To protect workers, occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals must follow current regulations and safety standards, evaluate and address all job site hazards, consider the personal protective equipment for the entire crew, provide training and monitor and maintain their safety plans and programs. It's a daunting job with high stakes.

There is a lot to consider when equipping a workforce with all of the safety equipment needed for all of the tasks they perform on the job. Head-to-toe safety often is tackled one hazard at a time, which might not be the best way to approach PPE when considering total safety.

And, there is more at stake than worker safety. A well-designed safety program not only impacts safety, but also overall job satisfaction, employee loyalty, productivity and the company's bottom line. OSH professionals must develop an effective, total safety plan. To help you do that, here are the ABCs of total safety.

Building a Case Against Layering PPE Piece-by-Piece

When an OSH professional layers on personal protective equipment (PPE), they often create multiple layers of safety that don't complement each other. For example, a safety professional at a metal fabrication company overseeing a team of welders followed current standards and regulations to a "T." He did a hazard assessment, deployed the necessary PPE equipment to meet regulations and made sure his team was trained on how to use their equipment properly. All that was left was to monitor the effectiveness of the safety program he put in place and gather feedback from his team. In doing so, he discovered a few issues with the equipment.

Workers frequently needed to change between grinding shields and welding helmets to effectively do their jobs. The individual equipment was not always appropriate for all the tasks they had to perform on a given day, forcing them to spend extra time changing into additional gear between tasks. The respirators they wore competed with the safety eyewear for prime facial real estate, contributing to poor eyewear fit and fogging. Additionally, if workers had any facial hair where the respirator sealed to the face, the effectiveness of the equipment was diminished.

While every piece of equipment workers wore met safety standards, they didn't work in tandem with each other, or the tasks workers had to perform – resulting in decreased worker satisfaction and productivity. To find a solution, the OSH professional reached out to 3M's PPE Safety Solutions team, which deployed the ABC's of Total Safety.

Assessment: Evaluate all of your PPE needs

A recommended first step to assessing a safety program is to enlist the help of a third-party resource or outside consultant. To help solve the issues identified, the OSH professional enlisted the help of a welding specialist on 3M's PPE Safety Solutions team to determine the best way to alleviate these issues and more importantly, maximize productivity while protecting workers.

The first thing the welding specialist did was assess the hazards on the job site. He discovered the following:

  • Workers exposed to welding fumes and arc radiation generated from the welding process they were using.
  • Workers' eyes and faces needed to be protected from particles released while grinding and using a wire brush.
  • Significant noise was generated from welding, grinding, arc gouging and other processes.
  • Respiratory system and workers' skin were exposed to potential hazards from urethane foams and isocyanates present during the painting and foaming process.
  • Temperatures were elevated from the welding, arc gouging and foaming operations.

Each of these issues came with its own set of regulations and standards and ways to eliminate or manage the hazard. The OSH professional on site had succeeded in safeguarding workers against these hazards, but knew there was room for improvement.

The biggest issue he identified was compatibility. The safety glasses used did not pair well with the welding helmet or grinding shields used, causing them to fog up in the hot and humid environment. Additionally, when workers switched from welding to grinding tasks, they frequently had to change into different PPE equipment, often disrupting particles and other foreign materials in and around their hair and head, creating the potential for foreign body eye injuries.

They needed equipment that worked well together and could be applied to all tasks.