Workplace Personal Protective Equipment Tips

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How often do you check your workplace PPE?

  1. Workplace PPE is designed to protect against exposure to hazards causing injuries or illnesses.
  2. PPE protects your employees and your company from workers’ comp claims
  3. Learn the most common risks and how to protect employees with appropriate PPE
  4. Establish inspections on all PPE at least quarterly to ensure safety.

While PPE gained traction during COVID-19 with face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, PPE goes far beyond these precautions. Multiple workplace situations may require PPE. Be sure your enterprise is providing – and checking – other critical PPE that your employees need to perform their jobs safely.

Workplace Personal Protective Equipment

PPE is defined by OSHA as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.” Examples include the previously mentioned masks, respirators, and gloves, but it can also take the form protective glasses and goggles, hard hats, clothing and footwear treated to resist heat or electric shock, and much more. Some scenarios that could necessitate the use of workplace personal protective equipment include:

  • Administering first aid
  • Construction, maintenance, or repair work
  • Using chemicals or corrosive materials
  • Using any tool or equipment that:
    • Has the potential to cut, stab, or puncture
    • Operates at high speeds
    • Uses extreme temperatures (e.g., welding)
    • Creates dust, or causes other particulate contaminates to enter the air
  • Working outdoors in excessive heat or cold, wind, precipitation, etc.
  • Elevated work sites where there is a risk of people or objects falling

If your employees perform work that fits into any of these categories, then using workplace PPE and developing an organization-wide program is a must. In some cases, taking the time to utilize PPE may seem like more trouble than it’s worth to employees, especially for quick fixes and jobs that only take a minute. But practicing workplace safety should not be optional, for the following reasons:

  • Preventing workplace injuries
  • Reducing worker’s compensation claims
  • Gaining back the time, productivity, and morale that is lost when an employee sustains an injury
  • Communicating a culture that values employee safety
  • Reducing the likelihood of organizational liability if an injury does occur

A well-designed PPE program requires organizations to carefully consider what PPE is needed, and to actively analyze the types of hazards and risks their employees face. For example, can the need for PPE be eliminated if a task were performed differently or different tools utilized? Is there more than one hazard inherent in a task that might require multiple pieces of PPE?

It’s also important to remember that workplace PPE is intended as the “last line of defense” between an employee and injury, and is meant to be the final barrier between employees and injury when all other controls and safeguards fail. Using PPE does not excuse an organization from actively mitigating risks, nor is it a 100% guarantee against injury. PPE must work in conjunction with a variety of safety measures in order to be truly effective. A perfect world, or at least, an effective safety program, is one where all risks and hazards are mitigated before they even reach an employee’s PPE.

Analyzing Risks

When analyzing a work site or task to determine appropriate PPE, consider the following areas that may need protection:

  • Eyes are extremely vulnerable to injury, especially from air particulates and fumes or fragments of material that are traveling at high speeds. Safety glasses and goggles are one of the most commonly found and easy-to-integrate types of PPE available.
  • The head and neck are especially vulnerable to hazards from above, such as objects falling. In areas where this is a possibility, require employees to wear hard hats.
  • Ears can sustain hearing damage at much lower decibel levels than many people think. In fact, many noises that may seem “tolerable” without hearing protection can still cause damage. Determine the decibel levels of your equipment and also consider the amount of time employees are exposed to those levels to determine ear protection needs. Consult the CDC for more information.
  • Dust, particles, smoke, aerosols and other air contaminates can cause irritation and injury to lungs. Anything from a simple cloth mask to a respirator may be needed depending on the task.
  • Hands and arms are a common location for injuries, as they are usually the closest to the work being performed. Consider gloves, long-sleeved attire and appropriate guards for equipment that will help protect hands and arms from injury.
  • Proper footwear is essential, both for preventing slip, trip and fall incidents, as well as protecting feet from being bludgeoned or crushed by falling objects. Consider the composition of the floor or terrain (concrete, laminate, carpet, gravel, etc.) and any other conditions present at a work site when determining appropriate footwear.
  • Conditions such as sunstroke, frostbite and other weather-related injuries must be taken into consideration if a task must be performed outdoors. Require employees to wear seasonal-appropriate attire as part of their assigned duties.

Effectively using workplace PPE

It’s not enough simply to issue PPE to employees – PPE must fit, be in good condition and be used properly. Consider the following protocols for your PPE program:

  • Employees receive training on the workplace hazards they face and how PPE can reduce those risks.
  • Employees are trained on how to properly don, doff, store and maintain all PPE.
  • There is a zero-tolerance policy for not wearing PPE when required or wearing it improperly.
  • Signs and other reminders are posted in areas where PPE is required.
  • PPE is replaced or repaired immediately at the first sign of failure or damage.
  • Appropriate replacement parts suitable for type and brand of PPE are available.
  • All PPE fits properly and is provided to employees free of cost.
  • If more than one type of PPE must be used, it has been ascertained in advance that they integrate seamlessly and do not hinder the effectiveness of other PPE.
  • Extra PPE is available for any visitors that may require it.
  • Your enterprise is compliant with all applicable PPE laws and regulations.

Calendar regular intervals to inspect all PPE

“PPE doesn’t last forever,” says KPA. “Wearing damaged, broken, or malfunctioning PPE could be as dangerous as not wearing any form of protection at all.” Keep in mind, they add, that never-used PPE also has a shelf life. They offer these signs that your PPE might need replacement:

  • The expiration date indicated by the supplier has expired or is nearing expiration
  • Rips, tears, holes, or visible damage
  • Discoloration or material degradation
  • The number of owners the gear has had or how long it has been in use
  • Missing components
  • Failing straps, locks, adapters, or security devices

OSHA has specific requirements for inspecting and handling some PPE such as safety harnesses. But OSHA also recommends checking each piece of equipment prior to use.

Proper use of PPE is of tantamount importance to your workers’ safety and a focus of OSHA. In fact, two of the top 10 OSHA violations are PPE hazards. So it’s crucial to not only provide proper PPE for various tasks – but also to regularly inspect all equipment.

Agents, take a look at our Workers’ Compensation Program to add to your portfolio of insurance solutions.