What You Must Know About PPE Standards When Employing Workers?

In the U.S, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, (OSHA), personal protective equipment (PPE) comprises clothing and equipment that is meant to shield the wearer from hazards at the workplace. OSHA mandates that employers must provide employees with personal protective clothing and equipment free of cost. Graded steps that an employer must take to ensure employee safety include elimination, substitution, engineering, administration, and PPE. Though PPE comes last in this hierarchy, it remains an important method to eliminate or control the risks of hazardous accidents.

Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations elaborates on the standards that employers are expected to meet with respect to PPE.

Hazard Assessment for Implementing PPE

Both employer and employee are expected to pool in knowledge to ensure maximum protection from hazards at the workplace. The employer must select effective PPE and train employees in its correct use. PPE must be maintained and damaged equipment must be repaired or replaced. The PPE program must be updated, as and when required.

Hazards at the workplace include physical and health hazards. Fast-moving objects, heavy weights, electrical wiring, and edged tools constitute physical hazards. Health hazards include chemicals, radiation, and harmful vapors. A thorough tour of the plant or workplace must be carried out to reveal potential sources of impact, penetration, chemical, harmful dust, and radiation. Any possible sources of impact between humans and machinery must be noted. Spots where temperatures are higher than normal, areas where high-power electric lines are present, and places where intense radiant light is a threat must be noted. Once this information is available, it should be prepared for easy reference to choose the most appropriate PPE for use according to the hazards present. It is advisable to select equipment that provides more than just the minimum level of protection.

How to Select the Right Personal Protective Equipment

Safe design and robust construction are basic requirements that all PPE equipment and clothing must fulfil. The clothing must fit the wearer to ensure comfort and to encourage use. The right-sized equipment must be provided to employees. If different types of PPE are used together, then mutual compatibility must be ensured. OSHA standards stipulate that PPE meet ANSI norms. Employers must take care to purchase only such equipment that confirms to ANSI standards. If employees use their own equipment, then employers must provide them with standards that the equipment needs to match.

ANSI standards that PPE should meet to confirm with OSHA requirements –

  • Eye and Face Protection: ANSI Z87.1-1989
  • Head Protection: ANSI Z89.1-1986.
  • Foot Protection: ANSI Z41.1-1991.

Although ANSI does not have any standards for gloves, OSHA expects that the gloves be of a construction that enables such performance that the work on hand can be executed in a safe manner.

Employee Training in the Use of PPE

At the very least, the employees must know when the use of PPE is essential, be able to select the right type of PPE, be able to wear and remove protective clothing without damaging it or hurting self, be able to handle PPE equipment in the right way, and be aware of what the PPE can and cannot do. Employers must make it a point to see that employees demonstrate an understanding of the above points before they are allowed to work under hazardous conditions. If an employee does not demonstrate the required level of skill or confidence in working with PPE, then his or her training must be extended till the desired level of ease with the equipment and clothing is achieved.

Proper record-keeping of each employee’s training is essential. This enables trainers to track an individual’s progress and measure abilities in handling PPE. Such documentation also lets employers conduct new training programs more efficiently. Such training programs are necessitated by changes that may render existing training insufficient or obsolete, for example, a change in premises or nature of work.

PPE for Face and Eye Protection

Given that the eyes and face are at risk from multiple hazards, their protection is an important consideration. Steam, flying projectiles, harsh liquids, extreme temperatures, falling objects, etc. are just some of the hazards that can hurt and damage an employee’s eyes and face.

  • Employees wearing corrective lenses must either wear protective eyewear over the lens or have the corrective prescription as a part of the design of the PPE. The objective of either approach should be that the wearer’s vision is not compromised in any way.
  • Carpenters, electricians, millwrights, construction workers, plumbers, and welders are examples of workers that are exposed to eye damage. They must be provided with appropriate PPE depending on the type of hazard that may include dust, swinging objects, chemicals, fire, radiation, etc.

