What is PPE? - 10 Ways to Protect Workers

Posted by Antonio Ferraro on 12th Jun 2014

Its Time to Discover What PPE is All About

What is PPE

OSHA guidelines, including the “general duty clause,” ensure that employers are doing everything that they can in order to keep their workers safe. A large part of this comes down to the use of personal protection equipment, henceforth referred to as PPE. PPE serves as a sort of last line of defense, mitigating risks which would not be completely eliminated through other workplace safety improvements. In many cases, risks have been mitigated well but small windows for incidence (“freak accidents”) still exist.

As life-saving and injury prevention go, PPE still remains one of the most effective tools employers have, and it is their duty to provide it when needed. One of the first things you will need to do is conduct a “risk assessment” to determine the risks to your employees in a certain work area. This assessment can then be used to make purchasing decisions with regards to PPE. While that's all well and good, it's easy for one danger to slip your mind while focusing on others which may seem more immediate. For example, workers with saws or noisy bladed machines may think of eye protection right away when a spinning saw is kicking debris up in a workers' face, but they may neglect to evaluate the need for ear protection to help mitigate hearing damage. As you read through these ten types of PPE, carefully consider your own workplace and any areas in which each type of protection could be relevant to your employees' health and safety.

10 Pieces of PPE For Your Workplace

1. Hands & Fingers

One of the most common types of PPE is hand and finger protection, most commonly in the form of gloves. Individuals use gloves in everything from gardening to washing dishes, so it only makes sense that their barrier qualities for the most touched surfaces of our bodies are brought into the workplace. When determining where gloves might be used in your own work, consider the following different types of protection:

  • Heat/cold
  • Chemical
  • Puncture, cut, and laceration
  • Friction

2. Eyes

Continuing down the list of senses, eyes are a big deal: We only get two of them, they're extremely sensitive to scratches and abrasions, as well as liquid. Small debris can also get into them fairly easily. In addition to having an emergency eyewash station ( similar to these ones) in the workplace can prevent falling into machines or enclosures that pose threats to worker health.

3. Ears

As demonstrated in our intro example, the ears sometimes get forgotten. At a concert, wearing ear-plugs might get you labeled as a bit overly-reserved, but in the workplace preserving hearing is essential, and just plain smart. Many construction workers and others in loud environments would suffer sever hearing loss over time without the help of earplugs and earmuffs. It is important to make sure that ear PPE to protect against sound damage won't put workers further at risk, however, by limiting their awareness of their surroundings.

4. Breathing

In many cases, harmful chemicals or particles in the air might prevent workers from safely breathing on their own. To combat this, a range of personal respirators or ventilator systems are available. The complexity and cost of such systems varies with your needs, primarily with how large the particles are that need filtered out. Silica dust, common in construction projects, for example, can be stopped with courser physical barriers. On the other hand, more expensive equipment may be needed for filtration at the molecular level, or for jobs in which separate air tanks, rather than outside air filtration, are used.

5. Skin Contact

Your hands aren't the only skin at risk in certain work environments. Sometimes, you'll need to cover entire limbs or bodies in order to protect against things like chemical burns or micro-abrasions. Full body suits are made for this purpose and, much like respirators, they come in a variety of grades for different situations (waterproof, airtight, etc.).

6. Footwear

Footwear comes in all types and for a variety of jobs, but its most common use in workplace safety is preventing the common slips and falls that account for so many injuries each year. Proper traction, especially in any workplace with slick floors, or floors that may become slippery due to liquid, dust, or other debris, is absolutely essential, and should not be overlooked. In many cases, it is OK for employers to require workers to purchase their own compliant footwear, but they are still responsible for ensuring it is worn. In environments with falling objects, steel-toed boots can also help protect the toe and foot bones.

7. Headwear

While the human skull is a thick line of defense, it's no match for certain falling debris or moving objects in the workplace. Head injuries number in the thousands each year, and can result in anything from pain, to concussion, to brain damage or even death. Helmets and “hard hats” are designed to prevent these injuries.

8. Restraint Systems

While those working at heights won't be strangers to fall arrest and restraint systems( similar to the ones found here), the concept might be foreign to those working indoors. That said, restraint harnesses in the workplace can prevent falling into machines or enclosures that pose threats to worker health. 

9. Radiation Protection

While not common in every workplace, radiation is a serious risk to long-term worker health, and is a very real hazard when handling certain chemicals and materials. Radiation suits, commonly termed “HazMat” suits, may be necessary in these situations.

10. Training

Alright, you caught me. This isn't technically recognized as PPE, but in my opinion it's one of the most important. OSHA , in fact, includes it several times  in their documentation on PPE, so I'll leave you with their words:

“Employers should make sure that each employee demonstrates an understanding of the PPE training as well as the ability to properly wear and use PPE before they are allowed to perform work requiring the use of the PPE. If an employer believes that a previously trained employee is not demonstrating the proper understanding and skill level in the use of PPE, that employee should receive retraining. Other situations that require additional or retraining of employees include the following circumstances: changes in the workplace or in the type of required PPE that make prior training obsolete.”

Unable to play video? Click here