PPE violations are frequently cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as one of the major causes of job site injuries-of the top 20 most cited OSHA standards, three relate to physical hazards on a construction job site directly caused by PPE violations.
With a solid, well-enforced PPE program, one can create a safe working environment for himself and his employees and reduce the possibility of safety problems and OSHA violations. It makes good business sense to have a well-established and maintained PPE program in place.
Personal Protective EquipmentPPE includes clothing and accessories designed to create a barrier between the wearer and the hazard. PPE is meant to protect the employee from illness or injury when normal or unintended physical, electrical, mechanical or chemical hazards are encountered in the workplace. It can include a hard hat, eye and face protection, ear and hearing protection, and protective clothing. PPE should not be used as a substitute for safe work practices but rather to enhance the safety of the employee should mechanical or other controls break down, thereby exposing the employee to a hazard.
Various types of PPE exist to protect a gypsum board applicator or finisher. All PPE devices and materials must fit properly, be used correctly and be in place when needed. Common PPE generally include the following:
Head protection: Hard hats are one of the most commonly used personal protective devices. Correct use of a hard hat protects an individual from impact with foreign objects and from contact with electrical conductors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that most head injuries are caused by failure to wear a hard hat. Falling objects or bumping into a fixed object are common causes of injuries to the head-injuries that can be reduced through the use of a hard hat. To be effective, a hard hat must resist penetration, absorb shock and have a snug, firm fit.
Eye and face protection: Safety glasses, goggles, face shields and eye shields can help protect the wearer from flying objects, sparks, sand, splashing liquid and even glare. According to the BLS, 60 percent of workers who suffer an eye injury are not wearing the necessary PPE. To be effective, face protectors and eye equipment must provide protection against the workplace hazard, be durable and cleanable and be able to be disinfected.
Hearing protection: Exposure to high levels of noise can cause stress, as well as hearing impairment. Earplugs or earmuffs can help alleviate stress and prevent damage to hearing. Pre-formed or molded earplugs can be professionally made; additionally, self-forming plugs made from foam or waxed cottons are available and, when properly inserted, work well. Non-disposable plugs should be cleaned after each use; disposable plugs should be used once, and then discarded. To be effective, hearing protection must be inserted correctly. Cotton balls and similar homemade devices should not be used as an alternative to manufactured earplugs.
Protective clothing: According to the BLS, the majority of workers who suffer foot injuries are not wearing protective footwear and are injured not by tripping or slipping, but by objects falling onto their feet from a height of less than 48 inches. Consequently, to protect both the top and the base of the foot, a worker should wear appropriate safety shoes, boots, and leggings where the hazards of falling objects, tripping, or the possibility of bumping into a stationary object exists. In addition, gloves and protective clothing should be worn when work activities expose the worker to possible lacerations, burns, or the absorption of chemicals through the skin. Reflective clothing should be worn at night, when visibility is low, or when the possibility of being struck by a moving vehicle exists. To be effective, safety clothing should meet test standards and the particular needs of the potential occupational hazard and it should fit properly. OSHA recommends employers request documentation from the manufacturer to ensure that safety clothing will comply with test standards for the hazards anticipated in the work process.
Employers' responsibilities: Among the best protection devices against workplace hazards is an interested employer who is committed and accountable for employees' use of PPE. Ongoing safety programs should be used to motivate and encourage employees to put safety first.
Employers have an obligation to provide PPE, contained in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.12: "protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing inhalation, or physical contact."
In general, it is the employer's responsibility to make a written assessment of the workplace for hazards that require the use of PPE. If hazards are present, the employer must select and provide PPE, train employees on its use (with a written record of training), ensure the equipment is properly maintained, and require that individual employees use or wear the equipment. Proper training ensures that the employee is made aware of why PPE is necessary; what PPE is necessary; how to properly wear, remove and adjust PPE; the limitations of the PPE; and the proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the PPE.
OSHA acknowledges that employees may wish to provide their own equipment but does not make it a part of the standard. Instead, the agency focuses on the employer's obligations to ensure the safety of each individual employee and to make certain PPE is appropriate to the workplace hazards.
The use of PPE does not remove the hazard from the environment; instead, it protects the wearer when potentially hazardous conditions exist. When combined with training programs and vigilance at the work site, PPE provides a last line of defense against work site hazards. While PPE does protect the wearer, it is not a guarantee of complete safety. When workers are aware of hazards and an active safety program that incorporates PPE is in place, hazards can be controlled, mitigated or eliminated.
This article is not meant to be all-inclusive. Additional information about PPE (including the full text of OSHA's standards) can be found on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov. Specific information in this article was compiled from OSHA's publications: OSHA Fact Sheet: Personal Protective Equipment; OSHA 3077, Personal Protective Equipment (Revised 1998); the National Safety Council at http://www.nsc.org; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov. For more information about personal protective equipment in the construction industry, visit http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/constructionppe.