Personal Protective Wear
Written by Lisa Stringfellow
Personal protective wear, known in the U.S. as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), provides workers with protection from injury or illness resulting from contact with physical, mechanical, chemical, electrical, radiological, and other workplace hazards. Personal protective wear includes devices such as a face shield, safety glasses, hard hats (helmets), gloves, earplugs, respirators, protective clothing, safety shoes and other personal protective wear.
Personal Protective Wear - Employer Requirements
OSHA has a variety of requirements for personal protective wear which vary by industry. For example there is a standard for shipyards (CFR 1915), marine terminals (CFR 1917), longshoring (CFR 1918), fire righting (CFR 1910.156) and for general industry (various sections in CFR 1910).
In general OSHA's personal protective wear requirements require employers to conduct a hazard assessment of their workplaces. Based on this assessment personal protective wear must be provided to protect against any hazards that cannot be eliminated or controlled using engineering or administrative controls. Employers must:
- require the use of personal protective wear as determined by the hazard assessment;
- provide the necessary and appropriate protective wear;
- train workers in the use and maintenance of the personal protective wear;
- require workers to maintain it in a sanitary and reliable condition.
Personal Protective Wear - The Last Line Of Defense
Personal protective wear is essential for protecting workers from harm, but it is also the last line of defense. The following should be done before personal protective wear is used:
- Engineering controls: physically changing or redesigning a machine, using a different machine, or redesigning the work environment.
- Work practices: changing how the work is done, for example by providing training in new ways to get the job done that reduce exposure to workplace hazards.
- Administrative controls: changing how workers do their jobs, or changing when work is done such as scheduling work and rotating workers to reduce exposures.
Personal Protective Wear - Training
Employers are required by OSHA to train workers who will be using personal protective wear. Training needs to include the following:
- How to properly use the personal protective wear.
- Know when personal protective wear is necessary.
- Know what kind of protective equipment is necessary.
- Understand the limitations of the protective equipment.
- How to put on, adjust, wear, and take off personal protective wear.
- How to properly clean and maintain the equipment.
Protection from Head Injuries
Hard hats (helmets) provide protection from head impact, penetration injuries, and electrical injuries resulting from contact with electrical conductors. A hard hat provides protection from falling or flying objects such as tools; walking into fixed objects; standing up and hitting a fixed object; and they protect the head from contacting a hot object.
Protection from head injuries also includes hats and hair nets that prevent long hair from getting caught in moving machine parts such as rollers, belts, gears and chains.
Foot and Leg Protection
Foot and leg hazards include falling or rolling objects, sharp objects, wet and slippery surfaces, molten metals, hot surfaces, and electrical hazards. Safety shoes (steel toed shoes) are commonly used in the workplace to protect against crushing injuries. Shoes with no-slip soles provide slip protection. Foot guards protect feet from spills and falling objects. Leggings, such as leather or aluminized rayon, help protect against high temperatures, cuts and impacts.
Hand protection includes various types of gloves and gauntlets. Hands need protection from abrasion, cuts, punctures, chemicals, high and low temperatures and other hazards. Selecting the right hand protection is important. Different types of glove material provide protection against different types of hazards.
Personal Protective Wear For The Body
In some cases personal protective wear must be used to shield most or all of the body. Hazards to the body include exposure to chemicals, heat and radiation, hot metals, fire, scalding liquids, body fluids, and other hazardous materials or waste. Protective wear for the body includes aprons, coats and full-body protection. Materials used for protective clothing include fire-retardant wool, fire retardant cotton, rubber, leather, synthetics and plastic.
Eye and Face Protection
Your eyes and face need to be protected from flying objects such as flying fragments, large chips, dust, sand, grit, mists, splashes from molten metals and hot sparks. Eye and face protection may also need to provide protection from optical radiation and glare. Options for eye and face protection include glasses and goggles, special helmets, helmets with shields, eye-glasses with side shields, and face shields.
Earplugs and earmuffs are the most common type of ear protection. They provide protection against high noise levels which can cause irreversible hearing loss, as well as physical and psychological stress.
Earplugs are most often made from foam, waxed cotton, or fiberglass wool. They are typically self-forming and usually fit well. When molded or preformed earplugs are used, they should be individually fir by a professional.
Ear protection, including earplugs should be cleaned or replaced regularly.
When engineering controls are not feasible, appropriate respirators must be used to protect people from the adverse health effects caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful fumes, dusts, fogs, mists, smoke, gases, sprays, or vapors.
Respirators either cover the nose and mouth, the entire face, or cover the entire head. For a respirator to be effective proper fit is essential.
Respirators must be NIOSH-approved. Medical evaluation and training must be provided before their use.
Visual Communication and Person Protective Wear
Safety signs and labels are a critical component of your safety program. They warn about hazards and inform workers about the need for personal protective wear. Use safety signs to also identify the personal protective wear that is required. Use labels to identify storage locations, types, and specific users of personal protective wear. For example, hard hats, respirators, aprons and other protective equipment can have labels that identify the specific person who uses that equipment.
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