MySafetySign Blog

Back to the basics: a comprehensive guide on PPE

Proper use of PPE minimizes the damage to workers’ lives and health both in the event of an accident and during standard handling of dangerous materials (image by Loco Steve).

What is PPE?

PPE or Personal Protective Equipment is any clothing, substance, or equipment designed to protect a person from risks of injury or illness.

Unfortunately, PPE is often disregarded by workers because it’s cumbersome or unavailable. A survey by Kimberly-Clark Professional found that “89 percent of safety professionals said they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been.”

What OSHA says about PPE

OSHA standard 1910.132 mandates: “Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition.”

PPE is a component in at least two of OSHA’s 2012 top ten violations. OSHA still reports non-compliance of the standard every year.

Results from the Kimberly Clark Professional survey show what kinds of PPE were most challenging to enforce.

Hazard assessment

Proper PPE should be selected only after carefully assessing the workplace and studying the hazards categorically. A walk-through survey of your facility helps determine a list of potential hazards.

Workplace hazards can fall into the following categories:

If hazards necessitating PPE are present, the employer must teach employees:

  1. When PPE is necessary
  2. What PPE is necessary
  3. How to properly put on, take off, and adjust PPE
  4. Limitations of PPE
  5. Proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of PPE

Employers and safety managers should set an example, be constantly alert, and allow no exceptions.

 Types of PPE

1. Eye and Face Protection

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Use of eye protection is the most difficult to enforce among American workers. About 2000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces daily, most of which result from not wearing eye protection.

OSHA standard 1910.133 requires employers to ensure that workers use eye and face protection when exposed to chemical or metal splash, flying objects, dust, gas, vapor, radiation, and similar hazards. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that metal objects cause almost one-third of face injuries.

With the use of protective eye wear such as safety spectacles, goggles, face screens, face shields, and visors, eye accidents can be greatly reduced.

Operations requiring eye protection: Impact (grinding, drilling), furnace operation, casting, chemical handling, woodworking, light and radiation (welding, brazing, soldering), pouring, mixing, painting, cleaning, syphoning, dip tank operations, battery charging, installing fiberglass insulation, compressed air or gas operations.

2. Head and neck protection

Common hazards that head protection would prevent are falling or flying objects, hair entanglement in machinery, and chemical drips or splash. However, PPE statistics from the BLS state, “Hard hats were worn by only 16% of those workers who sustained head injuries.”

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OSHA 1910.135 targets employers who need to ensure employees wear protective helmets where there is potential for head injury. Industrial safety helmets, bump caps, hairnets and firefighters’ helmets are good PPE for head protection. Scarves are great neck protection when welding. Banana brim grinder catchers help protect the head, neck, eye, and face.

Operations requiring head and neck protection: Construction, trenching, utility work, electrical work, confined space operations, building maintenance, arc or resistance welding.

3. Ear protection

Ear protection is the second most common PPE that workers don’t enjoy using. Each year, about 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise levels at work. Since 2004, approximately 125,000 cases are reported of occupational hearing loss. [Source: OSHA]

Earplugs, earmuffs, and semi-insert/canal caps are important PPE for workers who are exposed to sustained noise. OSHA 1910.95 states that a workplace must have a hearing conservation program in place when employees are exposed to noise levels greater than or equal to 85 dBA averaged over eight hours.

Hearing protection is ever more important, since new research finds that welding fumes can contribute to hearing loss.

Operations requiring ear protection: Machining, grinding, sanding, work near conveyors, music industry, aircraft, power drill, sawing, metal fabrication.

4. Hands and arms protection

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According to OSHA 1910.138, employers are required to protect employees from hand-related hazards. These are: Abrasion, severe cuts or lacerations, punctures, chemical burns, thermal burns, electric shock, radiation, vibration, biological agents, prolonged immersion in water, and temperature extremes. Gloves, gloves with a cuff, hand pads, gauntlets, and long sleeves are proper PPE to protect workers against hand injuries.

Operations requiring hand protection: Pouring, mixing, painting, cleaning, syphoning, dip tank operations, health care and dental services, grinding, sanding, sawing, hammering, material handling, building maintenance, utility work, construction, wiring.

5. Foot protection

A BLS report of foot injuries found 75% of the accidents occurred when workers weren’t wearing PPE. Falling or rolling objects, objects piercing soles, slipping, heavy loads, metal and chemical splash, vehicles, and electrical hazards pose serious risk of injury to workers.

OSHA standard 1910.136 requires employers to ensure that workers wear protective footwear wherever such hazards exist. Boots and shoes with protective toecaps; penetration-resistant, mid-sole wellington boots; and specific footwear, e.g. foundry boots and chainsaw boots, offer adequate foot protection. Foot PPE should comply with ANSI Z41-1991.

Operations requiring foot protection: Construction, plumbing, smithing, building maintenance, trenching, utility work, grass cutting, demolition, explosives manufacturing, grain milling, spray painting, abrasive blasting, work with highly flammable materials.

6. Lung protection

Respirators must be well-fitted in order to be optimally effective (image by Christopher Chen).

OSHA 1910.134 contains all the information regarding respirators that protect against oxygen-deficient atmospheres. These are environments where the air may be contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and vapors. Respiratory protective equipment should be chosen as per the guidelines laid out in ANSI Practices for Respiratory Protection.

Operations requiring lung protection: Chemical, welding, painting, underwater diving.

Remind workers to wear PPE

Employers should identify and execute safety training and checks to increase PPE use. Reminders in the form of signs, labels, and mats help ensure employees are protected with PPE whenever they are working.