In the world of safety, there exists a chart to help people find ways to mitigate hazards. It’s known as the hierarchy of controls. This pyramid chart suggests ways to help deal with hazards you may encounter while performing work. It’s ranked in effectiveness from top to bottom, with elimination of the hazard being the most effective and PPE use being the least effective; it then descends from there suggesting less proficient means of hazard control. Although PPE is the least effective on the hierarchy of controls, it is usually the least expensive and most accessible way to mitigate hazards, so the use of PPE is paramount.
Using PPE Properly Doesn’t Come Naturally
In order for PPE to be effective, employees need to be trained on its proper use. From the proper way to insert an ear plug to donning a paper dust mask, using PPE as a barrier to hazards depends tremendously upon being given appropriate directions on how we use PPE, why we use PPE and in what environment is PPE best suited. For example, some ear plugs are exceptional at noise attenuation up to a certain decibel, past that, secondary hearing protection may be needed, such as ear muffs. Without accurate training, employees will likely fail at preventing some of the most hazardous conditions to which they are exposed. OSHA has strict standards to which employers must comply regarding the use, training, maintenance and suggested use of PPE. These standards can be found in the 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.(1) In fact, these standards shouldn’t be looked at as a compliance issue, but real health and safety issues arise if PPE is misused or not used as intended.
Finding the Best and Most Effective PPE
There are many sources to find the most current and effective PPE. OSHA publishes a booklet on the minimum standards and requirements for PPE, this booklet can be found under OSHA 3151-12R. NIOSH, a government agency under the Center for Disease Control, also publishes their findings on PPE that they test under different and varied circumstances. (2) These sources will help you identify what PPE your employees will need under a wide range of applications. Using these documents as a starting point, many employers can then sit down with their vendors and discuss which PPE will work best for the environment, people and equipment the employee may be exposed. Price is also a factor that employers should consider when making PPE choices. Some companies choose to hire an Industrial Hygienist to help sort out these concerns. Industrial Hygienists are trained in the numerous applications that can be present and can help design a program that will encompass any questions employees may have regarding PPE.
Ensure Training and Proper Use of PPE
No matter which way an employer decides to go concerning which PPE will best suit the needs of employees; a PPE program should be instituted and annual training should occur for the entire work force. PPE covers an assortment of devices that help safeguard people; therefore employers should introduce a training course to be given to all new hires and a refresher class for all existing employees each year. This will help make sure your employees are exposed to the proper use of PPE at least once a year and when they begin their employment with your company. The proper use of PPE can make certain employees avoid acute hazards like dust and noise exposure that occurs every day on the work site, but the prolonged use of PPE can also ensure employees avoid chronic exposure which over time can cause health problems. Between immediate and long term health and safety risks, the proper use of PPE should be a priority for all companies.
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