Attributes of PPE for eye and face protection

Effective eyewear for protection from hazards must have the following features:

  • It must offer protection against hazards that it is intended to thwart.
  • It must be comfortable and of the right fit for the wearer.
  • It should not hinder vision.
  • It should be long-lasting and easy-to-maintain.
  • It should not interfere with the working of other equipment.

Examples of eye and face protection equipment include safety glasses, goggles, welding shields, laser safety goggles, and face shields.

PPE for Head Protection

Head injuries can threaten a worker’s life. Protection against such injuries is a crucial component of any employee safety project. Hard hats are a common and effective protection. These hats protect the wearer from blunt impact trauma as well as from sharp objects. With hard hats, the risk of head injuries from falling objects, banging against fixed objects, and of shock from electrical connections is minimized. These hats are water resistant and they burn slowly. Hard hats are worn by workers on construction sites, timber yards, welding zones, etc. The shell of the hat is suspended around one inch away from the head to ensure that the shock of the impact is not transferred to the skull.

There are three types of hard hats with properties that vary with the intended use. Class A hard hats are used for workplaces where workers face a risk from falling objects and sudden impacts on the head. Such hats also provide voltage protection from charges up to 2,200 volts. Class B hard hats are the best choice for workplaces where electrical hazards are a risk. These hats can protect against charges of up to 20,000 volts. Class C hard hats are lighter in construction and protect from impact but not from electrical hazards.

Protective headgear serves its purpose only if it fits the head it is meant to protect. Hard hats should be checked for sufficient clearance between the protective shell and the suspension system so that the dual purposes of shock absorbance and ventilation. The hat should not chafe against the skin or slip when worn. Protective hats may feature additional attributes that add to their usefulness; these include channels for guiding water away from the face, a brim to keep sunlight away, and mounted lights for working in dark places.

PPE for Feet Protection

Protective footwear protects the wearer from injuries to the leg or foot from heavy falling objects, sharp objects that may penetrate the flesh, electrical hazards, etc. In the case of electrical hazards, if the risk is from static electricity, then conductive footwear is the answer.

Protection for feet and legs must meet the compression and impact performance standards mandated by OSHA. However, the nature of protection offered will vary with the intended use.

Types of Protective Footwear for PPE

  • Leggings for lower legs to protect from heat and sparks.
  • Instep guards to protect the metatarsal area from sudden pressure.
  • Toe guards that can fit over the toes of shoes to protect the front portion of the feet from stubs and falling objects.

Some safety shoes may be designed with metal insoles to protect from puncture wounds. Shoes that conduct electricity are worn in settings where there are chances of static electricity building up or there’s a risk of a conflagration from an errant spark from static electricity. Grain elevations and ordnance factories are examples of workplaces where such shoes are worn. It is important to keep in mind that workers running the risk of exposure to electrical hazards must not wear conductive shoes.

Non-conductive shoes prevent an electrical circuit from being completed, and protect the wearer. Such shoes may lose their efficacy over time as the soles wear out or if metal strips or particles get stuck onto the soles.

Foundry workers are provided with special shoes that protect their feet from hot metal and also prevent molten metal from getting lodged into gaps and crevices present in regular shoes.

PPE for Respiratory Protection

Ideally, a workshop or any industrial environment must have proper engineering controls and ventilation in the working area. Workers must also be provided with appropriate masks and respirators to prevent inhalation of gases, smoke, vapors, mists, and dusts. These filtering devices may cover the nose and mouth, and sometimes the entire face.

Conclusion

OSHA standards for PPE are meant to protect the workers from injury, provide a safe working environment, and when implemented correctly, these can shield the employers from the liability of cost worker’s compensation.

Sarah Shawman

is the webmistress of Footwear 4 Workers.

She started this website out of displeasure with the fact that there are so few good online resources especially dedicated to the 99%: working people. Having suffered from work related plantar fasciitis herself, she set out on a mission to help others.

She updated this page on and will continue to update it as time goes on.

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