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Personal protective equipment(PPE) is often the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think about workplace safety. PPE protects workers by minimizing a user’s exposure to workplace hazards and includes gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, respirators, and many more.
However, even though PPE is now synonymous with workplace safety, many companies continue to misuse it, endangering the health and safety of their employees and their organization in the process. This article will discuss some of the most common mistakes companies make when dealing with PPE and some questions to ask to ensure your organization isn’t one of them.
A big mistake many companies make is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to PPE. People come in all shapes and sizes, and PPE must meet everyone’s specific sizing needs. An excellent example of why this matters is fall protection harnesses.
For a harness to work as designed, the user must adjust it appropriately to their body. If it’s too tight, employees may decide not to wear it; if it’s too loose, it can cause serious injury to the user during a fall event.
Gloves are another excellent example of why proper fit matters concerning PPE. One-size-fits-all gloves may be too tight for some employees, restrict their movement, or break while handling hazardous materials or substances.
Like most products, PPE has an effective lifespan and requires periodic replacement due to age or use. For example, companies must remove a fall protection harness from service after its involvement in a fall.
However, companies are often unaware of these manufacturer specifications for replacement and continue to use PPE beyond its useful life. As a result, their PPE becomes less and less effective at protecting employees from hazards.
For example, employees may reuse disposable gloves day after day in an attempt to save money. However, if they read the manufacturer’s specifications, it likely tells them how long they can use those gloves and still receive the same level of protection.
For PPE to function correctly, it needs to be cared for properly. For example, the plastic of a respirator left out in the sun can degrade. This can affect its ability to form a proper seal on the user’s face, resulting in unintended exposure to airborne contaminants.
Fall protection harnesses thrown into toolboxes experience more wear and tear than those appropriately hung. These additional cuts and abrasions reduce the lifespan of the equipment but also affect its strength and ability to save a worker in the event of a fall.
Keeping PPE clean is also important, but always following the manufacturer’s guidelines is essential because improper cleaning with non-approved chemicals can damage PPE and lower its effectiveness.
PPE only provides the expected level of protection from hazards when appropriately used. For example, an employee who wears a respirator for work but also has a full beard is not using the respirator as intended. That’s because facial hair prevents the respirator from achieving a complete seal around the user’s mouth and nose. The gaps it creates allow airborne contaminants into the employee’s breathable air.
Fall protection use and selection is another area where proper training and understanding are crucial. For example, if an employee performs leading-edge work, they must select fall protection approved and designed to withstand a leading-edge hazard’s sharp, cutting edge. Failure to do so may result in a non-approved lanyard failing in the event of a fall resulting in a severe or fatal accident.
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