Personal protective equipment

Safety in the workplace should be a priority no matter what the area of business. Your employees will appreciate knowing that you take the necessary precautio ns to ensure their safety. The federal Office of Health and Safety (OHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention developed a personal protective equipment (PPE) program designed "to protect employees from the risk of injury by creating a barrier against possible workplace hazards." The OHS designed the program as a guideline for establishing a PPE program that employers can incorporate into their businesses. OHS stresses that you should not think of personal-protective equipment as a substitute for quality engineering, administrative controls or good work practices. Instead, you should incorporate each of these aspects together to provide a complete safety program.

When designing your PPE program, evaluate all the potential needs of your employees; determine what equipment each task requires to minimize the likelihood of an occupational-related injury or illness; and consider what options are available for head, face, eye and hand protection. Additionally, you may need to investigate respiratory and hearing protection if your employees work around hazardous fumes or operate loud equipment.

The CDC's PPE program outlines the individual responsibilities of supervisors, employees and the OHS. As a supervisor, some of your responsibilities include implementing the PPE program, providing the appropriate equipment, training employees on proper use and maintenance, replacing defective or damaged equipment and supervising your staff to be sure they follow the program. Your employees are responsible for wearing the PPE, attending training classes and caring for the PPE. Finally, the OHS conducts workplace-hazard assessments and periodic reassessments, and provides training, technical assistance and guidance to supervisors on purchasing, using, caring for and cleaning PPE.

What is personal protective equipment? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all personal protective clothing and equipment--including PPE for eyes, face, head and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, protective shields and barriers--to be of safe design and construction for employees to perform the intended task. By definition, PPE is apparel and other devices that are worn to protect the body, and includes gloves, protective eyewear, footwear and head gear, coveralls, chemical-resistant suits and aprons, and, in some cases, respirators. It is your responsibility to provide your employees with the equipment and make sure they maintain it in a "sanitary and reliable condition." Employees must wear the PPE when working in areas in which chemical or radiological hazards could occur; where they could sustain an injury due to mechanical irritants; or suffer from a physical impairment through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.

Items of protective clothing and equipment acceptable for use must meet National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. Any newly purchased PPE that provides eye, face, head or foot protection must conform to the updated ANSI standards, which OSHA has incorporated into its PPE regulations. No ANSI standards exist for hand protection/gloves, though OSHA enforces its own requirements pertaining to hand protection.

Eye and face protection To ensure adequate prevention of eye injuries, all persons--including employees, researchers, visitors and contractors--who may be in eye-hazard areas must wear protective eyewear. You should "procure a sufficient quantity of goggles and/or plastic eye protectors which afford the maximum amount of protection possible," according to OSHA. Protective eyewear should protect the front of the face, brow and temples.

Furthermore, OSHA regulations recommend employees use face shields and eye protection when "exposed to hazards from flying particles, molten metal, acids or caustic liquids, chemical liquids, gases or vapors, bio-aerosols or potentially injurious light radiation."

Following are some specific OSHA guidelines to remember: * Wear appropriate eye and face protection devices along with contact lenses * Use side protectors when there is hazard from flying objects * Use goggles and face shields when a hazard from chemical splash exists * Mark protectors to identify manufacturer * Use equipment fitted with appropriate filter lenses to protect against light radiation (tinted and shaded lenses are not filtered lenses unless they are marked or identified as such) * For employees who wear prescription lenses, eye protectors should incorporate the prescription in the design or fit properly over the prescriptive lenses.

Head protection If your business requires employees to engage in construction and other miscellaneous work, they should wear a protective helmet. It is especially necessary when working in areas where a potential for injury to the head from falling objects exists.

Select a helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard and require each employee to wear it when working near exposed electrical conductors that could contact their head. It is a good idea to furnish your employees with bump caps/skull guards to protect against scalp lacerations from contact with sharp objects. "However, they [should not wear them] as substitutes for safety caps/hats, because they do not afford protection from high-impact forces or penetration by falling objects," according to OHS.

Protective helmets purchased before July 5, 1994, must comply with the ANSI standard, "American national standard safety requirements for industrial head protection" (ANSI Z89.1-1969). Protective helmets purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with the "American national standard for personal protection--protective headwear for industrial workers-requirements" (ANSI Z89.1-1986).

When working around chemicals, your employees should wear chemical-resistant headgear, which would be a chemical-resistant hood or hat with a wide protective brim.

Foot protection Wearing safety shoes or boots with impact protection should be standard procedure when working in areas where a foot injury could occur from falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole or when feet could be exposed to electrical hazards. Also, OSHA advises wearing protective shoes when in a situation where you or someone else is carrying or handling large packages, objects or heavy tools that could fall onto your feet.

Steel-reinforced safety shoes offer protection against falling or rolling objects, cuts and puncture. The toe box and insole of the shoe are reinforced with steel, and the instep is protected by either steel, aluminum or plastic materials. The shoes often are insulated to protect against temperature extremes, and the soles are designed to guard against slipping, chemicals and electrical hazards.

Safety boots offer protection against spark and splash hazards, such as molten materials and chemicals.

Protective footwear purchased before July 5, 1994, must comply with the "USA standard for men's safety-toe footwear" ANSI Z41.1-1967. Protective footwear purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with the "American national standard for personal protection--protective footwear" (ANSI Z41.1-1991).

