Is PPE (Personal protective equipment) important to you in your workplace? Its a very important question, and the answer should not just be about word of mouth but your action will determine if it truly is.
I once spoke to a carpenter working with a table saw without nose mask, when I asked why he wasn’t using his nose mask here was his response – “I cannot breath well when I use it“.
Now for this individual, can we say the PPE is important to him? The answer is a big No.
At the end of this article, you will get to understand various reasons why PPE is important and why you should make your PPE your best friend.
Before we get the subject matter “Why PPE is important”, let use run through the definition of PPE.
What is PPE
Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE”, is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.
Generally, PPE is important because it prepares you for any health and safety risks and gives you extra protection in event of an accident or against the elements.
Why Is PPE Important
Safety is a major issue for day laborers and skilled laborers. Each year, accidents happen frequently in the construction industry and often times it is due to the absence of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or failure to wear the provided PPE. The purpose of PPE is to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective to reduce these risks to acceptable levels.
These hazard risks can be anything from wet floors to falling debris and everything in between. PPE includes items such as protective helmets, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, safety harnesses and, sometimes, respiratory protective equipment.
Aside from providing employees with instructions, procedures, training and supervisions to encourage safe and responsible working. PPE contributes to a safe workplace, so PPE is always going to be an integral part of running a successful and safe business.
Even when you have assessed your risks and put all safe systems of work into place, some hazards will still remain. These hazards can include injuries to: head and feet, eyes, lungs, body and skin; this is where PPE comes into play.
NOTE: PPE should only ever be used as a last resort after putting all other controls in place.
Let’s explore some PPE commonly used on sites and their benefits:
Examples Of PPE And Their Benefits
Hard hats are common on construction sites. Just passing by a site, you can usually identify workers by their hard hats. They are designed to protect against flying or falling objects that would otherwise impact or penetrate the worker. Some hard hats are equipped with accessories such as face shields and earmuffs. Hard hats should be well-fitted; those that are too large or too small are inappropriate for use.
Eye and Face Protection
Eye and face protection are equally as important as head protection. Safety goggles, spectacles and full face shields can give you the protection needed for the eyes and face. Metal work, wood-work, hot-work and air-tool operations all require this type of protection. General laborers can also benefit from safety goggles since there is usually debris on construction sites.
Respiratory protection is vital on sites where toxic substances are present. Sometimes what you can’t see can hurt you. Respiratory protections like respirators are designed to protect you from dust, fumes, paint spray, pesticides and other dangerous substances that could cause permanent impairment. Respiratory protection should be used in environments with air contaminants. In work environments, respirators are relied upon when adequate ventilation is unavailable or other engineering control systems are not feasible or inadequate.
Hand & Skin protection
Construction jobs typically require the use of hands. Each year, around 150,000 hand injuries are reported. Occupational skin diseases such as contact dermatitis, skin cancers, and other skin injuries and infections are the second most common type of occupational disease and can be very costly. Because a lot of work is done with the hands, gloves are an essential item in providing skin protection.
Some examples of gloves commonly used as PPE include rubber gloves, cut-resistant gloves, chainsaw gloves and heat-resistant gloves. Using gloves helps to avoid hazards usually involved when working with chemicals, glass, sheet metal, electricity, hot materials or slippery objects.
Industrial noise is often discounted as an occupational hazard since it isn’t visible to the eye. However, 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to potentially harmful noise levels annually. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, about 82% of occupational hearing loss cases occurred to workers in the manufacturing sector.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration establishes occupational noise exposure standards. NIOSH recommends that worker exposures to noise be reduced to a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to reduce occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Earplugs and earmuffs are common hearing protection tools. It is important to note that earmuffs are more effective in reducing high-frequency noise while earplugs are more effective for reducing low-frequency noise.
Using PPE, and wearing it properly, is vital to avoid unnecessary injury in the workplace. Choosing not to wear PPE can be dangerous especially when it could save your life.
It’s important to know that safety equipment provided on the job should meet Personal Protective Equipment Regulation, and that it is most effective when it meets the correct size, fit and height of its user.
You may be accustomed to finding yourself in precarious situations on the job, but you should never feel like your physical being is likely to be harmed.
Reasons Why It’s Important To Use PPE In The Workplace
1. It keeps you from being liable for your own injuries
One common speed bump that workers’ compensation attorneys deal with on the regular is an individual’s decision not to wear PPE, regardless of the fact that they were provided with it by their employer. This often makes the liability for a workplace illness or injury more of a gray area.
It varies from case to case, but faithfully using all PPE that you are provided with on the job is the best way to ensure that should an injury or illness directly result, your employer will absorb full liability. Even for those jobs that “only take a few minutes”, you should never allow for exemptions from wearing PPE.
