Understanding personal protective equipment:

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is or should be second nature for electrical construction workers; unfortunately, its use and purpose are too often not fully understood. As a result, it may be used improperly or not at all. PPE standards continue to be among the top 25 most frequently cited OSHA standards. In 2006, head protection was number 11. Taking this simple test on PPE and its use may provide insight into possible usage pitfalls.

Questions (true or false)
1. Wearing a hard hat backwards has no impact on its protective features.
2. Wearing a face shield alone provides sufficient protection to the eyes from splash hazards.
3. Ear muffs are better than ear plugs.
4. Class C hard hats do not provide protection from electrical hazards.
5. In addition to its electrical insulation capability, rubber is the best material to use in a glove for protection against chemicals.
6. All safety shoes are rated the same for compression.
7. The service life of N, R and P series particulate respirators are limited by considerations of hygiene, damage and breathing resistance.

Answers
1. False. Hard hats are tested for impact and penetration. The curve of the shell and the manner in which it sits on the suspension affect its protective ability. The suspension should be adjusted to ensure there is an appropriate space between the head and hat’s shell. Typically, this space is 1 to 1¼ inches unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer. Wearing a hard hat backwards, even when the suspension is reversed, may have an impact. However, certain hard hats may be designed to allow them to be worn backwards. The manufacturer should be consulted.

2. False. Faceshields are considered a secondary protector. Safety glasses or goggles must be worn to effectively protect against a chemical splash or dusts.

3. False. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates hearing protectors. The rating is identified on the device as the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). An ear muff and an ear plug with the same rating should provide the same protection. The employee’s ability to use the device may affect an evaluation, but other factors may have an impact as well. It’s easier to put ear muffs on, but foam plugs may provide a wider range of protection from variable frequencies. Again, manufacturers are the best resource for the range of protection and proper use of their equipment.

4. True. Hard hats are divided into three classes. Class C hard hats offer impact protection, but no protection from electrical hazards. Class A hard hats provide impact and penetration resistance and protection from voltage up to 2,200 volts. Class B hard hats offer the highest protection with high-voltage shock and burn protection up to 20,000 volts.

5. False. Protection is dependent on the chemical exposure. Rubber is very good for some acids and bases, but offers poor protection from diesel fuel and gasoline. Nitrile gloves would be better when using these chemicals. The chemical exposure must be determined. The Material Safety Data Sheet is an excellent source to identify the chemical and protection needed.

6. False. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Protective Footwear Standard provides a guide for classifying the performance characteristics of safety footwear. There are three compression and impact classifications identified in the standard: Class 30, Class 50 and, the highest rating, Class 75. Class 75 will resist a compression force of up to 2,500 pounds. Every pair of an approved safety shoe should be stamped, usually on the inside lining, with its Z41 performance classification and identification.

7. True. R or P series filters can be used for protection against oil or non-oil aerosols. N series filters should be used only for non-oil aerosols. Use and reuse of the P series filters would be subject only to considerations of hygiene, damage and increased breathing resistance. Generally, the use and reuse of N series filters would also be subject just to considerations of hygiene, damage and increased breathing resistance. The R series filters should be used only for a single shift or for eight hours of continuous or intermittent use when oil is present.

Whether or not you found this test easy, it is critical to recognize that the proper use of PPE goes beyond simply handing it out. Employers need to perform a hazard assessment to determine what hazards exist in the workplace. Engineering and administrative controls need to be implemented first to reduce the need for PPE. If PPE is needed, the appropriate types must be matched to the hazards and fitted to the individual employees. Employees must be trained on the use and care of their PPE. An inspection, maintenance and replacement schedule should be established for PPE. These procedures should be reviewed periodically for their effectiveness and updated as needed.     EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or by e-mail at joconnor@intecweb.com.