Hand protection The OSHA requirement for hand protection says, "Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate protection when employees' hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances, severe cuts or laceration, severe abrasions, punctures, chemical burns, thermal burns and harmful temperature extremes."

Gloves are the obvious PPE to use. Manufacturers design some gloves for a specific use, while others can provide protection from multiple exposures. You should select hand protection based on the needs of a particular job, the conditions present, duration of use and any potential hazards. When handling sharp objects or temperature-sensitive materials, you may consider leather gloves, welder's gloves, aluminum-backed gloves and insulated gloves.

OHS's list of the most common protective work gloves and the hazards they protect against follows: Disposable gloves, made of lightweight plastic, guard against mild irritants. Fabric gloves, made of cotton or fabric blends, improve your grip when handling slippery objects and insulate hands from mild heat or cold. Leather gloves protect against injuries from sparks or scraping against rough surfaces. Metal-mesh gloves, commonly used by persons working with cutting tools and sharp instruments, protect hands from accidental cuts and scratches. Aluminized gloves, made of aluminized fabric, insulate hands from intense heat, such as molten materials. Chemical-resistant gloves, made of rubber, neoprene, polyvinyl alcohol or vinyl, protect against pesticides, corrosives, oils and solvents.

Hearing protection If your employees work in loud-noise areas or with equipment that produces loud noise, you should provide adequate hearing protection if you cannot limit the level or exposure time. Ear muffs and ear plugs are the two main types of hearing protection. Both are capable of providing a seal either inside or outside the ear. If you work in an area that requires hearing protection, you need to keep it in place the entire time you are in the area. Removing the earpiece for any amount of time can cancel its protective effect. An employee who already suffers from a hearing loss must still wear hearing protection. You want to protect any hearing you have, therefore, you may want to encourage employees during off hours to wear protection even when at home if they use drills, saws and other loud machinery.

Earplugs. Earplugs fit into the ear canal to reduce the level of noise that passes through the inner canal. They should fit tightly enough to block your ear canal completely. Otherwise, their usefulness diminishes. Some earplugs are available in a variety of sizes, some in only one size (compressible foam). Demonstrate for your employees how to select the correct size of earplugs and properly fit them into their ears. They should throw away disposable earplugs immediately after use and clean reusable earplugs with mild soap and warm water. The earplugs should be completely dry before reinserting into the ear.

Earmuffs. Often used in louder-noise areas, earmuffs cover the entire ear, and a headband holds them in place. Most earmuffs specify which way they fit onto the head--usually front or top--and the headband is adjustable to keep the cups in place and the seal tight. The plastic cushions on earmuffs can become dirty and sweaty, so it is important to keep them cleaned. You will want to inspect them regularly and replace any damaged parts.

Respiratory protection OSHA recommends that employers provide respiratory protection to employees who work in areas where the air may be contaminated with harmful gases, dusts, fumes, smokes, sprays or vapors. Preventing atmospheric contamination can reduce the likelihood of an employee contracting one of several occupational diseases. Taking proper engineering-control measures, such as enclosing or confining the operation, providing adequate ventilation and substituting less toxic materials, can help reduce respiratory illness as well. You also need to develop a standard procedure for employees to follow when using the equipment. Using the incorrect respirator for a specified job, or using the respirator incorrectly, compromises the intended safety benefits of the apparatus.

Concerning respirators and other breathing apparatus, it is your responsibility to provide the PPE that is suitable for the purpose in which your employees will use them. You should educate your employees on the importance of wearing, cleaning/disinfecting and maintaining the respiratory equipment with which you provide them.

OHS regulations require trained supervisors to inspect respirators for wear and determine their effectiveness. On July 10, 1995, NIOSH implemented a new certification program for respirators. All respirators should meet the provisions outlined, approved and certified under 42 CFR Part 84. (Direct inquiries about respirators to 800-35-NIOSH.). When selecting respirators, follow the guidelines of American National Standard Practices for Respiratory Protection Z88.2-1969.

Protective clothing Certain tasks require more complete protection of the body. In such cases--mixing, loading or spraying pesticides, for example--workers should use aprons, coveralls or "rain suits" made of the appropriate material, in addition to other protective gear such as gloves, boots, a hat and eye protection. Materials may range from disposable coverall-type garments made of paper or a synthetic material to thicker chemical-resistant (will not absorb any measurable amount of pesticide) rubber or plastic. Balance the cost of disposable garments against the ongoing task of cleaning reusable gear.

Look for equipment that provides maximum user comfort, as well as adequate protection. After all, if protective clothing is uncomfortable, workers simply won't use it. Plus, gear that causes overheating or dehydration may be a hazard in itself. Ultimately, however, you must use the minimum necessary to protect against the hazard at hand.

When all else fails-- Grounds care is an industry that requires a great deal of attention to protective equipment. Landscape maintenance is an equipment-intensive field and typically requires boots, eye and ear protection and, often, more extensive protection such as gloves, helmets and leather chaps. Think of all the ways your equipment could injure you--spinning blades, hot mufflers, flying debris, excessive noise--and you'll see why personal-protective equipment is so important. Tasks that involve fertilizer or pesticide use mandate protection from chemicals rather than mechanical force.

Thus, chemical-resistant materials and perhaps particle masks or respirators are called for in these situations. When you aren't sure of what's required, use common sense and err on the side of caution until you obtain specific instructions from the appropriate regulatory agency. However, most equipment and all pesticide labels provide instructions about specific hazards for which you'll need protection.

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