Being found partially responsible in a court of law for your own workplace illness or injury from a failure to use PPE is a worst-case scenario. As an employee, you should be fully educated on which equipment is required of which tasks, and what it is meant to protect. If this is not the case, you should not be afraid to contact a manager or your HR department.
2. Long-term conditions may result from a failure to protect yourself.
Feeling fine at the end of your shift doesn’t pass for the fact that you’ve properly protected your body. Exposure to different chemicals and compounds on the job can have long-term effects on your body, with mesothelioma being a great example. In 2017, it was estimated that 3,000 Americans each year were diagnosed with this rare form of cancer.
Between 70-80% of these diagnoses were from exposure to asbestos fibers used in the construction of materials in many different industries. Current safety regulations require those who work with asbestos to wear specific PPE, and to shower and change before leaving the workplace. But prior to modern regulation, there was not a connection made between asbestos exposure and cancer diagnosis.
Therefore, many of these daily mesothelioma cases were caused at a time before we knew so much about this disease. Workers should take advantage of the medical knowledge regarding risk factors that we have today, and use PPE to safeguard their health and well-being, both for now and down the road.
3. You only have one pair of eyes.
Safety glasses are probably one of the most common (and effective!) forms of PPE. This is because any substance, whether corrosive or not, and any material, sharp or not, can be hazardous when it comes in contact with your eyes.
Every year, roughly 2.4 million eye injuries occur in the United States, both at work and during leisure activities. Of these injuries, about 50,000 victims lost their eyesight to some degree. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 90% of these eye injuries could have been prevented by safety eyewear.
Since 61% of eye injuries happen in manufacturing, construction or trade jobs, it is important to acknowledge that there are different types of PPE eyewear available for different situations. Don’t be afraid to inquire about upgrading your eyewear.
4. It increases the quality of your workday.
Think of PPE as a support system of sorts for the work your job requires you to do. It may be more physically demanding or slightly more hazardous than your average desk job, but the equipment is provided to make you feel that physical risk is minimal.
PPE items such as weight belts offer stability for duties that ask you to perform heavy lifting, and these might be the difference between having to go to work with strained muscles the next day or not. Measures should be taken to prevent basic trip and fall injuries that, on the most simplistic level, just flat out ruin someone’s day.
19 Reasons Why PPE Is Important
- PPE is your personal control which is there to look after you.
- It protects you. The whole reason for PPE is to protect you, so if you don’t wear or use it, it can’t do its job.
- It’s your last line of defence. Your PPE is the last barrier you have against hazards. There may be other controls in place, but your PPE is the control that stands in the way of any final or remaining risk, no matter how small.
- It is easy to replace. Gloves got ripped? Get a new pair. Your hard hat was hit? Get a new one. Not so easy to replace your skin or your skull.
- It protects your health. Other types of PPE protect your health. Like dust masks keeping dust out your lungs, and gloves stopping you developing dermatitis.
- It sets a good example
- Everyone should wear and use PPE. From directors and managers to visitors and new starters.
- It shows you care – Using and wearing the right PPE shows you care about health and safety, and about yourself.
- It gives a good impression – It looks professional because it is professional. It shows you have standards, and run a safe site.
- It helps your reputation – If everyone is wearing and using the right PPE, then that first impression helps build your reputation as a business that does things right.
- It saves your skin – Red, itchy, painful, blistering skin? Could that be dermatitis or even sunburn? PPE can help cover your skin and stop this happening to you.
- It prevents pain – No one likes pain. PPE can stop it.
- It’s your personal insurance policy – PPE shouldn’t be the only control, risks should be stopped before they reach you where possible. But like insurance, PPE is there should the worst happen.
- You will be prepared for the worst – If the worst should the worst happen, with your PPE you will have a better chance of escaping unharmed.
- It can stop an accident – We have mentioned how PPE can protect you from the results of an accident, but there are also types of PPE that can stop an accident. Think about how safety lanyards and harnesses can stop you getting into a position where you might fall.
- It can help you do your job – Your safety gloves can give you a better grip. A torch on your hard hat can help you to see. Your ear defenders can make a noisy work environment tolerable. Your PPE can help you do your job.
- It gives you peace of mind – You hope you don’t need your PPE, but it gives you peace of mind that you are better protected.
- It could save your life – Don’t believe me? A hard hat stops a brick breaking your skull, a harness stops you falling from a roof, a lifejacket keeps you afloat until help arrives. I’m sure you can think of many more examples.
- It’s the law – Ok, we left this one until last, but let’s not forget the legal requirements here. It’s the law to provide PPE where there is a risk to health and safety and to use and wear your PPE correctly.