Those heads, eyes, ears, and lungs you’re protecting with your PPE program are attached to men and women who keep your business alive. Return the favor by providing effective PPE and making sure employees use it.
In the eyes of many people, personal protective equipment (PPE) is workplace safety. A hard hat, steel-toed shoes, and goggles are the most visible symbols of protection.
But safety and health professionals know these items—as important as they are—are only part of a bigger picture that includes a commitment to:
- Writing comprehensive PPE policies
- Selecting equipment that is appropriate for the risk and has the highest chance of being used
- Monitoring employee compliance
- Meeting the requirements of OSHA standards
OSHA on PPE
OSHA’s PPE standards are primarily featured in 29 CFR, 1910.132-138. There you’ll find general requirements as well as the rules covering eye and face, respiratory, head, foot, and hand protection.
The agency’s occupational noise exposure standards are at Section 1910.95. There are also a variety of applicable ANSI consensus standards that set performance and testing criteria for noise exposure.
PPE regulations are also described in material safety data sheets, in owner/operator manuals, and in instructions for specific types of protective gear.
Remember, of course, that as much as OSHA stresses the need for PPE, the agency considers it only as the third tier of protection, behind engineering and administrative controls—in other words, a “last resort” if hazards cannot be eliminated in other ways.
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Know Your Risks
To help employers assess hazards and selecting the best protection, OSHA recommends a four-step process:
- Start with a walk-through survey of the area or job being reviewed. The intent is to identify sources of hazards in categories including impact, penetration, rollover, chemical heat, harmful dust, and optical radiation.
- Consider the sources. During the walk-through, look for hazard sources including any machinery or processes in which movement of tools, elements, or particles could occur, or where people could collide with stationary objects. Your review should also seek sources of high temperatures, sharp objects, rolling or pinching objects, and electrical hazards, as well as survey the layout of the work areas.
- Analyze the data. You should then analyze the findings from your walk-through and estimate of the potential for injuries. Each basic hazard should be reviewed in light of the type and level of risk, and the seriousness of a potential injury.
- Select the protection. OSHA recommends PPE selection procedures that compare the hazards associated with the environment against the capabilities of available PPE. Equipment should ensure a level of protection greater than the minimum required. Users should be fit, instructed on care and use of the PPE, and made aware of warning labels and limitations.
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Put It in Writing
As with all elements of your safety and health process, PPE rules should be described in a written policy signed by upper management and periodically reviewed. The complexity of your PPE policy will be a reflection of your processes, hazards, and training needs.
At a minimum, your policy should include:
- A statement that personnel will wear required PPE
- A statement that the employer will provide required PPE
- A statement that employees will properly care for and store their gear and turn in items that are worn, damaged, or defective
- A list of relevant duties to be performed by supervisors, purchasers, etc.
- An explanation of the hazard assessment process and the location of the original signed forms