There are many different types of hazards in workplaces, including the potential for falling from heights, hazardous chemicals, falling objects, flying sparks, loud noises, extreme temperatures, etc. The correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) can help prevent exposure to hazards and protect workers from injuries. Some common PPE are work boots, gloves, foot and eye protection, earplugs, earmuffs, hard hats, respirators, and full bodysuits. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers provide adequate protection for their employees from known workplace hazards, but PPE should not be the first line of defense. It is best, where possible, to seek the elimination or control of the problem at its source. PPE is not the most proactive route to injury prevention.
So, how is PPE deemed “appropriate” for a specific workplace? OSHA requires every employer to perform a hazard assessment to identify all the hazards workers may encounter. Potential hazards can be purely physical dangers (e.g., moving objects, confined spaces, high work surfaces, sharp edges, etc.), while others can be classified as harmful to health due to prolonged exposure (e.g., chemicals, dust, or radiation). The assessment consists of an analysis of each necessary work task, identifying the hazards associated with the task, and figuring out ways to minimize the danger through engineering and administrative controls.
Before determining the PPE that might be required to accomplish a job, an evaluation can show whether hazards may be eliminated or addressed by other means. More proactive forms of hazard control include:
- Elimination – Can the task be eliminated? For instance, could the current process be outdated and therefore removed simply by introducing automation?
- Substitution – Can an alternative be found to remove or lessen the hazard? A couple of examples would be transitioning to “green” chemicals or upgrading tools.
- Engineering Controls – Can you isolate people from the hazard? Can a lockout/tagout system be introduced to machinery to better control or prevent access to the source of the hazard?
- Administrative controls – Can the way people accomplish the work be changed? Can operating practices be improved, training be implemented, or can access to specific areas be restricted?
Once the assessment is completed, the employer can make a list of all PPE that should be used for each job or task performed, or what PPE is required in a certain location within the workplace. For example, a room with loud machinery may require that hearing protection be donned before entering that room. PPE should be fitted to the wearer, kept clean, and regularly checked for reliability. Employers need to work with employees to ensure that all PPE is the right size and able to be worn in such a way that it does not inhibit the work it is intended to aid.
In a large work environment, spread across multiple departments, buildings, or locations, assessing and managing PPE requirements can be a daunting task. That is why many companies utilize EHS management software to assist in conducting workplace assessments and ensuring every person is receiving the right PPE for the tasks they are required to perform.
An EHS management software can also track whether workers are correctly wearing their PPE. During job site inspections, PPE violations can be recorded. With configurable EHS management software, it is possible to add comments to each documented observation, so that these occurrences may be analyzed later to bring about an understanding of why workers may not be wearing assigned PPE correctly during a specific task or in a certain area. EHS software modules that are specifically designed for tracking details concerning PPE can remind users through notifications when it is time to reorder PPE. These time-saving modules serve as a risk matrix tool for completing fully configurable hazard and PPE assessments from a centralized location, so that any employee that needs access to important PPE information, can easily attain it.
Staying on top of PPE information and appropriate use can be difficult. Not only does OSHA have high standards for worker injury prevention (and rightly so) but the world of PPE is also continuously advancing. Utilizing a fully integrated EHS management software can help employers stay on top of these necessary elements for keeping workers safe.
The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
The primary objectives of the SafetyStratus RAG partnership are to:
- Build a strategic partnership between EHS practitioners and the SafetyStratus team.
- Provide engaging and practical content to the global EHS community.
- Provide discipline and market feedback specific to SafetyStratus products and services.
While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.