The Down and Dirty on Washing, Inspecting and Maintaining PPE
“The Down and Dirty on Washing, Inspecting and Maintaining PPE” is an excerpt from Superior Glove’s PPE Bible “The Complete Guide to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) [+ Checklist Download].” Read the full guide for more information, including answers to industry workers’ 15 most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about PPE.
Washing, Inspecting and Maintaining PPE:
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:
- Testing – You must test each piece of PPE to verify its ability to protect employees. For example, hard hats may require both a visual and stress test. If this is the case, you must inspect the equipment for cracks and other signs of damage, as well as strike it with light force to ensure it doesn’t easily damage.
- Replacement – Manufacturers should state the lifespans of their equipment pieces, indicating when you must replace them. However, there are signs that suggest you should replace PPE earlier. Wear and tear are the clearest indications, but you should also keep an ear open for comments from employees. For example, if there are complaints about boots being uncomfortable, it could be a sign of undetected damage.
- Repair – Although the manufacturer’s guide may include instructions, you should only attempt to repair a given piece of equipment if authorized by the manufacturer to do so.
Washing or laundering each piece of PPE must also play a role in your maintenance program, ensuring longevity and wearer comfort.
Select the right PPE by downloading this checklist:
Manufacturers should provide distinct cleaning instructions for each kind of PPE. Generally, you’ll follow a simple approach for:
- Gloves – Different gloves require different cleaning processes, which you can learn more about here. For example, you can toss Kevlar® gloves into a washing machine, using slightly more than two kilograms of commercial laundry soap per 45 kilograms of Kevlar®. Wash them for 20 minutes in hot water, rinsing with cold water and tumble drying for 35 minutes at 70-degrees Celsius.
- Footwear – You can clean soiled footwear using cloth dipped in warm water, gently scrubbing dirty areas. Then, use the remainder of the water to rinse the footwear. Avoid soap or detergents, as they can reduce the water resistance of many materials, such as leather.
- Eyewear – Similar to footwear, you can clean eyewear using cloth and warm water. But you should also use soap to remove dust and dirt that hampers vision. Frequently-worn eyewear, such as safety goggles, may require daily cleaning. Eyewear that doubles as face protection can need complex cleaning regiments. If this is the case, the manufacturer will provide you with the necessary information.
- Headgear – You should clean most types of headgear, such as hardhats, at least once a month. The washing process typically involves soaking the equipment in a solution made from hot water and a small amount of mild soap for 10 minutes. After, rinse the equipment with clean water and let it air dry.
- Leg protection – The process of cleaning leg wear greatly varies depending on equipment type and material. You may need to hand-wash chaps with cloth and warm water, whereas certain kinds of padding can require an hour-long bath in soap and water. Because of this variance, it is best to closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
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:
- Gloves – Look for wear and tear, as this sort of damage can compromise a glove’s gripping and protection abilities. For cases in which the damage does not impact protection – such coating wear on cut-resistant gloves – focus on testing the grip. Pick up and try using tools, ensuring they are easy to hold and operate.
- Footwear – Keep an eye out for separation of footwear components, such as the toe cover detaching itself from the rest of the shoe or boot. Similarly, evidence of physical damage or exposure of once-covered areas typically indicates an immediate need for repair or replacement.
- Eyewear – Examine the eyewear for scratches, which can limit vision and lessen protection. Put the eyewear on, ensuring grime also does not impede eyesight. As per the manufacturer’s instructions, a quick stress test may also be in order.
- Headgear – As mentioned above, look for cracks and other signs of damage before performing a light stress test.
- Leg protection – Wearing the equipment yourself, ensure it does not restrict your ability to walk. If it shrinks after cleaning to the point of limiting mobility, you must replace it. And, as always, there shouldn’t be signs of wear and tear.
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.