You need to supply your workers with the PPE they need to perform their work safely. But you need to do more than just stock some safety gear – you also need to design an effective program to make sure you get the most out of the PPE (find out Who Pays for Personal Protective Equipment).

But what does a PPE program look like? And more importantly, what does a good PPE program look like? In this article, we'll give you five tips that will help you design an effective program that improves the safety of your workers.

1. Perform a Hazard Assessment

The potential hazards your workers face could be health-related, such as overexposure to harmful dusts, chemicals, radiation, or they could be physical, including:

  • Moving objects
  • Fluctuating temperatures
  • High intensity lighting
  • Rolling or pinching objects
  • Falls from height
  • Electrical connections
  • Sharp edges

Conduct a Site Inspection

To identify these and other hazards, you will need to conduct a thorough hazard assessment, starting with a physical survey of the facility. Enlist knowledgeable supervisors and employees to assist in the assessment.

Some dangers to look for include:

  • Tripping or falling from height
  • Sources of electricity
  • Machinery in motion
  • Processes involving a lot of movement
  • High-temperature heat sources
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Harmful dusts
  • Sources of light radiation (such as welding, furnaces, and high-intensity lights)
  • Falling or dropped object hazards
  • Objects sharp enough to cause cuts, stabs, or punctures
  • Biological hazards (blood and other potentially infectious material)

Analyze the Data

At the conclusion of the site physical inspection, organize and analyze the data so that it can be used in determining the types of PPE that will be required at the worksite. It's always a good idea to select PPE that exceeds the minimum level of protection required.

Reassess Regularly

You should reassess your workplace periodically in case any changes in conditions, equipment, or operating procedures give rise to new hazards.

This regular reassessment should include a review of the company's injury and illness records in order to spot any trends or areas of concern. It should also involve an evaluation of the existing PPE, including its condition and age.

Document the Hazards Properly

Documentation of the hazard assessment should include a written certification with the following information:

  • Which workplace was evaluated
  • The name of the person conducting the assessment
  • The date of the assessment
  • The document certifying the completion of the hazard assessment

2. Eliminate Hazards and Identify When and Where PPE Is Needed

Hazards exist in every workplace and can never entirely be eliminated, so strategies to protect workers are essential.

When dealing with hazards, your approach should follow the hierarchy of hazard controls:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering and administrative controls
  4. PPE

(Learn more about The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.)

Controls are usually placed:

  • At the source (where the hazard comes from)
  • Along the path (where the hazard travels)
  • At the worker

Placement of hazard controlsFigure 1 - Control Areas

Controlling a hazard at its source is the first choice because this will eliminate it from the workplace altogether or isolate it from the worker. This approach may require:

  • Substituting a harmful material with a nonhazardous alternative
  • Isolating hazards
  • Ventilating work spaces
  • Adding safety features to existing equipment
  • Redesigning work processes
  • Purchasing new equipment
  • Implementing administrative controls (better work practices, training, and housekeeping)

When the hazard cannot be removed or controlled adequately, personal protective equipment (PPE) may be used. PPE is the last line of protection when all other methods are not available or possible.

How Do I Begin Planning a Protection Strategy?

To get your program right, it is important to understand the underlying principles of protection strategies.

The main elements that must be considered are:

  • The protection of workers
  • Compliance with applicable laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines
  • Compliance with internal company requirements
  • Technical feasibility

A good comprehensive strategy considers the hazards, conducts a risk assessment, evaluates all possible control methods, integrates various approaches, and reexamines the controls frequently to make sure that the hazard continues to be controlled.

When Should PPE Be Used?

PPE is used to reduce or minimize the exposure or contact to injurious physical, chemical, ergonomic, or biological agents.

Remember, a hazard is not “gone” when PPE is used, but the risk of injury may be reduced. For example, wearing hearing protection reduces the likelihood of hearing damage when the ear plugs or muffs are appropriate for the kind of noise exposure and when the PPE is used properly. However, using hearing protection does not eliminate the noise (learn about the risks in Noise: The Safety Hazard 22 Million Workers Are Exposed to Every Year).

PPE should only be used:

  • As an interim measure before controls are implemented
  • Where other controls are not available or adequate
  • During activities such as maintenance, clean up, and repair where pre-contact controls are not feasible or effective
  • During emergency situations

3. Selecting the PPE

All PPE clothing and equipment should be of safe design and construction. Employers should take the fit and comfort of PPE into consideration when selecting appropriate items for their workforce. PPE that fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employees to use the PPE. Most protective devices are available in multiple sizes and care should be taken to select the proper size for each employee. If several different types of PPE are worn together, make sure they are compatible.

OSHA requires that many categories of PPE meet or be equivalent to standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Employers who need to provide PPE in the following categories must make certain that any new equipment procured meets the cited ANSI standard:

  • Eye and face protection: ANSI Z87.1-1989 (USA Standard for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection)
  • Head protection: ANSI Z89.1-1986
  • Foot protection: ANSI Z41.1991

Existing PPE stocks must meet the ANSI standard in effect at the time of its manufacture or provide protection equivalent to PPE manufactured to the ANSI criteria.

Inform any employee who provides their own PPE of your selection decisions and ensure that any employee-owned PPE used in the workplace conforms to company criteria, based on the hazard assessment, OSHA requirements, and ANSI standards (for related reading, see 7 Things to Know About Choosing the Right PPE for the Job).

4. Training Employees in the Selection, Use, and Care of PPE

It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that their employees are competent, knowledgeable, and fully trained on how to select, use, and care for the PPE that is assigned to them. For example, an employee who requires a half- or full-face mask for protection against particulates or chemicals needs to be fit tested to ensure that the mask and cartridges are removing adequate amounts of contaminants from the breathing air. Furthermore, you would be well-advised to ensure that the employee has medical documentation stating that they have no physical restrictions that would preclude them from wearing a respirator.

Fall protection equipment is another example of how important PPE training is. Not only must all fall protection equipment meet AINSI Z.351.1 standards, but it also must be assembled in the proper configuration to provide proper protection. Finally, all fall protection equipment must be inspected by competent personnel before use, and by a fully trained technician at least annually.

5. Inspecting, Maintaining, and Cleaning PPE

All PPE must be maintained and cleaned to either ANSI or NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) standards.

When manufacturers design safety equipment, the particular configuration (how it is to be used in the field) is forwarded to NIOSH for approval in that capacity. Parts, components, and re-assembly of the equipment must be identical to the original version approved by NIOSH.

All inspection, maintenance, and cleaning processes should be undertaken by a qualified person or technician. The employer should be aware of inspection and maintenance requirements for every type of PPE used on site. Furthermore, all inspection and maintenance records should be well documented, and signed off by a competent and fully trained technician.

Summary

Providing the right PPE for your employees is required, but having an effective PPE program will make sure the safety gear provides the most protection.

And be sure to document each phase of the program. Not only will this ensure that the program is managed properly but it will also help you demonstrate compliance.

Check out the rest of our content about Personal Protective Equipment here.