A Brief Introduction to Personal Protective Equipment

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Worker wearing PPEPPE includes goggles that prevent debris from entering the eye, hard hats that protect workers from falling objects, rubber gloves resistant to electric currents, and any other type of equipment or garment designed to be worn for protection. When other safety measures fail and a worker comes in contact with a hazard, PPE will be the last line of defense protecting the employee from harm.

There is personal protective equipment for virtually every part of the human body. For the most part, PPE is classified as respiratory protection, skin and body protection, eye and face protection, hearing protection, and hand protection.  Some of the most common types of PPE you will see in an industrial setting are:

  • Hard hats and bump caps for head protection; keeps worker’s head safe from impact, collision, or projectiles.
  • Safety gloves for hand protection; keep hazards (biological, physical, or health) away from the skin.
  • Ear plugs and ear muffs for hearing protection; reduces the amount of noise entering the ear.
  • Goggles and safety glasses for eye protection; prevents eye diseases, permanent eye damage, and eye injury.
  • Balaclavas and shields for face protection; protects workers from flying objects, foreign object debris, chemicals splashing up, etc.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are items used more often in other industries, like hi-vis safety vests in construction, as well as PPE designed for specific hazards, like arc-rated clothing.

Why is PPE important?

PPE serves as a barrier between a worker and a hazard, effectively controlling exposure. It is the last line of defense an individual has in the case of other controls failing, ranking last in the Hierarchy of Controls. Although that makes it the “least effective” option, it does not diminish the important role PPE plays in keeping employees safe. PPE should be stored in safely in a closet or bin that Is clearly marked and easily accessible. Knowing where to put PPE, when to use it, and how to use are all topics covered by OSHA standards.

OSHA requires employers to provide adequate and well-fitting PPE at no cost to workers. A hazard assessment of the facility must be completed to determine what hazards are present and what PPE will be necessary. Training is another OSHA requirement and workers must be trained on the correct use of equipment, when to use it, proper care and disposal, and the limitations of the equipment.  During an OSHA inspection, the compliance officer will assess stocked PPE, review records of training, and ensure the facility has established existing procedures for testing and maintaining PPE.

Employees have the right to feel safe at work and employers are responsible for providing PPE and establishing a standard for the facility. If an accident takes place, PPE can greatly reduce the risk of injury and minimize the effect of the accident.

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