Hazards exist in every workplace and come in many different forms, from sharp edges and falling objects to dangerous chemicals and loud noise. With so many risks, it's no surprise that workers experience nearly two million disabling injuries each year, more than a quarter of which will affect the head, eyes, hands, and feet (find out what are The Top 5 Causes of Disabling Injuries in the Workplace).

To keep employees safe and help prevent these disabling injuries, you need to supply them with the right personal protective equipment (PPE). But just handing them the gear and hoping for the best isn't going to get a lot of results. To really keep them safe, you need to make sure you pick the right equipment and train workers to properly use it.

What Is PPE?

Most workplaces will have various kinds of safety equipment, so what sets PPE apart? The main difference is that PPE, unlike other safety equipment, is worn by the employees. While ventilation systems, machine guards, and smoke detectors all make your workplace safer, your PPE includes, instead, items like gloves, safety shoes, safety goggles, respirators, earplugs, and hard hats (find out whether hard hats expire).

While many employers make every effort to mitigate hazards with engineering controls and safe work systems, it is rarely possible to eliminate workplace hazards entirely. By wearing PPE, workers can greatly reduce their risk of illness and injury even in the presence of airborne contaminants, corrosive chemicals, and manufacturing equipment.

PPE Guidelines

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the employees who sustained injuries were wearing the right category of PPE at the time. They estimate that:

  • 16% of head injuries occurred while wearing hard hats
  • 23% of foot injuries occurred while wearing safety shoes
  • 40% of eye injuries occurred while wearing eye protection

These statistics might have been lower if employers and their employees followed some PPE best practices. In light of that, here are six guidelines every PPE user should follow:

1. Understanding When PPE Should Be Used

PPE is critical to workplace safety but it is still one of the least effective ways of controlling the risks associated with hazards. It should, therefore, only be used when there are no other practical control measures available, or as an interim measure until a more effective form of control can be implemented (learn more about The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls).

In cases where PPE could reduce the risk of illness or injury, it should always be used.

2. Assessing Suitable PPE

The type of PPE that should be used will vary depending on the job being performed. When assessing its suitability, consider the following:

  • What are the requirements of this job?
  • Will this PPE protect workers from the risks they face?
  • Is this PPE appropriate given the environmental conditions?
  • Will using this PPE introduce any new risks?
  • Can this PPE be adjusted to fit correctly?

3. Selecting Appropriate PPE

Always consult with the worker before selecting PPE for them to use. They are intimately familiar with the details of their job and work environment and may be able to identify issues that escaped your notice. They will also be able to help you select the right size and take comfort into consideration.

Make sure the product meets relevant regulations. In the United States, the CE marking signifies that the equipment meets certain basic safety requirements and, in some cases, has been tested and certified by an independent body.

If your employees will need to use multiple items of PPE at the same time, make sure that they can be worn together without hindering any of their functions. Can the protective sleeves you're looking at be comfortably worn with the high-visibility jackets your employees need to wear? Will the safety glasses you're considering fit properly when workers are also using respirators? Try to figure this out before you make you purchase.

4. Properly Using PPE

As an employer, it is your responsibility to instruct and train your employees on how to properly use their PPE. In addition to showing them how to put it on, you also need to go over why the PPE needs to be used, when it should be used, how to maintain and store it, and its limitations.

If some aspect of the job changes, you may need to provide new instructions.

5. Maintaining PPE

To ensure its longevity, PPE should be kept clean and in good conditions. Follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, including the recommended replacement periods and shelf lives. Workers should always inspect their PPE before use.

Simple maintenance requirements can be carried out by the employees themselves, but more intricate repairs, such as replacing parts, should only be done by specialists.

6. Storing PPE

PPE should be properly stored when it is not in use. A dry, clean cupboard is suitable for most larger items. For smaller items, a box or case can do the trick.

Simple Guidelines – Effective Outcomes

PPE is a key part of your safety arsenal – if it is used properly. Following these six simple guidelines will ensure that your PPE lasts longer, does its job, and keeps workers safe.