Importance of Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is an important part of every job.  Hazards exist in all workplaces, in many different forms, including: sharp edges, falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, and noise just to name a few.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers protect their workers from workplace hazards that can cause injuries.

Controlling a hazard at its source is the best way to protect employees. Depending on the hazard or workplace conditions, OSHA recommends the use of engineering or work practice controls to manage or eliminate hazards to the greatest extent possible. For example, building a barrier between the hazard and the employees is an engineering control; changing the way in which employees perform their work is a work practice control.

When elimination, substitution, engineering, and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide PPE to their employees and ensure its use.  PPE is equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards.

Here are some common examples of PPE:

  • gloves
  • foot and eye protection
  • protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs)
  • hard hats respirators
  • full body suits

Remember, PPE is the last resort in hazard control, not the first choice. Some employers may mistakenly believe PPE is the end-all be-all, therefore, they might do too much, not too little.

Employers

In general, employers are responsible for:

  • performing a “hazard assessment” of the workplace to identify and control physical and health hazards
  • identifying and providing appropriate PPE for employees
  • training employees in the use and care of the PPE
  • maintaining and replacing worn or damaged PPE
  • periodically reviewing, updating and evaluating the effectiveness of the PPE program

Employees

In general, employees should be:

  • properly wearing PPE
  • attending training sessions on PPE
  • caring for, cleaning and maintaining PPE
  • informing a supervisor of the need to repair or replace PPE

PPE Training Requirements

Let’s take a look at a scenario:

You are told to mix a certain chemical with water to use as a cleaning agent to wash down your company trucks. You check out the chemical. It looks like water, doesn’t feel any different than water… so you assume PPE isn’t really necessary. So, you go about washing the trucks. Your hands and arms get pretty wet with the solution you’ve mixed, but, heck… no pain, no sting… must be safe. No worse than water, right? Wrong, very wrong.

You’ve actually been using a mixture of hydrofluoric acid and water. By the time you get home your arms are hurting like crazy. You hurry off to the hospital, but by the time you arrive, it’s too late. The hydrofluoric acid has penetrated your skin on both of your arms, clear through to the bone. Fluorine ions have replaced calcium ions in the bone, effectively turning it into a sponge-like consistency. But, you are lucky; only one arm must be amputated. The doctors were able to save the other arm.

This scenario would not have occurred had you been properly trained in using PPE.  OSHA’s PPE standard states that the employer must provide training to each employee who is required to use PPE.

To learn more about PPE and the training of employees, see OSHAcademy’s free online safety course 709 Personal Protective Equipment.