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When to Use PPE?

Written by Steve Hudgik

OSHA requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce employee exposure to hazards when no other options will work. Before the decision to use PPE is made, all possible engineering and administrative controls should be used to eliminate or reduce the hazard levels. Personal protective equipment is the last line of defense, and is used only after other options have been exhausted.

Employers are required to determine when the situation requires that personal protective equipment be used.

If PPE is to be used, a PPE program should be implemented. This program should address:

  • the hazards present
  • the selection, maintenance, and use of PPE
  • the training of employees
  • monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness

The use of personal protective equipment is addressed in specific OSHA standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, marine terminals, and longshoring.

Employers Are Required To Determine When to Use Personal Protective Equipment

While it is ultimately the employer's responsibility to ensure the workplace is safe, both employees and employers have responsibilities.

In general, concerning the use of personal protective equipment, employers are responsible for:

  • Performing a "hazard assessment" of the workplace to identify safety and health hazards.
  • Identifying situations where engineering and administrative controls are not sufficient to eliminate or protect people from hazards.
  • Identifying and providing appropriate PPE for employees.
  • Training employees in the use and care of the PPE.
  • Maintaining PPE, including replacing worn or damaged PPE.
  • Periodically reviewing, updating and evaluating the effectiveness of the PPE program.

Related to personal protective equipment, employees must:

  • Properly wear the PPE provided by their employer.
  • Attend training sessions on PPE,
  • Care for, clean and maintain the PPE they use.
  • Inform a supervisor when there is the need to repair or replace PPE.

Various OSHA standards have requirements for PPE. Some OSHA standards require that employers provide PPE at no cost to the employee while other standards simply state that the employer must provide PPE.

Knowing When to Use Personal Protective Equipment - The Hazard Assessment

The first step in knowing when and where PPE will be required is also the first step in developing a workplace safety and health program. It is to identify the physical and health hazards. This is known as a "hazard assessment." Potential hazards may be physical or health-related. A properly conducted hazard assessment will identify hazards in both categories. Examples of physical hazards include moving objects, rolling or pinching objects, fluctuating temperatures, electrical connections, high intensity lighting and sharp edges. Examples of health hazards include overexposure to harmful dusts, fumes, chemicals or radiation.

The workplace hazard assessment should begin reviewing a history of injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Use this to identify existing problem areas.

Next do a walk-through of the facility. Note the basic layout of the facility, how traffic flows, and develop a list of potential hazards in the following basic categories:

  • Impact
  • Penetration
  • Compression (roll-over)
  • Heat/cold
  • Harmful dust or fumes
  • Chemical
  • Electrical (shock, arc flash, etc.)
  • Light (optical) radiation
  • Biological (disease, vermin, mold, etc.)

During the walk-through look for the following and inspect them for a potential to cause harm:

  • Sources of electricity.
  • Sources of motion such as machines or processes where movement may exist that could result in an impact between personnel and equipment.
  • Sources of high temperatures that could result in burns, eye injuries or fire.
  • Types of chemicals used in the workplace.
  • Sources of harmful dusts and fumes.
  • Sources of light radiation, such as welding, brazing, cutting, furnaces, heat treating, high intensity lights, etc.
  • The potential for falling or dropping objects.
  • Sharp objects that could poke, cut, stab or puncture.
  • Biologic hazards such as blood or other potentially infected material.

Next organize and analyze the data that has been collected. Use it to apply engineering and administrative controls to as many hazards as possible. For the remaining hazards determine the proper types of personal protective equipment that will be required. It is a good idea to select PPE that will provide a level of protection greater than the minimum required to protect employees from hazards. However, the trade-off is that the greater the protection the more difficult it is to wear the PPE. So don't do too far or you'll find your employees avoiding the PPE instead of avoiding the hazard.

Periodically reassess the workplace to identify changes in conditions, equipment or operating procedures that could affect occupational hazards. As a part of the reassessment do a review of injury and illness records to spot any trends or areas of concern and taking appropriate corrective action. In addition, review the suitability of existing PPE, including an evaluation of its condition and age.

Free Chart to PPE Requirements

A summary of the 12 most common PPE categories

Knowing When to Use Personal Protective Equipment - Selecting PPE

All PPE must be of safe design and construction, appropriate for the hazard, and must be maintained in a clean and reliable fashion.

PPE fit and comfort must be taken into consideration when selecting PPE.  Having a proper and comfortable  fits results in the PPE being used. Most personal protective equipment is available in multiple sizes. In addition, if several different types of PPE are worn together, make sure they are compatible. If PPE does not fit properly, it can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed. PPE that does not fit properly may not provide the level of protection desired.

OSHA requires that some categories of PPE meet or be equivalent to standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)  in effect at the time of its manufacture. OSHA requires PPE to meet the following ANSI standards:

  • Eye and Face Protection: ANSI Z87.1-1989
  • Head Protection: ANSI Z89.1-1986
  • Foot Protection: ANSI Z41.1-1991

There is no ANSI standard for hand protection, but OSHA recommends that the performance and construction characteristics of the glove material be based on the tasks to be performed. For protection against chemicals, glove selection must be based on:

  • the chemicals encountered
  • the chemical resistance
  • the physical properties of the glove material

Knowing When to Use Personal Protective Equipment - Using Labels and Signs

Labels and signs play an important role in helping employees know when personal protective equipment is needed.  In addition to warning about hazards, they inform people that PPE is required and what type of PPE must be used.  Some labels, such as arc flash labels, may do this by showing the hazard category on the label. In other cases signs may specifically list the required PPE.

With a custom label and sign printer, such as the DuraLabel PRO 300, you can make safety signs that provide specific information about needed PPE.  Both the size and content of the label or sign can be customized while still remaining fully compliant with ANSI code requirements.

Call 1-888-326-9244 today to learn more about the DuraLabel PRO 300, as well as other DuraLabel printers and tough-tested DuraLabel supplies. You'll find DuraLabel quality and value to be unbeatable.

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