According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2015. While engineering controls, work practices and administrative controls should always be in place in order to provide the safest environment possible for workers, it is important to prepare for the chance that these safeguards could fail by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE should fit comfortably and appropriately, and be thoroughly checked for damage or defect before each use.
Below, you can find an outline of some of the most common protective equipment, as well as many of the conditions in which they may be required, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For detailed information and regulations, visit OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment publication on their website.
If an employee is at risk of any of the following conditions during the course of his or her day, employers
are required to ensure that proper head protection is available and worn:
- Falling objects
- Bumping into objects
- Electrical hazards
It is imperative that a hard hat is not too big or too small. All protective headgear should have clear instructions explaining how to adjust them properly.
Face and eye protection
There are many different conditions that can pose eye and face hazards for workers. Prescription glasses are not enough to provide proper protection, and employees wearing prescription glasses must wear additional protective eyewear that does not inhibit their vision. OSHA regulations require appropriate eye protection be worn if a work environment involves any of the following:
- Flying particles
- Molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids
- Chemical gases or vapors
- Potentially harmful light radiation or infected material
Hand and arm protection
According to the Center for Disease Control, there are over a million hand injuries resulting in emergency room visits each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that seventy percent of hand injuries are a result of employees not wearing gloves, while the remaining 30 percent involve inadequate, damaged or incorrect gloves for the hazards involved. Workers who are potentially exposed to harmful chemicals or substances, severe lacerations or abrasions, chemical or thermal burns and extreme temperatures are likely to need protective hand-wear.
The appropriate gloves should be selected based on a number of variables specific to the job description, including:
- Types of chemicals handled
- Duration and nature of contact
- Necessary grip level
- Area requiring protection (fingers, hands, arms)
- Necessity of thermal protection
- Thickness/ abrasion resistance
Employees who are exposed to excessive noise are at risk of damage to the ear drum and hearing loss. The noise level (measured in dB) deemed safe is dependent upon the duration of exposure and where the noise is coming from. Depending on the noise level and duration, single use ear plugs, molded earplugs and earmuffs are all potential forms of protection.
Foot and leg protection
Employees who work in situations with any of the following conditions must wear the appropriate safety footwear or leggings at all times to avoid :
- Falling or rolling objects that could land on feet
- Crushing or penetrating materials, or sharp objects that could penetrate a normal shoe
- Hot, corrosive or poisonous materials that could splash on to feet or legs
- Electrical hazards which could require non-conductive footwear
- Static electricity exposure which could necessitate conductive footwear
When working in certain conditions, it can become necessary to shield all or most of an employee’s body with protective gear or fire-retardant material. This includes exposure to any of the following:
- Extreme heat
- Bodily fluids, hazardous materials or waste
- Hot metals or scalding liquids