Determining how to protect employees from hazards is an essential part of every company’s safety program. It is very common for workers to need to wear more than one type of personal protective equipment (PPE) at one time to protect against multiple hazards they may encounter in their workplace. Ensuring that all the PPE is compatible, comfortable and will work as expected in protecting against the intended hazard is essential when selecting PPE for employees.
Depending on the hazard or conditions, OSHA recommends the use of engineering or administrative controls to manage or eliminate the hazards to workers. In the event engineering or administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide PPE to their employees and ensure it is used properly.
PPE should be selected in accordance with applicable OSHA regulations, recommendations of other recognized government entities such as NIOSH or industry consensus standards, such as those created by the American National Standards Institute. An assessment of site-specific conditions and input from the workers who will wear the PPE are necessary when making an initial determination of PPE requirements.
Prior to implementing PPE usage in a workplace, the employer is responsible for ensuring they are selecting the right PPE for employees to protect them from job- or task-specific hazards. For each job activity that may present a hazard, the employer must:
➤ Perform a hazard assessment.
➤ Determine the type of control necessary to help protect the worker from the hazard (e.g., engineering controls, administrative controls or PPE).
➤ Select and provide the appropriate PPE for each employee.
➤ Train each employee on the proper use of the PPE selected for him/her. At a minimum, employees who are required to wear PPE must know when and how to use it, how to don and doff it, how to maintain PPE and judge its life expectancy and when to replace it.
➤ Evaluate the effectiveness of the PPE program.
In addition to the employer, employees have certain obligations when PPE is provided to them. These include:
➤ Properly wearing and maintaining the PPE according to the instruction provided to them by their employer.
➤ Informing a supervisor if the PPE needs to be repaired, replaced or is not working properly.
Once the type of PPE needed is determined, the focus shifts to selecting the specific model. A well-designed product should have features that enhance fit and encourage compliance through increased worker comfort. Additionally, technical support provided by the manufacturer often is a valuable resource in selecting the right products and using them appropriately.
Like the hazards encountered in the workplace, there is a variety of PPE available on the market that is intended to help protect all the parts of a worker’s body. Trying to select multiple types of PPE that integrate together to protect workers can be a challenge. Nowhere is this more challenging than selecting multiple types of PPE to be worn on a person’s head. The following is a discussion of above-the-shoulders PPE including head protection (e.g. hard hat), hearing protection, eye and face protection and respiratory protection.