Personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE, is an essential barrier against accident prevention and a key promoter of safety in the workplace. Over the course of the 20th century, PPE moved from the personal choice of a few employees to become a cross-industry legal requirement in specific work environments, legislated by governmental bodies such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and ANSI. These agencies test, regulate, recommend, and enforce the use of the proper PPE in certain work spaces to establish a baseline of safe working practices.
However, PPE is not just top down. Thousands of businesses across the US have bought into the concept of offering the best possible safety equipment and personal protection
for all employees. This article will take a closer look at the benefits of adopting a rigorous PPE policy, the various different types of PPE available, and offer some top tips on how to implement a successful and compliant PPE regime in your workplace.
How Can Personal Protective Equipment Improve Workplace Safety?
If you are an employer or an employee, understanding the following benefits of PPE is essential in ensuring a safe and healthy work environment.
Protection against accident and injury
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers reported 2.6 million workplace injuries and illnesses at work in 2021, which is down 1.8% from the previous year. Good news. But countered by the fact workplace fatalities were up 8.9% from the previous year to 5,190. It’s clear that the need for PPE in all workplaces remains high, offering protection for the head, eyes, ears, skin, and more against a huge range of potential accidents.
Protection against environmental hazards
PPE is an essential barrier protecting employees from contact with environmental hazards and contaminants in the workplace. Exposure to certain chemicals and substances poses an enormous risk to health, both in the short and long term, so needs to be mitigated with the right PPE.
Eliminates liability in the workplace
When accidents happen, there is usually somebody at fault. This can leave businesses and individuals exposed to legal liability which can be costly and destructive. Ensuring the correct PPE is in place and enforcing its use can reduce the risk of legal liability in all workplaces.
Employee confidence and satisfaction
Workers who know they are protected and safe feel more valued at work, expressing greater job satisfaction, which can lead to an increase in productivity and profitability. Safer working conditions and appropriate PPE can also help to reduce employee turnover, which can be an additional business expense.
Types of personal protective equipment in different workplace settings
PPE is an umbrella term that covers the whole gamut of protective equipment for the various parts of the body, including:
· Eye protection
· Ear protection
· Face protection
· Head protection
· Respiratory protection
· Body and skin protection
· Hand protection
· Feet protection
Depending on the working environment, specific types of PPE will be required to address safety risks, as the following demonstrates.
Requirements in the manufacturing industry generally include face, sight and hearing protection with safety glasses, face shields, and earplugs, especially when noise exposure and machinery with moving parts pose a risk. There may also be a need for respiratory protection and flame resistant clothing.
The major risks on a construction site include falling and striking injuries. As such fall protection harnesses and a hard hat are essential legal requirements at all times. Safety shoes to protect the feet and gloves to protect hands are also required. If working in darker conditions or on busy sites, hi-visibility clothes such as vests and overalls can also enhance safety on site.
Transportation and logistics
Transportation and logistics often involve moving heavy loads, requiring safety shoes and gloves to protect extremities, as well as hi-vis clothing to improve visibility around moving vehicles.
Hygiene and contamination prevention are the main concerns with food preparation, requiring the use of hair and face masks, as well as gloves and appropriate sanitary clothing at all times.
How to implement PPE in your workplace?
The legal, moral, and business arguments for using PPE in any working environment are clear and indisputable. However, businesses often face the challenge of implementing and enforcing the use of PPE on site. Below you will find some top tips on how to ensure PPE policy is being correctly followed at all times.
Lead by example
Setting a good example in the proper use of personal protective equipment on site and always being fully equipped with the correct PPE in good condition can help to set the tone for other employees.
Education is key
To encourage buy-in from staff, education is always key. Provide the correct training in the use of PPE to outline why it is so important on site, rather than just handing employees the equipment and letting them figure it out.
Provide good quality equipment
Make sure you are providing PPE that is suitable and good quality. This will improve uptake and ensure that employees feel valued.
Keep lines of communication open
Encourage dialogue with staff, asking for their opinion on PPE policy and implementation. Their opinion is always valid and can help to forge an effective PPE regime.
Debunk PPE myths
There are a lot of PPE myths out there. Such as: it’s difficult to work in gloves, or that it’s too much hassle to wear PPE for shorter tasks. There is always PPE suitable for any task and no job is too small to be without adequate protection.
The importance and success of PPE is unquestionable. Workplace fatalities fell by 95% over the course of the 20th century, largely as a consequence of workers fighting for the right to greater protection at work and the implementation of government policy for employers to provide the correct PPE. The benefits are clear across a range of industries, and a successful PPE policy and implementation is achievable for every business.