Many workplace injuries and illnesses could be prevented by the proper use of personal protective equipment. Safety in the workplace is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency provides rules for specific accessories and requires a walk-through assessment and survey of the workplace to determine what hazards exist and what PPE is needed. Once appropriate PPE is chosen, employees must be thoroughly trained in its proper use to have it be effective. OSHA and manufacturers are willing to help with selection and proper use of PPE. Many PPE manufacturers can provide workplace training.
Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms: sharp edges, falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, noise and myriad other potentially dangerous situations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury.
Controlling a hazard at its source is the best way to protect employees. Depending on the hazard or workplace conditions, OSHA recommends the use of engineering or work practice controls to manage or eliminate hazards to the greatest extent possible. For example, building a barrier between the hazard and the employees is an engineering control; changing the way in which employees perform their work is a work-practice control. When engineering, work practice and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide enough protection, employers must provide personal protective equipment or PPE to their employees and ensure its use. PPE is worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. Examples of PPE are gloves, foot and eye protection, protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs) hard hats, respirators and full body suits.
Employers and employees need to:
In general, employers are responsible for:
In general, employees should:
Specific requirements for PPE are presented in many different OSHA standards, published in 29 CFR. Some standards require that employers provide PPE at no cost to the employee while others simply state that the employer must provide PPE. See lists broken into subsections, OSHA Standards that Require PPE
A first critical step in developing a comprehensive safety and health program is to identify physical and health hazards in the workplace. This process is known as a hazard assessment. Potential hazards may be physical or health-related and a comprehensive hazard assessment should identify hazards in both categories. Examples of physical hazards include moving objects, fluctuating temperatures, high intensity lighting, rolling or pinching objects, electrical connections and sharp edges. Examples of health hazards include overexposure to harmful dusts, chemicals or radiation.
The hazard assessment should begin with a walk-through survey of the facility to develop a list of potential hazards in the following basic categories:
During the walk-through survey, note the basic layout of the facility and review any history of occupational illnesses or injuries, and look for:
When the walk-through is complete, the employer should organize and analyze the data to help determine the proper types of PPE required at the worksite. The employer should become aware of the different types of PPE available and the levels of protection offered. The OSHA consulting program or manufacturers can help with this process. Select PPE that will provide a level of protection greater than the minimum required to protect employees from hazards, but not so that it creates hazards from overprotection.
The employer should periodically reassess the workplace for any changes in conditions, equipment or operating procedures that could affect occupational hazards. This periodic reassessment should also include a review of injury and illness records to spot any trends or areas of concern and taking appropriate corrective action. The suitability of existing PPE, along with an evaluation of its condition and age, should be included in the reassessment. Documentation of the hazard assessment is required through a written certification that includes the following information:
All personal protective equipment should be of safe design and construction, and be maintained in a clean and reliable fashion. Employers should consider the fit and comfort of PPE when selecting items for their employees. PPE that is the proper size for each employee, fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employee use of PPE. Different types of PPE should be compatible when worn together. Ill-fitting PPE or that which is uncomfortable and not worn will do little to protect the health and safety of public entity employees.
OSHA requires that many categories of PPE meet or be equivalent to standards developed by the American National Standards Institute. PPE must meet the ANSI standard in effect at the time of its manufacture, or provide protection equivalent to PPE manufactured to the ANSI criteria. Employers must make certain that any new PPE procured meets the cited ANSI standard. OSHA requires PPE to meet the following ANSI standards:
Employers should inform employees who provide their own PPE of the employer’s selection decisions and ensure that any employee-owned PPE used in the workplace conforms to the employer’s criteria, based on the hazard assessment, OSHA requirements and ANSI standards. There is no ANSI standard for gloves but OSHA recommends that selection be based upon the tasks to be performed and the performance and construction characteristics of the glove material. For protection against chemicals, glove selection must be based on the chemicals encountered, the chemical resistance and the physical properties of the glove material.
OSHA requires employers to train each employee who must use PPE. Employees must be trained to know at least the following:
Employers should make sure that before an employee is allowed to perform work requiring the use of personal protective equipment, she or he demonstrates an understanding of the PPE training, and the ability to properly wear and use the specific item(s). 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.
The employer must document the training of each employee required to wear or use PPE by preparing a certification containing the name of each employee trained, the date of training and a clear identification of the subject of the certification.
Consultation assistance is available on request to employers who want help in establishing and maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. Largely funded by OSHA, the service is provided at no cost to the employer. Primarily developed for smaller employers with more hazardous operations, the consultation service is delivered by state governments employing professional safety and health consultants. Comprehensive assistance includes an appraisal of all-mechanical systems, work practices and occupational safety and health hazards of the workplace and all aspects of the employer’s present job safety and health program. In addition, the service offers assistance to employers in developing and implementing an effective safety and health program. No penalties are proposed or citations issued for hazards identified by the consultant. OSHA provides consultation assistance to the employer with the assurance that his or her name and firm and any information about the workplace will not be routinely reported to OSHA enforcement staff.
For more information concerning consultation assistance, see the OSHA Web site at www.osha.gov.
OSHA has a variety of materials and tools available on its Web site at www.osha.gov. These include e-Tools, such as Expert Advisors, Electronic Compliance Assistance Tools (e-cats), Technical Links; regulations, directives and publications, videos and other information for employers and employees. OSHA’s software programs and compliance assistance tools walk you through challenging safety and health issues and common problems to find the best solutions for your workplace.
29 CFR Part 1910 Personal Protective Equipment for General Industry; Final Rule, Federal Register, April 1994.
Canadian Occupational Health and Safety, OSH Answers: Designing an Effective PPE Program
Centers for Disease Control, Office of Health and Safety and Prevention, PPE Safety Manual
Mitchell, Ross and Glenn E. Ireland, “Personal Protective Equipment,” February 1998, Public Risk, Public Risk Management Association.
OSHA, Safety and Health Topics, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Patton, Eric A., “Dressing to Protect, Part II,” October 1998, Public Risk, Public Risk Management Association.
Personal Protective Equipment, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA 3151-12R, 2003
Schools Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Self Inspection Checklist