PPE Plans for Your Employees
What is Personal Protective Equipment?
Personal protective equipment is essentially anything designed to protect your body from known danger variables. For example, a nurse wears nitrile gloves, an officer may wear body armor, and a construction worker may wear a hardhat. The personal protective equipment is tailored to the specific professional dangers and individual needs.
You wouldn’t wear nitrile gloves as PPE on a construction site any more than a nurse would wear a hardhat in a hospital. Understanding your own protective and safety equipment needs is an important factor in maintaining safety. Other examples include:
These are made to protect airways by stopping debris, chemicals, and illness such as COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, from wreaking havoc on your throat and lungs. In other cases, masks may be the main source of oxygen, as a scuba diver might know.
Gloves are vital to professions such as nursing which deals with coronavirus among other illnesses or welding where the hand comes into contact with dangerous equipment and chemicals. It’s important to wear gloves that fit as not only will wearing poorly sized gloves result in inefficient work but can lead to injury too. It’s worth noting that some PPE gloves are single-use, like nitrile. Whereas others can be reused indefinitely such as welding gloves, gardening gloves, and of course winter mitts.
Face Shields and Goggles
Until recently face shields weren’t often seen outside of highly specialized professions such as beekeeping, or factory work. Face shields and goggles are built with thick durable plastic to protect you from shrapnel. If you work in a factory or manual labor field then you’ve probably heard the horror stories of stray debris blinding an unlucky and unprepared worker. The point of a face shield or goggle is to protect your eyes. Remember to always wear them as it only takes one mistake to cause a serious injury.
Gowns are mostly worn by those in the medical field to prevent the spread of biological hazards such as Coronavirus infected blood and other pathogens. Gowns are always one-time use. They are made inexpensively, and the lack of longevity reflects this. Gowns aren’t to be confused with safety aprons which often can be used more than once.
What Should Be Included in an Effective PPE Program?
A personal protective equipment plan isn’t the area to cut corners. Each section of an effective personal protective equipment program supports other sections within the program, i.e., wearing nitrile gloves but still washing your hands after the gloves are disposed of. One without the other limits the spread of an infection or injury but doesn’t completely eradicate it from the environment. When you’re constructing your plan remember that there is no section of a good PPE plan that can be skipped.
Conduct a hazard assessment to find the weak points in your existing plan. A hazard assessment is done by making a note of your professional dangers. For example, if you work as an electrician, a hazard faced would be a live wire. The proper protective equipment required would be insulted gloves and flame-retardant clothing.
Review incident records to find out which hazard tends to cause the highest rate of injury or infection. Remember to prioritize the associated hazards and to start with the most serious hazard first. Oftentimes, these hazards are obvious but just haven’t been given due consideration.
What Hazards Are Common to All Businesses?
There are five main types of hazards:
Biological: COVID-19, risk of infection, mold, waste, aggressive insects, and animals
Chemical: Toxins, carcinogens, pollutions
Physical: Harmful noise volume, extreme heat, extreme cold
Safety: electrical hazards, fire hazards, equipment failure
Ergonomic: Heavy lifting, untrained and awkward repetitive movement, poor posture
Note that the hazards listed are not all-inclusive and sometimes will fall under more than one. This is why it can be helpful to create a checklist of common hazards before conducting your hazard assessment. This helps prevent the assessment from being too narrow in what it considers.
If you work in an office setting, then safety hazards and ergonomic hazards are guaranteed. However, chances are there are biological hazards such as COVID-19 as well. Remember to look for all hazards, not just the ones you feel will apply to your profession.
Who Pays for Personal Protective Equipment?
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, it’s required that employers pay for all personal protective equipment.1 If an employee owns PPE they may volunteer to use it but it’s illegal to force them to do so. Furthermore, by leaving personal protective equipment in the hands of employees an employer can open themselves up to lawsuits and litigation.
Personal protective equipment or safety equipment should be factored into the yearly budget for replacing and repairing said gear. OSHA rules are put in place to protect both the employee and employers. The cost of repairing and replacing safety equipment will pale in comparison to any lawsuits that must be paid from the company pocket. It also will go a long way in ensuring both the efficiency of a PPE plan and establishing that you put employee safety above all else.
How Do You Make Sure Personal Protective Equipment Fits Each Worker?
Ensuring that personal protective equipment fits each worker is a key component to abiding by OSHA rules and creating any personal protective equipment plan. It’s worth noting that comfort is a factor as well. Cumbersome and poorly fitting gear is always unlikely to be worn for long. You’ll want to fit each employee individually to ensure safety.
Remember to order personal protective equipment in small, medium, and large. If you’re unsure as to how much of each size you need, then survey your employee sizes. Always remember to buy extras of personal protective equipment to accommodate for wear, tear, and the occasional change in employee sizes such as pregnancy or weight gain/loss.
How to Make Sure Workers Use PPE Correctly?
When you fit and/or issue the PPE, start by informing each employee about how to properly wear each piece. It’s good practice to have warning signs and posters in danger areas such as near waste, by large machinery, etc. to give a daily reminder to wear personal protective equipment.
Institute a small grace period between the completion of your PPE plan and it going into full effect. Chances are there are many steps to the plan and they simply can’t all be remembered at once. Allow your employees time to slowly adjust to the new safety changes before punishing them for not abiding.
Teach your employees about the specific dangers of their professional environment such as COVID-19 in hospital settings or other businesses like retail stores that also run the risk of spreading viruses. Emphasize the importance of employee safety. If possible, bring in a qualified teacher to deliver the information. For example, if you work in a warehouse, then an experienced and licensed heavy machinist might be a good option to explain the dangers of the equipment.
If your business is large enough to include multiple departments, then teach each department individually as opposed to everyone all at once. This helps create a more personalized classroom environment where more employees will feel comfortable asking questions about the PPE.
Maintenance and Inspection
PPE requires constant maintenance and inspection. It’s not a bad idea to do quarterly checks of all PPE to look for cracks, missing pieces, or anything that lowers the effectiveness. Be sure to implement a PPE replacement procedure as well. Explain how this works to employees and encourage them to take good care of their equipment. When explaining how to take care of PPE try to avoid mentioning the price of the item. This can lead to PPE not being used for fear of ruining expensive gear. Remember that PPE is to protect an employee and its better the PPE is damaged than the employee.
The Ultimate Goal of a PPE Plan
Note that the goal of a personal protective equipment plan is to limit infection, injury, and lawsuits by making employee safety paramount. Update and review your plan quarterly for any gaps in knowledge and new science. Make the PPE plan a way of life within your workplace for a more fluid and consistent transition.