Accidents can turn into a significant expense for any business. Safety+Health magazine reports that in 2015 alone, U.S. employers spent over $1 billion a week on disabling injuries and diseases. Workers in heavy industries have a greater risk to accidents because they handle or work around hazardous materials.
Reducing incidents and creating a healthy environment will help your employees stay safe and allow your business to steer clear of unnecessary expenses.
Workplace Safety is an Investment
The first step in any successful health and safety program is identifying the cause of potential hazards, this will determine the precautionary measures that are unique to each specific process and will help you mitigate the hazards associated with high risk activities and limit the occurrence of potentially life threatening injuries.
The second-most important step in preventing HSE events is sourcing the right personal protective equipment (PPE), which is your workers last line of defense from physical hazards should an incident that could cause bodily harm occur.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) explains that PPE refers to equipment worn to reduce complications caused by exposure to workplace hazards, including chemicals, mechanical, and electrical among others.
It’s necessary to evaluate your PPE according to its design and construction to make sure that each item offers sufficient protection to your employees and is fit-for-purpose depending on the work being performed. The fit of the equipment is also crucial to avoid limiting your workers’ on the job performance.
These, however, are not the only considerations when choosing your employees’ PPE.
The Necessary Level of Protection
Your employees will need PPE designed for the level of protection they will require. As such, the PPE of employees who work mostly with electrical components will be different from those who work with chemical substances.
There are three categories that classify each PPE based on the level of risk. These categories are:
- PPE Category I (Low Risk) - PPE under this category are ideal for tasks with minor risk and effect, such as protective clothing against rain or gloves for light work.
- PPE Category II - this category covers PPE that are either category I or category III, for example, safety gloves against mechanical risks and high-visibility warning clothing.
- PPE Category III - it involves PPE used for protection against fatal dangers and can cause permanent damage to health. Protective clothing and gloves for firefighters fit in this category.
Every PPE purchase starts with recognizing the particular types of hazards in your facility, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Hazard identification and assessment allows you to choose the right protective equipment for your employees. It gives you adequate information as to the type of material and requisite features your PPE will need.
Some of the vital equipment your workers may need include:
- Protective headgear – Headwear protects employees from impact and penetration, not just from the top of their head but also from the back and sides.
- Hand Protection – Protective gloves are the most important aspect of hand safety, these protect the hands against mechanical risks and cutting injuries. They also prevent your workers from coming into direct contact with chemicals, flames, and viruses. Here’s a guide to help you find the right size of gloves for your employees.
- Protective clothing – This type of PPE provides protection against specific dangers, including gases, electrical energy, flame, and so on. Each protective item uses different materials based on the risk exposure.
- Cold weather clothing – This is necessary for individuals working under extreme cold. This can provide thermal insulation and wind-proofing at the highest level possible. It protects the wearer against two conditions: cool surroundings of up to -5°C and temperature from -5°C. Your extremities are especially vulnerable to cold weather conditions, so extra attention should be placed on foot and hand wear.
- Chemical protection clothing – When selecting this clothing, you have to consider the type, concentration, and state (solid, liquid, or gas) of the chemicals that your employees will be working handling.
- Fire-resistant (FR) clothing – This type of clothing protects the wearer against fire, heat, and tear. It provides an excellent level of visibility, as well, which makes the wearer easier to spot in any situation.
- Flame protection clothing – Made with the flame-retardant material, this clothing provides employees with short-term protection against fire. Workers in metalworking shops typically use this type of protective clothing.
- Protective Footwear – These specially-designed shoes allow your employees to work and move around environments where the probability of sole puncture, toe impact, electrical shock, Metatarsal foot protection other similar injuries is high.
Fit and Comfort are also Crucial to PPE
Workers are more likely to use their protective clothing for long periods if they can easily move in their headgear, clothes, and footwear. According to the OSHA, the PPE should fit your workers comfortably. Otherwise, they leave themselves exposed to a variety of hazards. Even the most effective PPE for a specific hazard can’t protect you if you’re not wearing it.
Health and Safety International cited that 49 percent of American firefighters lost their lives while on duty because of circulatory collapse caused by the lack of physiological function of their protective clothing.
Your PPE must provide breathability and thermal insulation to the wearer. Materials used for the equipment should pass the evaluation test based on ISO 11092, as well.
Field tests can help you determine the performance of the PPE in a real-world situation. You can develop and use objective performance criteria to further support your purchase decision. Find volunteers who can be part of the tests and create an evaluation form based on the requirements of your operation.
Tell the participants to rate the comfort of the PPE after they perform their tasks. Remember to use a positive statement format in your evaluation form, and participants should rate their level of agreement using a numerical scale. You may also avoid response scale that includes a neutral option as it doesn’t help you make a decision.
Testing the PPE’s Longevity
It’s crucial to choose PPE that not only lasts long but also withstands repeated exposure to hazards, such as chemicals, fire, and equipment impact. Durability against specific situations is determined through the artificial aging process, which is an additional test to prove the quality of the equipment further. This is important not only to help protect your employees, but a longer useful-life reduces the overall cost of your PPE.
During the artificial aging process, evaluators wash the protective clothing several times following the manufacturers’ specifications. Afterward, the equipment goes through different testing procedures to determine its durability.
There are different kinds of testing processes, including:
- Flame protection testing – this test applies flame from a Bunsen burner to PPE designed for firefighters. Samples are both in new and treated condition.
- Heat protection testing – this process uses a heated cabinet to test the heat protection that a textile gives. The test measures the changes to the material after exposure to 180°C and/or 270°C.
- Tear resistance testing – evaluators use the maximum force via a tensile testing device to test the durability of the protective equipment.
- Abrasion testing – this test uses the Martindale method wherein the evaluator uses a standard woolen fabric and rubs it against the sample fabric destroying at least two fibers of the material. This testing method aims to simulate the friction that occurs at the time a worker uses the equipment.
The performance of the PPE you choose does not solely rely on the type and quality of the equipment and your company’s compliance with industry standards. It also depends on the training of your workers to use their protective headgear, gloves, clothes, and footwear.
The OSHA recommends training workers exposed to hazards to learn the following:
- When it is necessary to wear the PPE
- What kind of PPE is appropriate for their tasks
- Proper putting on, adjusting, wearing, and taking off of the equipment
- The limitations of the PPE
- The right way to care, maintain, and dispose of the equipment
Taking preventative measures should be your priority to minimize the potential risks of injuries and illnesses in your workplace. Protective equipment is an essential investment for your business because they safeguard critical human resources. When your employees have sufficient protection, you can expect productivity and security for your business.
Learn more about protecting your workers against specific hazards with the OSHA Standards for Industrial Safety.