Personal Protective Equipment

PPE: The Personal Barrier Against Workplace Hazards

The basic objective of any PPE program is to protect employees from safety and health hazards that can’t be engineered out. To pick the right PPE for your employees, you must assess the potential hazards.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) in one form or another has been around for centuries. There’s evidence, for example, that early people wore turtle shells on their heads as primitive hard hats. We know that medieval knights wore suits of armor to protect against the hazards of their workplace—the battlefield. And historians tell us that during the Renaissance, construction crews at the Vatican in Rome wore head protection to keep their noggins safe from falling construction materials.

Of course, in those days, PPE was optional. But today, providing employees with PPE and making sure they use it is a requirement.

OSHA says that personal protective equipment must be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever hazards exist in the workplace. This includes hazards from processes, chemicals, radiation, or other dangers capable of causing injury or illness through absorption, inhalation, or physical contact. 

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Hazard Assessments

To determine if any hazards requiring PPE are present, or are likely to be present, in your workplace, OSHA says you have to perform hazard assessments (29 CFR 1910.132).

This rule applies to every job in your workplace. The regulation states that you have to evaluate each job and then certify in writing that the PPE hazard assessment has been performed.

The written certification should identify the:

  • Workplace and job evaluated

  • Date of the assessment

  • Person certifying that the evaluation has been performed

  • Hazards found

  • PPE selected

Once the assessment is complete, you must determine what types of PPE are appropriate for your workers, make sure the PPE selected fits individual workers properly, and ensure that employees know how to use PPE correctly.

To assist you in the hazard assessment and PPE selection process, OSHA has provided what it calls "nonmandatory" compliance guidelines (29 CFR 1910, Subpart I, Appendix B).

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Employee Training

To make sure that employees understand the importance of PPE and how to use it properly, you must provide training to each employee who is required by OSHA standards to use PPE.

PPE training has to teach employees five basics:

  • When PPE is necessary

  • What PPE is necessary

  • How to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear PPE

  • The limitations of the PPE

  • The proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the PPE

You have to conduct training before you allow employees to perform work that requires the use of PPE. And each worker trained must demonstrate an understanding of the training and the ability to use PPE properly.

Retraining is required in situations where:

  • Changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete

  • Changes in the types of PPE to be used render previous training obsolete

  • Inadequacies in an employee’s knowledge or use of assigned PPE, indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill

Verification of training and retraining is required, too. You must verify that each trainee has received and understood the required training through a written certification that contains the name of each employee trained, the date(s) of training, and identification of the subject of the certification.
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