PART 2 (of 2): PPE Selection, Maintenance and Testing
Standards have been established for PPE where hazards are present which could affect the head, foot and leg, eye and face, hearing loss, hand, body, and respiratory system. OSHA requires that many categories of PPE meet or be equivalent to standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). A walk-through assessment of the site should be completed to survey and identify hazards such as moving objects, fluctuating temperatures, high intensity lighting, electrical connections, sharp edges, and overexposure to harmful dusts, chemicals or radiation. A review of history of illnesses or injuries should be completed and assessed for sources, causes, procedures and at-risk scenarios. The hazard assessment should be documented and certified in writing. Findings should be analyzed and organized to support PPE decisions.
Employers need to educate themselves on the types of PPE available as well as the applicable industry consensus standards (i.e. ANSI or NFPA) governing their specific PPE. PPE Selection is important for the employees’ safety, and existing PPE should be re-evaluated for age, functionality and condition. Care should be taken to choose PPE that is sized and fit properly to employees to ensure comfort and compliance. Multiple pieces of PPE need to be compatible with each other. Areas protected have specific selection criteria for PPE; for example, PPE for the eyes should not restrict vision, should have sufficient durability, and ease of use. It is important to understand criteria for each protective area and to adhere to ANSI guidelines.
Beyond PPE selection, PPE testing for efficacy, durability and performance may also be necessary for certain types of PPE. Testing is based on the types of hazards present, use, safety requirements and specific area(s) protected. For example, in dealing with electrical hazards, requirements and test methods applicable to materials and garments for protective clothing for electrical workers against the thermal hazards of an electric arc are critical. In dealing with chemical hazards, there are test methods to determine the barrier efficiency of chemical protective clothing against aerosols of dry, fine dusts. It’s crucial for an employer to understand the hazards present and undergo testing in accordance with proper guidelines.
In addition to PPE testing, PPE maintenance is also extremely important. Employers must require that PPE is clean, disinfected, and inspected to ensure effectiveness, functionality, and to prevent transmitting infections. PPE must be inspected for defects every time it is used. If PPE can’t be repaired properly, it should be replaced. Reusable PPE should be replaced every two to five years, or earlier, if recommended by the manufacturer or if there is a major impact on the PPE. Employers must ensure that workers do not modify PPE in a manner that could compromise its effectiveness or integrity, and all defective parts must be replaced with parts made by the same manufacturer that are approved for that equipment. Never reuse disposable (one-time use) PPE equipment, as re-use could risk exposure to residues remaining on the PPE from previous use, or vulnerability to hazardous substances moving through damaged or deteriorated PPE during reuse. The PPE manufacturer will provide storage precautions; instructions must be followed for both reusable and disposable protective equipment. To increase shelf-life, PPE must be protected from chemicals, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive humidity, and moisture. Disposable, reusable, or limited-use PPE must be discarded if not stored properly. Employees should keep PPE in its sealed package until use.
A comprehensive safety program with proper precautions and requirements enforced for PPE are important to provide workers and employers the protections they need to perform in a safe and healthy work environment.
OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.132, https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9777
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