for electrical protection. It is critical to understand the voltages workers could be exposed and to provide the properly rated head protection.
  • Eye protection: Depending on the materials used and the type of work performed, workers may need safety glasses, goggles or a full-face shield.
  • Respirators: Respirators offer different degrees of protection for specific materials, so employers must understand the exposures and follow the recommendations listed on the MSDS.
  • Foot protection: While most work boots protect workers against dropped or falling objects, some also offer nonslip soles or protection from electrical hazards.

Along with providing the proper type of PPE, supervisors must also make sure workers are actually wearing PPE and using it properly. Many workers complain that PPE is hot or uncomfortable, restricts their vision while working or somehow may be inconvenient.

It is critical that employers overcome these objections by explaining the hazards and the potential safety and disciplinary consequences of noncompliance.

Another important consideration is making sure PPE is performing properly and has been maintained. A respirator with a clogged filter, for instance, is less likely to provide the required protection.

While the most effective ways to reduce workplace injuries is by eliminating potential hazards, those measures aren’t always possible. If the use of hazardous materials can’t be eliminated, PPE can help workers reduce the risk and severity of potential injuries.

To learn more:

Next: Workplace Accident Prevention