Personal Protective Equipment, Personnel Safety

A Definitive Guide to PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for contractors is essential to ensure that workers remain safe and minimize any potential harm. It serves as one of the most important steps that enables workers to conduct operations safely and prevent any injury that may result in time off, increased liability, job restrictions, and other productivity-hindering occurrences.

Both hiring organizations and third-party vendors should be aware of what kind of PPE exists, what settings to use them in, and the best practices when handling PPE and conducting work with it. Depending on your industry, the protective equipment you will require may vary greatly depending on what is expected of you legally, and what is expected for you to ensure maximum compliance at all times. It is important to know and understand all the primary types of PPE and what purpose each one serves, and how a guide to PPE can help solidify your contractor management program.

Below is a list of common protective equipment found at worksites, as well as a brief description of the settings, purpose, and function of each one.

Skin protection

Protective clothing to prevent contact with potentially dangerous substances, liquids, machinery, and equipment.

There are two different primary types of skin protection that each serve a different purpose and are implemented in a variety of settings:

  1. Partial covers: Can provide protection to certain areas of the body, such as a jacket.
  2. Coveralls: Protective garments that provide full body protection, such as chemical suits.

Often, a good rule of thumb to follow for skin protection is to avoid wearing any loose fitting clothing as they could pose an increased likelihood of injury.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Safety footwear

It’s also essential to source the correct footwear for certain work settings. Contractors spend most of their time on-site building or handling materials that require undivided attention, so having the appropriate shoes for the job is key to ensuring that a contractor is able to continually and safely complete a task.

There are two primary types of protective footwear that provide an added layer of safety in different environments:

  1. Safety boots: Strongly built footwear with steel-toe caps, penetration resistant technology, and slip resistant soles.
  2. Wellington boots: Provide protection in wet environments, acts as a safeguard from liquid spills, slippery surfaces, and falls.

Fall protection

Often, contractors may find themselves in a position where they must be at tall heights to complete a task. For example, a worker at a construction site for a high-rise condominium. In this setting, contractors are required to adequately protect themselves from fall hazards.

There are two primary types of fall protection that contractors can use to minimize risk and enable them to complete a task at its fullest capacity:

  • Body harness: A body harness can elevate you to certain heights and set you in a position where you are able to use both of your hands while simultaneously being propped in a manner that ensures that you do not fall.
  • Body belt: While this provides more flexibility in contrast to the harness, a body belt should never be used as a means of a fall arrest.

High visibility protection

High visibility clothing has a singular and simple purpose, to ensure that the contractors on a worksite are visible. This is a method primarily used in settings where moving machinery and vehicles are involved. Using reflective material and bright contrasting colors, high visibility clothing ensures that moving vehicles are aware of where others are to prevent an accident, especially in settings where there is poor visibility and little/dark lighting.

High visibility apparel comes in different forms such as:

  • Vests
  • Pants
  • Headwear
  • Jackets

Protective eyewear

Safety eyewear is essential when working on a site. It protects your eyes from hazards such as flying debris, dust, chemicals, and more. Contractors use protective eyewear while handling saws and while operating heavy machinery, among countless other use cases. Protective eyewear must be ANSI-approved, impact-resistant, and have polycarbonate lenses. There are different types of protective eyewear for different situations. Contractors must select the right type for the nature of their work.

A few examples of protective eyewear are:

  • Face shields: Are in place to protect the entire face from flying debris and other hazardous objects.
  • Safety glasses: Provides a safeguard against any forward facing objects that could otherwise affect the eyes:
  • Safety goggles: The most effective eyewear protection as it encompasses the entire eye and leaves no space for any external object to interfere, including dust and smaller particles.

Respiratory protection

Respiratory protection prevents the nose and mouth from inhaling harmful substances. It is used to protect you from dust, fumes, mists, chemicals, and other gasses and vapors that would otherwise cause harm to your health. Depending on the setting and the nature of materials/equipment that your contractors work with, a respiratory protection tool can be called upon in two primary forms:

  1. Respirators: Their purpose is to filter out harmful substances within an atmosphere that may potentially be harmful when inhaled. This could be a simple N95 mask, or a more extensive full-face mask. Depending on the setting, respirators could be disposable or reusable.
  2. Respiratory apparatus: These devices provide breathable air within a contained source when the air in an atmosphere is too dangerous to breathe in. This option is most appropriate in settings where the workplace is surrounded by toxic gasses and chemicals.

Hearing protection

Hearing protection is essential in reducing the amount of noise you’re exposed to while on a site. Contractors must wear hearing protection when they’re around loud noises, such as power tools, jackhammers, noisy vehicles, and other heavy equipment. Hearing protection has been proven effective in reducing noise-induced hearing loss.

The three types of hearing protection most commonly found on a worksite are:

  1. Ear plugs: Inserted directly into the ear canal, they seal off the ear from outside noise that could harm hearing.
  2. Canal caps: Are similar to earplugs, but offer the benefit of being able to be taken out and put back in frequently since they do not enter/seal the ear canal.
  3. Ear muffs: Rather than targeting the canal, ear muffs cover the entire surface area of the ear to prevent disruptive sound waves from causing hearing loss.

Hand protection

It is important to protect your hands from cuts, abrasions, and other injuries. Protective hand equipment comes in different materials and all serve different uses. Contractors must select the right type for their work, the most common are:

  • Chain-mesh gloves: Used when dealing with equipment and machinery that could cause physical injury such as skin abrasions. Injuries of this nature often stem from equipment that is sharp, heavy, and difficult to handle.
  • Liquid-proof gloves: Provides protection against chemical spills and prevents harmful substances from touching the skin.
  • Thermal-protection gloves: Are best suited for use when the machinery/objects you are handling are very hot.
  • Electricity-safe gloves: These gloves act as insulators when handling tools and equipment that emit large amounts of electricity.

Conclusion

For the sake of contractor safety, it is very important to select the appropriate level of PPE for your line of work. If you don’t have the right protective equipment, you could sustain an injury that results in time off, increased liability, or job restrictions. Furthermore, more severe incidents could unfortunately result in lifelong injury or even fatality. Remember, contracting work comes with its own set of peculiar dangers that you’re responsible for proactively preventing. This is why personal protective equipment will always remain as an essential line of defense in creating a safe workspace.

Faris Badaro is Junior Marketing Specialist for Contractor Compliance, a SaaS software for contractor management.