OSHA program is mandated with the role of ensuring that employees get full protection from any hazards in their working environment. It clearly stipulates that it is the responsibility of the employers to ensure that employees work in a conducive environment with minimal physical and health risks. One of the major strategies used in ensuring that the workers are protected from occupational hazards is the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This paper critically analyzes the various requirements needed for the acquisition of PPE, the assessment protocols recommended to identify which PPE to use, and the selection methods used. The paper further gives an insight into the various types of PPE and under what conditions they are used in any work environment.
Personal Protective Equipment
As people go on with their day to day activities, they are constantly exposed to various occupational hazards. They usually include materials or situations that can be potentially harmful to a worker, regardless of the field or sector they work in. These hazards fall under two distinct groups such as safety hazards, including accidents that cause physical injury to the worker, and health hazards that result in the worker developing various diseases. Every workplace has its own specific types of safety and health hazards that require being controlled. As a way to protect workers from such potential dangers, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1984 sets out the rules and regulations that ought to be followed by employers and employees (Levy et al. 13). This paper critically analyzes the Occupational safety and Health regulations, with a key interest in the need for Personal Protective Equipment. It further gives details on the various types of occupational hazards, the different categories of PPE available, the training needed for proper use and care of PPE, and the necessary fundamentals of carrying out a hazard assessment to know what PPE to use.
According to the OSHA programs in existence, the protection of employers, employees, coworkers, families, customers among many others comes as their primary role. The program advocates that employers control the occupational hazards in the workplace since it is the most effective way to protect employees (Friend and Kohn 6). The program highly recommends the use of work practice controls and various engineering methods, depending on the hazard prevented in the workstation. Over the years, two systems of control have proved to be very effective in managing and eliminating hazards to the maximum level possible. For example, when a barrier is stuck between the worker and hazard, then control is classified as an engineering control. When there is need of change in the way the employees perform their duties, then control becomes a work practice control. Sometimes, control practices may fail to provide sufficient protection to workers. Under these circumstances, the use of PPE becomes a mandatory action (Levy et al. 14).
The Requirements for PPE
Personal Protective Equipment often refers to the protective equipment worn or held by an individual to help shield them from injury or infection in the workplace. The use of PPE is always considered to be a last resort method of protection against risks to safety and health, as this equipment is used after other methods of protection fail. The reason why it is the last option is the fact that PPE only provides protection to the person wearing it, thus limiting its scope of guard (Brauer and Brauer 514). Furthermore, when using PPE, it becomes very difficult to assess the actual level of protection achieved and very hard to give theoretically maximum protection. Additionally, PPE has been shown to limit the mobility and visibility of the individual using it, often adding on to the weight, which is an additional hazard.
Nevertheless, the use of PPE is highly recommended as it gives the desired protection to some extent. How effective PPE is largely depends on the whether the individual using it is well trained, whether it is worn properly, and whether it is well maintained. Otherwise, the equipment will be of no help to the individual wearing it (Akbar- Khanzadeh et al. 196). Among the specific requirements for PPE presented in the OSHA standards, a clear health assessment program is very important in helping to identify the specific physical and health hazards that need to be addressed and to help in the selection of appropriate PPE. Another requirement is the provision of relevant training to the employees on the proper use and care of various PPE provided. Thus, employers have to ensure that their PPE are properly maintained and replaced in case they are worn out since it helps in keeping them efficient. Moreover, the PPE program adopted should be reviewed, updated, and evaluated more often to make sure that they are still effective. As for the provision of these PPE, it remains debatable on whether they should be offered to employees free of charge or at a cost (Bonehill 168). Nonetheless, what matters is that the employees are protected from any potential hazards.
The first major step in any working environment is to carry out a comprehensive safety and health assessment to identify the hazards that need to be controlled. This process is usually referred to as hazard assessment. The assessment identifies all the hazards whether under the physical type or the health-related types (Akbar- Khanzadeh et al. 196). Examples of health related hazards in the workplace include overexposure to chemicals, dust, or even radiation. As for the physical hazards, they include fluctuating temperatures, electrical connections, moving objects, sharp edges, and high-intensity lighting among many others. These hazards actually vary from one working environment to another, thus making it critically important for the OSHA program to identify the hazards in each environment distinctively (Levy et al. 13).
