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Whenever you step onto a worksite, your most essential goal may not cross your mind: Safely returning home.
There are many ways to stay safe, but one of the most important is using personal protective equipment (PPE). The goal of this guide is to outline everything you and your workers need to know. This includes:
You will also find links for a downloadable checklist throughout the guide, which you can use to help choose and use the right pieces of PPE.
Before creating a PPE program, you must be aware of – and understand – the regulations that apply to you.
If your business is based in the United States or operating in the country, you must adhere to regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The government body addresses how to use PPE in its standards for:
If your business is based in Canada or operating in the country, you must follow the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
There are industry- and province-specific standards that are based on these Canadian federal regulations. For example, Ontario has distinct PPE regulations for farming, partly based on its provincial health and safety act.
Because of these differences, it is best for Canadian employers to:
Canadian and US standards also stress the employer’s responsibility to give relevant training to each worker who will use PPE. This training should cover when to wear specific types of PPE, how to properly use it, and what the limitations are.
These organizations have regulations that encompass PPE such as:
Armed with an understanding of the regulations you must follow, you can begin the formal creation of your PPE program.
There are steps and processes you must conduct to successfully follow applicable regulations, establishing a PPE program that is cost-effective and reduces risk of injury.
To develop your PPE program, managers, supervisors and employees should work together to conduct the following processes:
Conducting a workplace safety survey is an exercise in finding risks and hazards, allowing you to set controls and choose appropriate PPE.
Your team of managers, supervisors and workers must:
Based on the survey’s results and insights, you’ll be able to complete the next steps in creating a PPE program.
Introduce a pre-contact or point-of-contact control for each hazard you identify.
The goal of a pre-contact control is to stop workers from reaching the hazard, and vice-versa.
This can involve eliminating the hazard in question. You can do this by, for example, replacing old machinery or finding an alternative way to complete a task. You can also contain the hazard with machine guards or through isolation methods. Alerting employees of danger by introducing new signage is another obligation.
The goal of a point-of-contact control is to prevent or mitigate damage from the hazard when a worker makes contact with it.
Because point-of-contact controls don’t eliminate the hazard, you should only introduce them when pre-contact controls aren’t adequate. Or, you simply desire an additional safety measure.
PPE is the standard point-of-contact control.
The PPE that you select must protect against the workplace risks and hazards you identified, acting as either a last resort, back-up measure or temporary policy to prevent injuries.
Let’s say you identified the possibility of debris falling onto workers.
Wearing hardhats can act as a last resort of protection if you can’t prevent debris from falling. If you’ve implemented an effective control measure or are doing so, wearing hardhats can act as a back-up or temporary measure.
This guide covers, in-depth, how to select PPE for such purposes in the next section.
You can also learn more about fitting in the next section of this guide.
Keep in mind, the effectiveness of most equipment partially depends on how it fits the worker. For example, if leg protectors are too long, they can hinder wearer mobility. And if protective boots are too small, workers may forgo wearing them.
This is why you must take each worker’s measurements, cross-referencing numbers with the sizing charts you can receive from PPE manufacturers.
Training is a crucial part in formalizing any PPE program. After all, workers and their supervisors must learn how to protect themselves and use their new equipment.
Tailored to the specific risks and equipment, training must cover:
Whether you run training sessions for groups or individuals, make sure new and veteran employees are up-to-date on your worksite’s policies and equipment.
Many worksites run annual audits of their PPE and general safety programs, but you may wish to review especially dangerous or important aspects more frequently.
Typically, audits involve inspecting PPE and monitoring workers to make sure they’re following procedures. You should also review procedures themselves, spotting opportunities to introduce hazard controls or provide additional equipment.
To analyze your program’s effectiveness, measure safety-related figures. You can do this by tracking near-accidents, injuries and the severity of these injuries.
See if these numbers are shrinking each year. If not, you may have to introduce program changes.
Finding and distributing PPE puts your program into action.
Unfortunately, due to variation among equipment types and how heavily they’re used across worksites, there isn’t a consistent answer to this question.
First, look into the manufacturer’s warranty and other information sources. Many manufacturers will offer a warranty period of at least one year, covering any sort of product failure. Their products may also include information tags, detailing life expectancy. For example, most hard hats come with these tags, stating the product lasts between three and five years.
Second, talk to colleagues who have used the kind of PPE you need. Word-of-mouth can lead you towards trusted brands, helping you find equipment designed to be effective for long periods.
Remember that the longevity of PPE plays a key role in your purchasing decision, ensuring you don’t have to buy equipment at a faster-than-expected rate.
Take these factors and scenarios into account when deciding if it’s time to replace a piece of PPE:
To ensure employees can comfortably wear equipment, run fitting sessions and use information from PPE manufacturers.
