While it is indeed the least effective of the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment (PPE) is still a crucial element of any workplace safety program.
In some industries or workplaces, other efforts to manage hazards aren’t 100% effective because of the nature of the business or the job. In these cases, OSHA standards for personal protective equipment provide a wealth of information about the types of PPE and their usage.
PPE and Common Workplace Hazards
Personal protective equipment is designed to reduce potential hazards when working in certain conditions where the likelihood of illness or injury is increased.
According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a risk assessment explores threats from chemicals, temperature extremes (hot or cold), dust, light, radiation, biologics, impact, penetration (e.g., cuts, punctures), and compression; an employer chooses what types of PPE to provide based on this hazard assessment. OSHA requires that in some cases, certain types of PPE must meet ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards.
Types of PPE — An Overview
OSHA breaks down types of PPE according to the area of the body that’s to be protected: eyes and face, head, feet and legs, full-body, and hearing. Each of the types of PPE is discussed in greater detail by OSHA standards but here is a brief overview:
- Eye protection and face shields need to accommodate employees who wear corrective lenses, either eyeglasses or contact lenses. Head protection includes hard hats.
- Leg and foot protection includes specialized heat-resistant leggings, metatarsal guards, toe guards, foot/shin guards, and safety shoes.
- Hand and arm protection typically include safety gloves. These gloves can be made of metal mesh, leather, canvas, coated fabric, rubber or plastic, depending on the type of hazard.
- Body protection equipment can include aprons, overalls, lab coats, vests, surgical gowns, and full-body garments. Depending on the hazard, they may be made from specially treated rubber, plastic, fabric, leather, wool, cotton or paper.
- Hearing protection includes earplugs and specialized earmuffs.
A Joint Responsibility of Employers and Employees
Per OSHA, it’s up to the employer to perform an assessment of the potential workplace hazards employees may face. Employers determine if PPE is required, which types of PPE employees are to be provided with, and how employee training on PPE is to be carried out.
For their part, employees are obligated to use the PPE they’re given and participate in any training they’re offered on proper usage and upkeep of it. Employees are also expected to be proactive and let their supervisors know if PPE isn’t working properly or needs to be fixed or replaced.
In workplaces where it’s not possible to eliminate certain hazards, PPE has a vital role in reducing hazards to workers.
OSHA standards apply to many types of PPE. Successful usage of PPE is a joint partnership of employer and employee: the employer often needs to determine what’s needed and provide it while the employee needs to use it. Employers and employees with questions about types of PPE can turn to OSHA for guidance.