Without the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help us do our jobs safely, we’re not just putting ourselves at risk of getting dust in our eye or hitting our thumbs with a hammer. No, it’s much more than that: PPE can prevent amputations; dangerous illnesses; burns; and, yes, even a grisly death (see First Aid for the 10 Most Common Workplace Injuries to learn what to do when some of these injuries happen).
If your employer withholds the OSHA-mandated PPE from you while you’re doing your job, they may be, unbeknownst to you, putting you at risk. This is why it’s important that you know what PPE your employer needs to provide you for your job.
Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.
OSHA Standard number 1910.132(d) also states that: "The employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). If such hazards are present, or likely to be present, the employer shall:
- Select, and have each affected employee use, the types of PPE that will protect the affected employee from the hazards identified in the hazard assessment;
- Communicate selection decisions to each affected employee; and,
- Select PPE that properly fits each affected employee."
Your employer is also required to provide you with the proper training necessary to correctly use your PPE. That OSHA standard (1910.132[f]) states: "The employer shall provide training to each employee who is required by this section to use PPE. Each such employee shall be trained to know at least the following:
- When PPE is necessary;
- What PPE is necessary;
- How to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear PPE;
- The limitations of the PPE; and,
- The proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the PPE."
Know Your Rights and Take Action
Sadly, if workers aren’t well-versed in the OSHA standards, they may not know that their employer is withholding certain required PPE either due to negligence, to cut costs, or other unethical reasons. For example, if an employee isn’t aware that their employer, under law, should be providing respiratory protection, then the employee is unaware that they are putting themselves at risk for long-term lung complications that may manifest down the line. The employee essentially becomes a victim as a result of their employer's non-compliance.
So, just as it’s important to know your constitutional rights to protect yourself from being taken advantage of by legal authorities, it’s important to know your rights as an employee and a laborer so you’re safe and protected while performing your job. It’s your right; exercise it. Here’s how:
- Know the law: You have legal rights as a worker that your employer must fulfill. You need to know exactly what those rights are to maintain your safety and well-being regardless of the decisions of your employer. Go to OSHA’s workers' rights page to know your legal right as an employee.
- Question everything. You have a right to any information regarding your safety at your workplace or job site.
- Take your own measures. Don’t be afraid to bring other means of PPE to your jobsite, such as wrist guards and knee savers. Any measures you take to protect your body from high degrees of labor will only help preserve it.
- Be a whistleblower. If your company is lacking in safety compliance, you can anonymously request an impromptu OSHA inspection at your workplace (find out What Is the Difference Between a Safety Inspection and a Safety Audit). If your employer is not in compliance, they will be subject to a citation. If you already see a major safety risk in your workplace, you can submit a claim here. You will be protected in doing so. Someone (if it isn't you) could be seriously hurt or injured if the safety risk isn’t addressed.
The overall goal is that each and every employee in our workforce returns home safely at the end of each workday, without internal or external harm or damage. While it’s an employer’s job to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees, you should always take it upon yourself to make sure that they’re doing it to the best of their ability. If they don’t, the person most at risk here is you.