In the eyes of many people, personal protective equipment (PPE) is workplace safety. A hard hat, steel-toed shoes, and goggles are the most visible symbols of protection. However, these items form only part of a bigger picture.
OSHA’s PPE standards in 29 CFR, 1910.132-138 include general requirements, as well as the rules covering eye and face, respiratory, head, foot, and hand protection. You’ll also find PPE regulations in material safety data sheets, owner/operator manuals, and instructions for specific types of protective gear. Bear in mind that, as much as OSHA stresses the need for PPE, the agency considers it as only the third tier of protection, behind engineering and administrative controls — in other words, a “last resort.”
To help employers assess hazards and select the best protection, we’d recommend taking these steps:
- Start with a walk-through survey of the area or job. The idea is to identify sources of hazards in categories including impact, penetration, rollover, chemical heat, harmful dust, and optical radiation.
- Consider the sources. During the walk-through, look for hazard sources, including any machinery or processes in which movement of tools, elements, or particles could occur, or where people could collide with stationary objects. Your review should also seek sources of high temperatures, sharp objects, rolling or pinching objects, and electrical hazards, together with a survey the layout of the work areas.
- Analyze the data. Evaluate the findings from your walk-through and estimate the potential for injuries. Review each basic hazard in light of the type and level of risk, and the seriousness of a potential injury.
- Select the protection. OSHA recommends PPE selection procedures that compare the hazards associated with the environment against the capabilities of available PPE. Make sure that equipment ensure a level of protection greater than the minimum required. Users should be fit, instructed on care and use of the PPE, and made aware of warning labels and limitations.
- Put it in writing. Describe PPE in a written policy signed by upper management and reviewed periodically. At a minimum, your policy should require personnel to wear, care for and store appropriate PPE provided by the employer; set out relevant PPT duties for supervisors; explain the hazard assessment process; and give the location of the original signed forms.