Schedule timeslots for each worker who will wear PPE, taking their measurements and keeping a file with this information. Note any factors that may influence sizing. For example, if an employee wears prescription glasses, protective eyewear should fit over them.
Cross-reference your data with sizing charts, which your manufacturer of choice should provide.
Doing so will allow you to buy or distribute PPE that properly fits workers, effectively mitigating relevant risks.
As well as the three above questions, each kind of PPE has qualities you should factor into your purchasing decision.
When selecting PPE, you should have an understanding of this specific information.
To supplement it, it’s never a bad idea to consult manufacturers and your region or country’s occupational health and safety resources.
Hi-viz safety apparel (HVSA) may also play a role in your PPE program, increasing worker visibility in dark areas.
Other advantages include:
To reap these advantages, there are specific standards and qualities you should be aware of before purchasing these types of clothing.
The American National Standards Institute established the American National Standard for Hi-Viz Safety Apparel and Accessories (ANSI/ISEA 107-2015) to protect workers from hazards associated with low-visibility environments.
These hazards are generally the result of people operating vehicles and heavy machinery in low-light conditions. But risks also arise due to poor weather conditions and other factors that obstruct vision.
The standard – in its fourth edition – sets guidelines to help you choose and use HVSA such as:
Note that companies outside the United States may have to comply with another standard. For example, Canadian workers may follow CSA Standard Z96-15.
But, to help ensure compliance in the US, you can purchase a copy of the American standard here.
New to ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 are three designations for HVSA, making it easier to choose the appropriate gear depending on the work environment.
Following these categorizations will help you choose the best hi-viz apparel for your employees’ needs.
Hi-viz clothing suits a range of worksites where laborer visibility is an issue.
Specifically, HVSA lends itself to jobs and locations that have:
These conditions indicate a need to use HVSA that complies with ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 or another applicable government standard.
Hi-viz safety material, as approved by the ANSI/ISEA 105-2017 standard, is made from either background or retroreflective material.
Background material is fluorescent. It can be red, orange-red or yellow-green. The goal of this material is to make workers stand out from their environments. So, if your employees work with red equipment, they shouldn’t wear HVSA made from red background material.
Retroreflective material is not defined by its color. Rather, it reflects and returns light to the direction from which it came. As a result, workers wearing this material have a mirror-like quality to their safety apparel.
It is also possible to find combined-performance material. This is retroreflective material on a fluorescent background.
In addition to being made from background or retroreflective material, a product must meet certain criteria to be considered HVSA.
If a piece of apparel uses retroreflective material, it must:
Apparel that uses background or combined-performance material must:
These qualities will ensure employees are as visible as possible on the worksite.
After selecting PPE, the longevity and effectiveness of each piece depends on how you inspect and maintain it.
Above all, you must follow a manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and instructions, which typically explain:
Washing or laundering each piece of PPE must also play a role in your maintenance program, ensuring longevity and wearer comfort.
Manufacturers should provide distinct cleaning instructions for each kind of PPE. Generally, you’ll follow a simple approach for:
To supplement the maintenance schedule and ensure worker safety, you must inspect each equipment piece as thoroughly and frequently as possible.
This usually takes just a few minutes, varying for each kind of PPE:
Although you may decide to create a worksite-wide schedule for inspections done by management and supervisors, it is in your best interest to train employees to inspect PPE before each use. This helps ensure damage to equipment does not go undetected.
Keep in mind: A piece is not fit for use if it fails inspection.
You must replace it, either by purchasing new equipment or providing spare equipment on hand.
Below are answers to questions that your employees may ask about PPE, which you may wish to address as part of workplace training.
PPE includes anything someone can use or wear to mitigate the threats that workplace hazards pose to health and safety.
Depending on the tasks and environment, workers use PPE such as:
The nature and purpose of these equipment pieces vary between jobs and worksites. For example, workers in the oil and gas industry need gloves that protect against crushing and pinching. On the other hand, glass-handling gloves help the wearer properly grip glass to prevent cuts and strains.
Employers typically use PPE as a final measure to protect employees against apparent dangers, whereas hazard-control techniques – such as substituting faulty equipment – are a first-line of defense.
The answer to this question depends on where you work. Country to country and region to region, it can greatly vary.
In Canada, for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations state that employers must provide PPE to each employee who needs it. But this does not explicitly mean the employer must purchase equipment for each worker.
Furthermore, the regulations do not clarify which pieces of equipment employers must provide. Many construction and factory workers buy their own hardhats and steel toe boots. Equipment that’s not as widely sold is typically given to them.
So, who pays for PPE can depend on equipment-by-equipment and workplace-by-workplace bases.
Generally, this is not an issue you should face.
In the aforementioned Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, many employers interpret the rule to provide PPE as a requirement to purchase it for workers.
