Helmets, safety glasses, goggles, full body suits, respirators, gloves, ear protection – they all have different functions, but their goal is the same: to protect the wearer from potential health and safety hazards.
What Is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the collective term of wearable equipment and gear that’s meant to protect the wearer from hazards. For instance, protection like earplugs or earmuffs is crucial in noisy environments. Gloves should be used when handling chemicals. Construction workers wear hard hats on construction sites to protect their heads from falling debris.
There are different types of PPE in a given organization, and their benefits shouldn’t go ignored.
PPE Isn’t Just a Good Idea – It’s Every Worker’s Right
According to OSHA, every worker whose job could put them at risk should have access to PPE. Every worker deserves to receive training and information about workplace hazards they might be exposed to, as well as the opportunity to review any injuries and illnesses that have occurred as a result of the workplace.
Employees also have the right to file a complaint with OSHA if they believe there is a workplace hazard that the employer is not preventing or complying with OSHA’s rules.
Part of every employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe work environment is to provide appropriate PPE that mitigates risk to the employees. It’s up to you to recognize when PPE is necessary, what devices are necessary, and train employees on how and when to use PPE. In addition, you must also provide training as to the limitations of PPE, how to maintain each piece of equipment, and how to properly dispose of the equipment when it is no longer functional.
Doing all of the above can help ensure that every employee receives adequate protection while on the job, which in turn keeps them and your company safe.
Best Practices for Using PPE in the Workplace
Simply offering personal protective equipment at work isn’t enough to reap its benefits. Take a look at the following best practices so that your PPE can effectively do the job it was designed for:
- Consider the type of equipment needed and how many employees will need to use it at any given time. It’s important you purchase enough of each type of PPE so there’s never a gap in defense.
- It can pay off to do your homework on various vendors and variations of PPE. Take a little time to explore your options, including warranties and servicing options.
- You should plan to train your employees on how to properly use the equipment, when to use it, and how to put on and remove the equipment. Even small variations from the normal methods can result in equipment failure.
- Make sure your employees know that wearing PPE for tasks is not an option.
- Consider disciplinary measures for employees who do not take the proper precautions.
- Equipment should be regularly inspected for wear and tear and other defects. A good idea is to perform a visual inspection before and after the equipment is used each time.
- All equipment should be in proper working order at all times.
- Create an easy system for employees to report defects and remove equipment from commission.
- You should also have a plan in place on how to service equipment. Having a vendor already assigned to the role can help you keep your equipment in good working order at all times.
- It’s never a good idea to keep dysfunctional PPE in the workplace, even when it’s clearly labeled as Do Not Use. This puts you at risk for employees mistakenly using this bad equipment, which could put their health and safety in jeopardy.
- Understand how to properly dispose of PPE to avoid contamination, unauthorized use, and mixups.
Types of PPE in the Workplace
While it is indeed the least effective of the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment 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
PPE 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.
PPE Improves Safety for Everyone
Using personal protective equipment in the workplace has been proven to reduce injuries, accidents, and other occupational risks when used correctly. As long as you provide adequate training, conduct routine inspections, and have enough supply on hand to protect all employees, your PPE will contribute to a safer work environment. It’s the right move for you, your company, and your employees, and the results will speak for themselves.