Personal Protective Equipment: Keeping Workers Safe

What is Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment is the gear employees wear to keep them safe from common hazards related to their job. Often shortened to PPE, this equipment benefits workers by preventing minor, serious, or even fatal injuries. Safety gear also benefits your business by keeping your employees healthy and able to work.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for employers and workers to become careless about PPE. But complacency about personal protective equipment is dangerous, as injuries can occur at any moment in any workplace. Imagine, for example, a worker in an industrial kitchen who has to clean a food surface with bleach. They are supposed to wear eye protection for this task, but the safety goggles aren’t nearby. They figure it’s only going to take a second, so they pour the bleach without the goggles and a few droplets splash into their eyes. The worker needs to rinse their eyes for 15 minutes and visit the emergency room to be on the safe side. The 10-second inconvenience of putting on goggles would have prevented this injury entirely.

Common Personal Protective Equipment

The PPE required for your worksite will vary depending upon the nature of the work. However, common workplace safety gear includes:

  • Hard hats
  • Face shields
  • Safety glasses
  • Goggles
  • Coveralls
  • Respirators
  • Gloves
  • Safety shoes
  • Safety vests
  • Earplugs
  • Heat resistant suits
  • Hazardous materials suits

What is the Employer Responsibility for PPE?

Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Personal Protective Equipment is required when engineering and organizational controls, or work safety practices don’t provide sufficient protection. Employers are responsible for conducting workplace safety assessments to determine if personal protective equipment is necessary due to particular hazards. If conditions require PPE, employers must provide the equipment, require that workers wear the equipment, and provide employee training on how to fit and wear the equipment properly.  

PPE requirements fall into four primary categories: general, construction, maritime, and agricultural. The specific equipment required by industry within these categories can be found through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Ensuring Your Workers Use Personal Protective Equipment

Even with proper PPE for all of your employees it can be challenging to get everyone to use their safety gear at all times. Here are some tips for improving compliance:

  • New employees should receive thorough PPE training and existing employees should have refresher training periodically. Workers need to understand the proper fit for the equipment, how to use it and how to clean it and store it following use. Providing equipment that is easy to use, comfortable, and easy to maintain increases compliance.
  • Through training sessions and prominent workplace posters, employees should understand that, first and foremost, personal protective equipment is designed to keep them safe from serious harm.
  • Managers should follow all PPE protocols. If bosses are observed taking shortcuts or skipping the safety gear altogether, employees will likely follow suit.
  • Revisit PPE requirements daily in meetings and training sessions. Managers should immediately talk to employees who are not using the equipment properly, and watch for poorly fitting equipment.
  • Replace damaged or worn out equipment promptly.

Personal protective equipment is one of those things that people don’t appreciate until a piece of construction debris bounces safely off their hard hat, or a corrosive chemical splashes on their protective clothing rather than their skin. It’s the employer’s job to make sure no one learns the importance of PPE the hard way.