In carrying out the assessment, first, there is a walkthrough survey of the facility to take note of every potential hazard available. The assessment team surveys various sites that could be potentially harmful such as the sources of electricity, the types of chemicals being used, and the sources of light radiation. Once identified, these hazards are recorded based on the following basic hazard categories such as impact, compression, chemical, penetration, harmful dust, biologic, radiation, and heat or cold (Quinlan et al. 24). Moreover, the team reviews any history of occupational illnesses or injuries that have ever been recorded in the organization as a way to tell where the hazards lie. After the walkthrough is over, the employer carefully organizes and analyzes the data to come up with proper types of PPE that will be used at the site and the level of protection expected to be offered by these PPE. It is necessary that the employer picks the right PPE for use at the site so that the employees receive maximum protection position.
Selecting and Training Employees on PPE
It is of critical importance that all PPE clothing and materials be constructed and designed in a safe manner. They should also be carefully preserved in a clean and consistent fashion to ensure they remain effective. When selecting which PPE to give the employees, employers should put into consideration the fit and the comfort of this PPE (Vachiramon and Sobanko 163). When PPE is of the right size and it comfortably fits in, workers will be encouraged to use it always. Whenever the PPE is too large and uncomfortable, workers tend to get discouraged from using it, but when worn, this equipment dangerously exposes individuals to the hazards at the workplace. If the type of PPE to be used requires several layers to be put on together, the employee should ensure that the pieces of equipment are compatible to avoid any exposure to hazard.
Furthermore, employers have a duty to ensure the employees receive training on the use of the PPE selected for them. The training on PPE should cover topics such as when it is necessary to don it, what PPE is relevant depending on the risk, how PPE is supposed to be put on, adjusted, and taken off, as well as the various ways to maintain PPE properly to ensure a longer useful life (Quinlan et al. 25). At the same time, employees should further do a fit testing to demonstrate their understanding of the procedures to wear PPE properly and to use it before they can be allowed to perform any work. This gives room for any correction to be made to avoid putting the individual at risk. If the employer feels that an employee does not demonstrate a full understanding of the PPE use, retraining should be done. Additionally, there should be frequent training to allow employees to renew and refresh their knowledge on PPE usage (Akbar- Khanzadeh et al. 199). Retraining can also be carried out when there is a change in the workplace or there is a different PPE in use, or the employee shifts to a different workplace.
Types of PPE
A PPE is usually categorized based on the area of the body that it protects, by the types of hazards, or by the type of accessory (Bonehill 169). Based on the body area protected, the PPE used for hearing protection includes the earmuffs that are used to cover the ear completely, the earplugs that often placed in the ear canal, and the semi-inserts that cover the ear canal entrance. The hearing PPEs are worn by individuals who are most likely to get exposed to noise while working. The provision of head protection involves the use of caps and hair nets, used to protect against entanglement. The industrial safety helmets are worn to protect the head from heavy materials falling from a high height or from swinging items. As for the industrial scalp protectors, they protect the worker from injuries that occur through knocking stationary objects (Brauer and Brauer 515). The head protection PPEs are mostly worn at working stations such as construction sites and excavation tunnels.
The eye protection is provided by use of eye shields, safety spectacles, face shields, and safety goggles. These types of equipment help protect the worker from splashing chemicals, as they are hazardous, laser lights, or during welding. As for the foot protection, safety boots, wellington boots, and antistatic conductive wear is most recommended. For the respiratory system, respirators that either filter or supply clean air are used, whereas for hand and arm protection, gloves, wrist cuffs, and barrier cream are available. In most cases, whole body protection is achieved through overalls, aprons, and coveralls (Vachiramon and Sobanko 167).
Conclusively, the use of PPE is highly recommended in any workplace for the provision of safety and health of workers. Despite its disadvantages, in that PPE offers only individual protection, employers should consider using it as a supplementary source of protection in addition to putting up engineering controls and workplace controls. Furthermore, employers have to ensure that their workers receive extensive training on how to put on their PPE. There can be some fitting sessions conducted to allow the workers collect PPE that fits them perfectly and comfortably. These training sessions also ought to be conducted regularly to refresh the workers’ memories on the ways to use and maintain their PPE. As a result, employees will have a conducive environment to work in, which will be further reflected in the overall performance of the organization operations.