COMPILED BY THE KNOWLEDGE STAFF
As a worker was filling a small container with acid from a large drum, the chemical splashed off the bottom of the container and into his eyes. After flushing his eyes at the worksite, the worker was treated at the emergency room. He suffered permanent damage to his vision in one eye and lost several days of work. At the time of the accident, he was not wearing eye protection, as required at the worksite, and his supervisor did not enforce the standard.
Supervisors have a responsibility to enforce safety standards. When employees understand the hazards, have the correct personal protective equipment that fits and are adequately trained how to use it, they are more likely to perform to the standard. In areas where PPE is required to provide protection against a hazard, its use is not optional; it’s a part of job performance.
When to use PPE
PPE serves as the last line of defense between the worker and a hazard. Engineering or administrative controls are used to eliminate or reduce the hazard where it is feasible to do so. Operations requiring PPE or protective clothing and equipment may include grinding, chipping, welding, handling or dispensing chemicals, painting or other tasks where workers may be exposed to chemicals, dust, fumes or other hazards with a potential for injury or occupational illness.
PPE is selected based on the hazard and the work environment to provide protection against the highest level of each hazard. For example, acid and chemical handling may require use of chemical-protective goggles and a face shield to protect the eyes and face, as well as a protective apron or chemical-protective coveralls and gloves. However, protective devices do not provide unlimited protection. Barriers, shields, guards and other engineering controls must also be installed, maintained and used. Consult with safety and industrial hygiene professionals as necessary to determine the hazards and appropriate protective equipment.
Fitting and training
Once the correct PPE is selected, each user must be fitted with the equipment and given instructions on the proper care and use, including warning labels and limitations. OSHA standards require users demonstrate an understanding of the instruction and an ability to use the PPE. Supervisors should maintain training rosters or other documentation of training and provide updates or retraining as necessary to maintain competency.
Instructions for maintaining PPE are provided with the product packaging. If goggles or face shields are dirty, cloudy or so scratched that vision is impaired, employees are unlikely to use the equipment. No one wants to share a respirator that was worn by someone else and left covered with grunge. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and keep equipment clean so it is immediately available when needed.
Using PPE properly is essential to job performance and injury prevention. The habits learned on the job should also carry over to life off the job. Encourage employees to protect themselves by wearing PPE.
Personal protective equipment is provided to protect against specific workplace hazards based on a hazard assessment. The hazard assessment normally includes a walk-through survey of the workplace to identify sources of hazards to workers and visitors. The hazard assessment should consider the basic hazard categories (as well as the possibility of exposure to several hazards at the same time):
• Sources of motion (moving machinery or parts)
• Impact (falling or flying particles)
• Penetration (sharp objects, tool blades, sharp edges)
• Compression (rolling or pinching objects)
• Chemical exposure
• Biological contamination (blood-borne diseases)
• Heat or cold
• Harmful dust
• Light (optical) radiation
• Electrical hazards
Note: Maintain written documentation of the hazard assessment and reassess workplace hazards as necessary to address new equipment or processes and to correct accident causes. The job hazard analysis is a commonly used tool to conduct the hazard assessment. Employee buy-in is more likely to occur if they are involved with identifying and assessing the workplace hazards.