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Leverage Personal Protective Equipment to Control Injuries


From the Field

In 2014, a delivery driver was dropping supplies off at a New Jersey construction site. Without warning, a one-pound tape measure fell from 50 stories above, struck him on the head, and killed him. The driver had left his hard hat in the truck.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like hard hats, safety goggles, and cut-resistant gloves put a barrier between employees and workplace hazards. Successful PPE programs are driven by knowledgeable, empowered staff. Before they start work, employees should demonstrate they know when to use PPE, how to use it, how to inspect it, how to maintain it, and perhaps most importantly, how to work within its limitations.

Consider PPE Your Last Line of Defense

Hazard control strategies are not created equally. That’s why safety professionals rely on the hierarchy of controls. Under the hierarchy, eliminating hazards or reducing employees’ exposure are the most effective ways to prevent injuries. At the bottom of the hierarchy sits PPE, largely because of its limitations.

For example, a school nurse wearing disposable gloves that have a small tear could be exposed to bloodborne pathogens. In the maintenance shop, safety goggles that don’t fit properly could fail to block debris or sparks.

Choose the Right PPE for the Job

A job safety analysis (JSA) can help supervisors choose the right protective equipment by uncovering the hazards associated with each step in a task. Along with JSAs, consult your equipment manuals and chemical safety data sheets for guidance on choosing PPE. Manuals and guides can also alert you to potential health issues associated with protective equipment.

On one end of the spectrum, protective gloves could trigger uncomfortable skin reactions. On the other end, respirators can cause serious health complications for employees who have breathing-related medical conditions, vision problems, or claustrophobia.

Inspect and Maintain PPE

Damaged PPE can give employees a false sense of security. Show them how to inspect their equipment before and after each use. Examples include worn soles on slip-resistant footwear in food service areas and scratched or cracked eye protection in maintenance areas. If employees identify damaged equipment, they should tag it, remove it from use, and immediately report it to their supervisor.

Routine maintenance can go a long way toward keeping PPE in good working condition. User manuals should explain how to care for equipment and store it safely. Common maintenance best practices include:

  • Cleaning safety glasses, goggles, and hard hats regularly with mild soap and water
  • Line-drying high-visibility vests to extend the life of reflective tape
  • Storing respirators where they are protected from dust, light, heat, cold, moisture, and chemicals
  • Replacing earmuff cushions when they lose resilience

Some equipment needs to be discarded in a way that doesn’t harm people or the environment. That includes disposable gloves, aprons, and smocks that have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Enforce Consistent Use

The tragic story at the beginning of this article underscores the importance of enforcing consistent use of personal protective equipment. The reasons employees cite for avoiding PPE are as varied as the types of equipment on the market. Some argue it slows them down, it’s uncomfortable, or it doesn’t fit. Others reason that they’ve done the task hundreds of times without PPE, and they’ve never gotten injured.

Set clear expectations about PPE use in your policies and procedures. If equipment interferes with employees’ vision, hearing, breathing, or sense of touch, they should notify a supervisor.

Explore More Resources

Fund Workers’ Compensation program members benefit from no-cost online training courses, including a course that teaches employees how to use personal protective equipment properly. Members can also download our PPE Training Kit. The kit empowers supervisors to deliver training in as few as 15 minutes. The online course and Safety Kit include quizzes you can keep with your training records.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2020. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Risk Solutions Staff

The TASB risk solutions team includes risk solutions consultants and communications professionals who deliver training, consultations, articles, and resources that help Fund members control losses and their associated costs.

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