Personal protective equipment shields people operating in hazardous environments. PPE forms one line of defense against workplace hazards. There are different types of equipment available; their applications depend on the type of hazards from which protection is desired.
Types of Personal Protective Equipment
Gloves provide arm and hand protection. Gloves must be replaced over time because the material can wear out and the protection offered may be reduced. Gloves protect against exposure to chemicals, sharp edges, electrical shock, infectious materials, and contagions. Gloves that are not meant to be disposed after a single use must be inspected for wear, holes, cuts, and anything that may suggest a loss in efficacy.
- Thin latex or nitrile gloves are used for working with biological hazards, such as pathogens and human tissue, as well as chemical splash hazards. These are tight-fitting gloves, and may be powdered. These are disposable gloves.
- Polyvinyl Chloride gloves are disposable gloves. These have a loose fit, and should not be worn for activities that require dexterous use of hands and fingers.
- Insulated gloves include those for protection against heat, extreme cold, water, and electricity.
- Leather gloves are used to protect the hands from cuts, abrasions, and such injuries.
- Stainless steel mesh gloves are worn for protection against cuts and when handling livestock.
Eye and face protection is important for work zones where the employees have to deal with chemicals, laser, flying particles, sparks, etc.
- General safety glasses have side shields and are a very basic level of eye protection that does not protect from splashes. These can be worn in laboratories where mixtures and solutions present no risk of splashing.
- Laser safety glasses are worn to filter out strong laser pulses. Laser goggles are another alternative that do the same work but in a more comprehensive manner.
- Chemical splash goggles are worn in workplaces where there’s a risk of chemicals or biologically hazardous substances splashing up on to the face or eye. These goggles can also shield the face and eyes from flying debris.
- Impact goggles are constructed to protect against fast-flying particles. These have vents on the side for air circulation, and are not meant for use in a chemically hazardous environment.
Depending on the task, protective eyewear may have to be combined with protective face masks and respiratory apparatus.
Foot and Leg Protection
Foot and leg protection necessitates the use of appropriate footwear and padding, as well as taking all essential precautions to minimize the risk of slips, falls, impact with stationary and moving objects, contact with hazardous substances, etc.
- Steel-toed shoes offer the best protection against injuries from falling objects. Fiberglass toes are recommended for workplaces where electrical hazards are also present along with the risk of falling objects.
- Shoes with soles that grip must be worn on slippery surfaces. The soles can be grooved, spiked, or studded for maximum traction.
- Boots with rubber or neoprene bodies are recommended for protection against chemical hazards.
- Composite toe work boots are made from materials such as kevlar, carbon fiber and plastic; they are used in industries where the high-level of protection offered by steel-toed shoes is not required. These boots are a lighter and cheaper alternative too.
The shoes may extend above the ankles to protect the wearer from falling parts. Such footwear is useful in automotive workshops, boat-building industry, and anywhere else where heavy and unwieldy parts have to be moved.
Suits, gowns, aprons, and lab coats are examples of body protecting equipment. Such equipment must be impervious to heat, cold, liquids, chemicals, corrosion, radiation, electricity, etc. It is difficult for single body protecting equipment to possess all these attributes. Therefore, it is essential that safe working conditions be maintained.
- Protective clothing for body protection can either be disposable or reusable. Reusable barrier coats worn to protect against infections must be disinfected before further use.
- Considerations when choosing the right type of body protection include comfort, range of movement, cost of disinfection, ease of storage, temperature variations that can be borne by the wearer, and ease of maintaining hygiene.
- Body protecting shields are made of wood, glass, lead, and other non-conducting, fire retardant materials.
- Plastic and synthetic materials, such as dacron and nylon, must be avoided when working with open flames.
Respirators include breathing apparatus that may include equipment passing through protective hoods. Full-face respirators and half mask respirators are other types. The use of respirators requires prior training. Respirators can only be used after an approval from OSHA. Respirators protect from harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, gases, sprays, etc. In the absence of respirators, employees run the risk of disease, lung damage, and even death. When employees must work in environments with insufficient oxygen or where harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, fumes, gases, vapors, or sprays are present, they need respirators. These health hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases, or death.
- Single-strap dust masks may be used as filters against pollen and allergens, but not against hazardous gases.
- OSHA-approved dust masks serve to protect against dust and fumes, but not against gases and vapors.
- Half-face respirators protect against different vapors, evaporating acids, dust, etc. Care must be taken to ensure that the respirators contain the appropriate cartridge for the desired hazard protection.
- Full-face respirators offer more protection; they protect the face and eyes as well.
- A Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) is used for entering spaces with an atmosphere that is deadly dangerous.
Life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are required to be worn where workers might fall into water and drowning is a risk. Employees working on floats, barges, and such vessels must use life ring buoys with ropes and ladders.
PFDs and life jackets must meet the specifications for the job in terms of performance and buoyancy. For example, ship workers and dock workers working alone must wear a self-righting PFD. For easier spotting, the visible portions of the flotation device must have a retroreflective finish.
Hearing protection against noise is essential to prevent progressive hearing loss. This protection is important for workers in boiler rooms, loom sheds, iron foundries, and places where the decibels are too high for physical and psychological wellbeing.
- Earplugs can be reusable or disposable.
- Waxed cotton and fiberglass wool form functional earplugs that work as well as molded ear protection units. Regular cotton does not afford such protection.
- Ear plugs work better than ear muffs; the performance of the latter can get hampered by long hair, chewing, and a poor fit.