Best Practices for Personal Protective Equipment

While employers are required to enact controls and measures to guarantee a safe work site, the fact is that accidents happen, and that’s where personal protective equipment (PPE) comes in. They are essential tools to stop an incident from becoming an injury. They are also the employers’ responsibility. While workers can provide their own PPEs, like a favorite hard hat, employers are required to provide PPE when necessary if workers do not have or do not want to use their own. Employers are not required to reimburse workers who buy their own equipment, however.

All PPE must meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specifications. In order to better protect your crew, here are tips for proper PPE use.


Adopt a PPE Policy

In addition to outlining any potential hazards on the site, your program should specify which PPE should be worn for which jobs, explain how workers should select PPE that fits their bodies, and how to inspect and maintain PPE. Also, be sure to post signs alerting workers to the PPE they should be wearing in different areas of the jobsite.


Protect Your Head

Hard hats should be worn at all times. Not only do they protect from falling or flying objects, the plastic material also insulates from potential electric shock.

Manufacturers’ directions should always be followed when fitting hard hats, and under no circumstances should cloth, newspaper or any other material be stuffed into the hat while wearing it, as the space between the hard shell and shock absorbing suspension inside might be compromised.

Ball caps should not be worn under hard hats. While winter liners or cooling headwear are typically acceptable, they must not interfere with the suspension bands. While many workers like to personalize their hard hats, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations first, especially if considering painting, which can compromise the hat shell’s integrity. Stickers are usually more acceptable. Some hard hats can be worn backward, but only if the suspension can be reversed.

All hard hats must be inspected for cracks and dents before each use. Discard and immediately replace damaged hard hats.


Protect Your Ears

Employer-provided hearing protection must be used when noise levels and duration exceed those specified in Table D-2 — Permissible Noise Exposures of OSHA standard number 1926.52.

Acceptable hearing protection include earmuffs and earplugs that fit into the ear and are properly fitted. Cotton balls are not an acceptable alternative.


Eye & Face Protection, Too

Eye and face protectors are required when workers are exposed to flying matter, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids, caustic liquids, chemical gases, vapors and light radiation.

Workers who wear glasses should either wear prescription eye gear or request eye gear that can fit over their existing prescription lenses. Protective eyewear should be resilient and cleanable.

Face masks and all other safety equipment should fit snugly and comfortably without impeding movement.

Face masks, safety goggles and safety glasses should match the hazard that employees are working in. For example, a welder should wear a welding mask, not a surgical mask.

On a related note: welders must wear proper filter lens shades designed for the brightness with which they’re working.

When working with lasers, safety goggles with the appropriate optical density based on the wavelength of the laser should be used.


Don’t Forget Your Hands

If the glove fits, wear it, because hands are the most commonly injured body part on job sites. Protective gloves are a must.

Gloves should fit snugly but still let you move your fingers and feel tools or equipment. No excess fabric should get in the way of the work.

There are specialized gloves available that protect against various hazards: gloves designed to withstand cuts and lacerations, welding gloves that are spark resistant, heavy-duty gloves for concrete, chemical resistant gloves to protect skin from burns and insulated gloves when performing electrical work. If you work with these or other hazardous materials, check to see if there’s a glove for you.


Foot Protection

The most common and strongest type of on-site foot protection is by far a boot with a steel or composite toe. Durable without impeding comfort, these boots protect your feet.

Though both styles offer good protection, there are differences. While composite toed boots are lighter and don’t conduct heat or electricity, making them ideal when working in extreme conditions, steel-toed boots are definitely stronger if you’re worried about falling objects.

No matter which type you choose, though, make sure your footwear has puncture-resistant soles to protect against errant nails, and ensure it is slip-resistant.


Provide Training

It sounds elementary, but workers wearing PPE should be trained in how to use their equipment. They should know how to put it on, fit it and remove, as well as inspect it, maintain it and determine when it should be replaced or repaired.

PPE is a vital part of a safe work site. While we all take whatever precautions to keep sites safe, PPE is there as a final line of defense should something go wrong. While workers must act responsibly, it’s up to safety managers and supervisors to make sure everyone’s wearing the appropriate PPEs.