If this is not the case and you cannot afford to buy a certain piece of PPE, discuss the issue with your boss.
In the United States, OSHA mandates that employers must pay for all PPE. This rule has been in effect since 2008, also requiring that employers make sure that any employee-purchased PPE provides adequate protection.
Employees must use PPE as outlined in their workplaces’ guidelines, which should largely follow government protocol.
In this respect, employers should mandate the use of the PPE as a:
Most work environments mandate the use of PPE as a back-up measure, protecting employees from danger if other defense mechanisms fail.
However, speak to your employer if you feel the PPE you are required to use is not effective in this sense.
The standard of PPE which you must follow depends on where you’re located, as well as company-specific procedures.
Governmental acts and standards in English-speaking countries include:
Without violating the relevant act or standard, companies may have unique PPE rules which workers must follow. For example, certain worksites may call for use of a specific piece of safety equipment.
As an employee, you are obligated to follow these rules to minimize risks you may face.
Your employer, in accordance with the above-mentioned act or standard, should decide the kinds of PPE you should wear for a specific job.
If you feel you need another – or different – piece of PPE, talk to your manager.
Choosing the right PPE for the job is another task that’s largely the responsibility of your employer, and is based on a variety of factors.
For example, OSHA mandates that PPE selection must follow workplace assessment results.
Specifically, employers must identify and analyze workplace hazards that would call for the use of PPE. But before selecting PPE to match a given hazard – such as using Kevlar® Steel or Dyneema® Steel gloves to protect against cuts – they must determine if they can effectively address the hazard another way. For example, can the hazard be mitigated by guards?
If employers cannot do so, they must choose the right PPE for affected employees.
Yes. Each kind of PPE plays a role in workplace safety, but all help contribute to worker safety.
Consider that 8.1% of fatal work injuries in the US are caused by being struck by an object, according to a 2014 United States Department of Labor study. What’s more, 8.2% of fatalities were electrocutions.
In many cases, the damage could have been lessened with appropriate PPE such as hardhats and electrical gloves.
There is no single answer to this question, as the correct response depends on:
For example, if handling sharp material is a crucial part of your role, using cut-resistant gloves may be the only way to prevent injuries. In this case, the gloves may be the most necessary piece of PPE.
If different pieces of PPE are used as last safety resorts, one may not be more important than another.
The answer to this question varies depending on where you work. Generally, the legal onus falls on your employer to ensure you’re properly using PPE.
For example, the United States Department of Labor mandates that employers must train each worker who is required to use PPE. They must know how to use each piece of necessary equipment, as well as the limitations of said equipment.
Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations also state that employers must:
The second point in the above list indicates that, legally, employers must ensure employees properly use PPE.
But if you flagrantly disregard workplace guidelines, your employer will likely determine the consequences.
Not normally. Using or wearing PPE is typically a final, not first, course of action for safety.
Although PPE plays an important role, your employer should prioritize hazard-control measures to protect your livelihood. Because of such measures, most workplaces mandate PPE as a back-up or temporary safety method.
However, in the case that there are no other ways to stop or mitigate apparent risks, using PPE can act as a first action for safety.
Many governmental health and safety bodies fine employers for disregarding PPE.
For example, OSHA can issue citations to an organization for each worker ignoring or improperly following PPE standards.
To receive a per-employee fine, the employer must meet one of these requirements:
Your actions can lead to these violations, incurring fines for your employer.
If you find a given piece of PPE to be uncomfortable, you should ask your employer for an alternative or suggest a different model.
Outright refusal to wear PPE on the grounds of comfort is unlikely a valid reason in the eyes of your employer. On the other hand, your employer may see refusal due to health or religious issues as legitimate.
For example, if a particular pair of work boots triggers a skin condition such as psoriasis, your employer should work with you to find another method of foot protection – even if it simply involves providing a different kind of footwear.
Regardless, you should discuss issues regarding inability to use PPE with your supervisor.
First and foremast, you or your colleagues must alert management and seek the appropriate level of medical attention.
Beyond this, the specific answer to the question depends on factors such as:
After receiving medical attention, keep these factors in mind as you consider your next step – be it asking for a brief, paid absence or pursuing legal action.
Just as if you were wearing PPE, your first steps are to alert management and seek medical attention.
However, you likely do not have the same range of options afterwards.
Although you may receive worker’s compensation, you may not be able to hold your employer accountable for your disregard for PPE. Especially if your managers taught you how and when to use PPE, as per legislation.
Because of this, company policy will generally determine a course of action.
Reading and referencing this guide will help you create, run and refine a cost-effective PPE program that protects your workers and colleagues.
And by downloading the checklist, you’ll be able to choose PPE best suited to keep your workers safe from worksite hazards.
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