Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine the requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace.
In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, a lot of attention has been called to personal protective equipment (PPE), both in the general public and in the workplace. However, PPE has been required in many types of industries for years, and it is important for environmental, health, and safety (EHS) leaders to understand PPE standards.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines PPE as equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. PPE can include gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests, full body suits, and other such items.
Employers must train their workers on how to use the PPE that they are given for their jobs. They must understand when PPE is necessary, what kind to use, how to properly wear and adjust it, the limitations, and the proper care, maintenance, and disposal of it. A PPE program should be implemented in the workplace to discuss job hazards; the selection, use, and maintenance of PPE; and training of employees.
OSHA requires employers to pay for worker PPE when it is necessary to protect employees from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, and when it is used to comply with OSHA standards, with few exceptions. OSHA also provides handouts to direct employers on what they need to pay for and what the exceptions are.
OSHA clearly outlines their standards for PPE and the details about each different piece of equipment. The first step employers must take is a hazard assessment, meaning they must develop a comprehensive safety and health program to identify physical and health hazards in their workplace. The hazard assessment should consist of a walkthrough survey of the work environment, and the employer should come up with a list of potential hazards in these categories:
- Compression (roll-over)
- Harmful dust
- Light (optical) radiation
Along with the basic layout of the facility and a review of any history of illnesses or injuries, employers should also look out for sources of electricity, high temperatures that could result in burns or fires, chemicals, falling objects, sharp objects, biological hazards, and other potential hazards during the walkthrough survey. Documentation is required and must include the identification of the workplace evaluated, the name of the person conducting the survey, the date, and a document certifying completion of the hazard assessment.
The next step is the selection of the PPE, which should all be of safe design and construction, and maintained in a clean and reliable way, according to OSHA. Fit and comfort should be taken into consideration, and since most items are available in many sizes, each employee should be given equipment that fits them correctly. Additionally, OSHA requires many types of PPE to be in compliance with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) criteria, including PPE for eye, face, head, and foot protection. For hand protection such as gloves, OSHA says to select the equipment based on the job they are needed for and the materials they are made of.
Lastly, as mentioned above, OSHA requires employers to train all of the workers who are going to use PPE to know at the very least:
- When PPE is necessary
- What PPE is necessary
- How to properly put on, take off, adjust, and wear the PPE
- The limitations of the PPE
- Proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of PPE
Employees should be able to demonstrate their understanding of the training and show that they are able to use the PPE before they are allowed to go out and do their jobs. If a previously trained employee cannot show the proper knowledge of their PPE, their employer must provide more training. Documentation of employee training is also required in the form of a certification for each worker with the name of each employee, the date of training, and a clear statement of the subject of the training.
For more information, click here to see the specific OSHA guidelines for each kind of PPE, including eye and face, head, foot and leg, hand and arm, body, and hearing protections.