Identifying workplace hazards and providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is the responsibility of employers, and can be a daunting task. Getting employees to use proper safety gear properly and consistently can be equally challenging. Fortunately the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration offers clear guidelines for selecting PPE and ensuring employee compliance.
PPE: A Mutual Responsibility
As an employer, you have certain responsibilities to employees performing tasks requiring safety gear. At the same time, your employees have a responsibility to use such gear. According to OSHA, employers have an obligation to do the following:
- Perform a workplace hazard assessment.
- Identify and provide appropriate PPE for tasks requiring safety gear.
- Train employees in the use and care of PPE.
- Maintain PPE, replacing worn or damaged gear as needed.
- Periodically review and update the workplace PPE program.
On the other side of the equation, it is your employees’ responsibility to:
- Wear PPE in a proper and consistent manner.
- Attend safety equipment training sessions.
- Care for, clean, and maintain PPE.
- Report damaged or worn gear to supervisors.
Hazard Assessment Guidelines
Hazard assessment is a complex project heavily dependent on your industry and your workplace’s individual characteristics. Some businesses may benefit from contracting professional hazard assessment services to ensure their employees are properly protected.
The process begins with a work environment walkthrough to identify all potential threats and physical hazards. Be vigilant, and identify areas where the following injuries are possible:
- Biologic threats.
- Chemical hazards
- Compression (roll-over injuries)
- Harmful dust exposure
- Heat / cold
- Impact injuries
- Light radiation
- Penetration / puncture injuries.
During the walkthrough, consider electrical sources, movable machinery or processes, sources of high heat or extreme cold, the potential for physical falls or dropped objects, and sharp objects that can puncture, stab, or slice.
Selecting Safety Gear
Using a completed hazard assessment as a foundation, employers must then identify appropriate types of PPE and adequate levels of protection. As a very general rule, it’s recommended you select PPE that over-performs, providing protection in excess of the minimum required to safeguard employees from workplace threats.
Choose PPE certified to meet OSHA and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards. Follow these standards to the letter. Manufacturers should be able to help you select the right protective clothing for your individual needs. If in doubt, ask. This is especially true when choosing chemical protection, as the type of material used must be matched with the specific nature and action of the chemicals in question.
Whether or not an employer needs to merely provide PPE, or provide PPE free of charge, depends on the nature of the hazard. OSHA standards will make it clear which situation applies to you.
As an employer, you are responsible for training your employees in the proper use of protective gear. At a minimum, you must train your employees sufficiently to understand the following:
- When PPE is required.
- What PPE is necessary to complete the task at hand.
- How to put on, wear adjust, and remove safety gear.
- The limits of PPE effectiveness.
- Proper care and maintenance for PPE.
- PPE’s lifespan and proper disposal.
Before being allowed to work in hazardous environments, each employee must demonstrate an understanding of and proficiency with all required safety gear. Document training for each worker, including the employee’s name, the date of training, and a clear description of the training received.
Retraining and review of proper safety gear use may be necessary if the employee fails to comply with PPE use, or demonstrates a lack of understanding of the use and need for protective gear. Changes to available PPE or the work floor may also require retraining.
Compliance with protective gear can be an issue. Selecting proper fitting, comfortable gear for each employee goes a long way towards ensuring compliance, as does a robust culture of workplace safety.
Bright colored safety gear encourages compliance, as supervisors can quickly determine who is and who is not wearing PPE. And while it may seem like a small consideration, employees are more likely to wear protective gear that looks good—one reason TSA Safety provides a wide range of stylish protective clothing.