The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Personal Protective Equipment Standard (Subpart I) includes all clothing and other workplace accessories designed to be a barrier against the potential hazards that personnel can encounter at the workplace. The standard specifically lists personal protective equipment (PPE) for the eyes, face, head and extremities as well as protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, which include hearing protection.
The employer’s responsibilities for the standard can be broken into three main areas:
1. Employer assesses the workplace to determine the types, locations and severity of any hazards that may be present.
a. The employer must assess their workplace to ascertain if the hazards that are present necessitate the use of PPE.
b. Hazards may include chemical exposures, falling or dropping objects, particulates, moving equipment and parts, or noise.
2. Employer selects and provides any appropriate PPE that correctly fits each affected employee. When selecting PPE, the employer must account for the following:
a. The PPE must protect the employee from identified hazards.
b. The PPE must be safely designed and constructed.
c. The PPE must fit each employee properly.
d. The PPE must meet the ANSI standards or other applicable approval agency standard.
3. Employer trains all affected employees on the correct use of the various types of PPE
Training varies by equipment type. For example, the training required to correctly use a hard hat is not as intensive as the training required to safely use a respirator. However, regardless of the type of PPE, the training requirements include the same basic components.
The employer performs a workplace assessment to uncover hazards and determine the necessary PPE and trains the employees to identify hazards on their own. The conditions at the workplace can change quickly and without your knowledge. By training your employees to be on the lookout for and to recognize hazards in their work area, you will have a greater ability to correct these hazards through engineering controls, changes in work practices or with the use of PPE before an incident occurs. Stress that employees must report any hazard that they identify to their supervisor immediately. If the hazards aren’t reported, they can’t be remedied.
Training your employees to identify hazards leads directly to other aspects of your PPE training. By knowing what hazards exist, it will be easier to make clear to the employees when PPE is necessary and which types of PPE are needed to keep them as safe as possible. Part of the PPE standard’s training element of the states that each affected employee must be able to demonstrate a full understanding of their PPE, including the correct way to put on, take off and wear it.
Incorrect use of any form of PPE can put an employee at greater risk. When employees wear PPE incorrectly, they are not only inadequately protected; they also will have a false sense of their safety. The simple hard hat is a good example. If an employee wears one backward, it is much less protective.
Although the various forms of PPE go a long way to protecting employees, every one has its own set of limitations. Stress this during training. The use of any form of PPE does not make the employee invincible; injuries and even death are still possible. These limitations can be minimized through the proper care and maintenance of any assigned PPE.
Daily inspection is a key aspect of proper care and maintenance. Employees who check over their PPE before use may detect damage that would render the PPE ineffective. Employees must be aware when their PPE requires maintenance and who is to perform it. The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule must be followed. Typical maintenance should include cleaning, inspection, replacement, repair and testing. The employee can perform simple maintenance, such as cleaning, but competent personnel must perform repairs. Damaged equipment must be immediately removed from service until a competent person can certify it for use.
Employees must not perform job tasks that require PPE until they can demonstrate their ability to properly use the PPE. Training—and retraining—gives them this ability. Normally, retraining is necessary when there are changes in the workplace, changes in the types of PPE to be used, inadequacies in an employee’s knowledge or use of assigned PPE, or accident investigations.
PPE can only keep your employees safe if they are properly trained to use it and retrained as needed.