Suit Up!

You always try to work safely, so do you really need to wear protective gear all the time? The answer is YES for a variety of reasons. Aside from being legally required in many cases, no matter how careful you are, the unexpected can sometimes happen. A simple accident, slip or lapse in attention can have devastating consequences for your own safety and for those around you. No one can account for every potential jobsite risk, so that’s why utilizing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all tasks is so important.

PPE provides a personal barrier between you and any job hazards, when those hazards cannot be eliminated by other means. Without assigned PPE, you have no defense against workplace hazards and are at greater risk of being injured or becoming sick.

Know The Risks & Plan Effectively

The only way to truly understand the potential risks within your operation is to undertake a formal assessment process. This can be conducted through local occupational health & safety organizations and can be supplemented with insight from product manufacturers. From noise, dust, fumes, cuts and electric shock, to chemical spills, vibration, extreme temperatures and falls, accurately knowing what you’re dealing with is half the battle.

  • Think of PPE as the last line of defense to avoid injury as opposed to the only protection available. Administrative and engineering methods should always be used first where possible.
  • Aside from determining just what equipment you’ll require, you’ll also need to know how and when to apply it, how to maintain it, properly store and when to replace items to optimize their effectiveness.
  • Never make assumptions when choosing PPE items. Ask your consultant and specific suppliers for ratings, tolerances and test results on required equipment.
  • Choose PPE that offers suitable protection and doesn’t impede job performance. Consider fit and comfort, mobility, vision, dexterity and durability.
  • Don’t buy PPE based on price. Always get the right gear for the job. You can pay now, or pay later with having to replace equipment sooner, or worse yet, dealing with a potentially avoidable injury.
  • Create effective policies and standards around PPE purchases, use, maintenance, monitoring and control
  • Offer and facilitate mandatory training on workplace hazards, PPE equipment use and compliance

There are far too many industries, variables and situations to effectively cover in just one article, so we’ll stick to some PPE basics as a primer.

Body of Work

Jackets, Aprons, Pants & Coveralls

This category of protective clothing offers a huge range of available features depending on the job need. Many work environments also require that items serve several purposes at the same time, so it’s important to properly spec before you pick any one type. Attributes can include:

  • Mechanical / physical – protection against cuts, rips & tears, high levels of abrasion and flying debris
  • Protection from extreme heat or cold
  • Petrochemical resistance
  • Water resistance
  • Fire and spark resistance
  • High visibility
  • Corrosive chemical protection
  • Antistatic properties

Footwear

Today’s work boots offer safety features that weren’t even considered several years ago and they provide better protection against the most common foot injuries. Be sure that any boots you use are specifically suited to the type of work that you do and that they meet or exceed CSA (or equivalent) standards.

  • Metatarsal injuries (the bones on the top of your foot) are painful and can require a long recovery process. Steel-toed boots don’t provide protection to this area, so you should choose a pair that includes a shield that runs to the instep. This feature absorbs impact so that your feet don’t.
  • Although most boots with a composite safety toe provide security, only select brands meet or exceed the standards for impact, compression and electrical hazards. Coming in at a fraction of the weight of steel-toed models, certain work boot options provide adequate protection without weighing the wearer down.
  • For certain job types, there’s always the chance of exposure to electrical currents, so look for boots that meet the standards by providing protection from open electrical currents up to 18,000 volts.
  • Although many new safety features focus on the construction of the inner work boot, the outsole shouldn’t be ignored. A good outsole can provide excellent resistance to heat, chemicals, oil, gas, and slipping. When faced with extreme temperatures or unsafe, slippery surfaces, a sturdy outsole that offers a good grip can be a lifesaver.

Hand Protection

Statistics show that injuries to the hand, wrist and fingers are second only to back injuries in the workplace. Hand protection is so important, that it is required by many Occupational Health & Safety associations to be a part of employee safety and operating standards across a variety of industries.

No matter what type of glove is needed for your job, they must fit properly and provide the dexterity necessary for peak performance. There are so many types available, that it’s hard to know sometimes what might be right for you. This is where occupational consultants and manufacturer information becomes so important.

Do you need gloves that offer:

  • Cut resistance?
  • Protection from extremes in heat and cold?
  • Corrosive chemical or petrochemical resistance?
  • Protection from high levels of vibration?
  • Electrical hazard protection?
  • Or some combination of the above?

For more information on hand protection, see the November 2013 edition of SafetyLink by clicking the Archive tab on the website.

Above the Neck

It really goes without saying that the protection of the head, face, vision and hearing is of paramount importance. This is due to the sensitivity of these areas and the potential consequences should they be damaged. Many of the required protective equipment elements can be fitted together onto the helmet, however this is sometimes impractical, uncomfortable or just unavailable to the user. This is another area where consultation with a specialist goes a long way in developing a solid safety plan.

The Head

Protection of the head is required in almost every industry where restricted headroom, falling objects or working at dangerous heights pose a risk of serious injury. In many workplaces head protection is mandatory and this makes it the main form of personal protective equipment worn. There are a number of types available depending on the nature of the work and it’s important to follow the rules for replacement of your helmet based on age, regular wear and damage. Most helmets have a date of manufacture stamped on the inside, so this makes it easier for planning. Also be sure that the helmet rating is correct for your specific work environment.

Eye & Face Protection

This is another area where specialist consultation is important due to the sensitivity of the area. Eye and face protection type must be based on the specific work hazards present and the corresponding ratings for each piece of PPE required. Risks may include impact and flying debris, light radiation, dust, sparks, glare, fumes or chemical splash. Options include:

Safety Glasses – can be prescription strength and are good for low-energy impacts and IR/UV protection.

Eye Shields – worn over prescription glasses. Most suitable for job-site visitors.

Goggles – Protection against medium impacts, fluid droplets and coarse dust. Usually made from anti-fog coated polycarbonate or toughened glass.

Face Shields - Depending on the design, they can protect eyes and face against medium or even high-energy impacts, liquid splash and hazards like molten metal splash or electric arcs etc.

Hearing

Once you have determined that you have an issue with noise levels, how do you go about managing the problem? Generally, companies are required by law to provide a hearing assessment and control program if noise levels are consistently above 85 decibels (dB). PPE for hearing comes in a variety of types and levels of quality and most commonly includes:

  • Disposable or reusable foam ear plugs
  • Ear muffs
  • Active noise-cancelling headsets

For more information on hearing protection, see the October 2013 edition of SafetyLink by clicking the Archive tab on the website.

Respiration

If your workplace poses respiratory risks due to fumes, odours, dust or air-borne particulates, then some form of PPE will be required. Depending on the hazard type, there are many models available to protect workers on-site. Be sure to determine the exact type and rating necessary to provide optimal protection for both short and long-term exposure over time. Options include:

  • Disposable & re-usable types
  • Half-mask or full-face models depending on risk
  • Replacement filters and cartridges
  • Exhalation vales
  • Powered and non-powered models

By providing workers with the optimal PPE and encouraging proper usage through a supportive safety culture, companies can help to reduce overall injuries in the workplace.

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