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Workplace Safety – Use of Personal Protective Equipment

According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) reduces workplace injuries and fatalities.  NIOSH goes on to report that 20 million workers in this nation use PPE on a regular basis for protection from on-the-job hazards.

PPE is designed to protect workers from injury and even death.  PPE can also protect workers from specific threats such as fires, head injuries, fall hazards, airborne biological matter, chemical agents and noise.  Personal protective equipment is constantly being improved by changes in existing standards and regulations as well as improvements in PPE technology.

Engineering Control Systems

Engineering controls remove hazardous workplace conditions or place a barrier between the hazard and the worker.  This prevents workers from having any contact with the hazard from the start.  Examples can include guards on machines to protect workers, or using an exhaust ventilation system to remove any airborne hazards.  If an employer implements an effective engineering control system, it can be highly effective and will not interfere with an employee’s work.  They should make work easier to perform, not more difficult.  Initial costs of an effective engineering control system may be greater than other safety measures, but operating costs are frequently lower over the long term.

NIOSH works to develop technology based, practical engineering controls to help prevent workplace injuries.  To do this, NIOSH works with partners nationwide and around the world.

Personal Protective Clothing

NIOSH has a Protective Clothing and Ensembles Program.  It is designed to protect workers’ skin from a variety of health hazards they may be exposed to at the workplace or in case of a terrorist attack.  This Program has evolved to improve PPE issues, including changes in barrier material, leaks through tiny holes and how chemicals can soak through protective materials.  The Program also has studied ways to determine when chemicals have gotten inside PPE and how to remove chemicals from PPE after it has been contaminated.  Future study will work to improve PPE for emergency first responders and firefighters.

Respirator Devices

Respirators provide protection in two different ways.  The first is by providing clean air from an alternative source.  Examples of this include self-contained breathing apparatus that include their own air supply and airline respirators that use compressed air from another, remote source.

The preferred method in situations involving potentially contaminated air is using engineering control systems.  Engineering control systems can include systems that scrub the air of contaminants or adequate ventilation systems.  Only when engineering control systems are not feasible or effective should respiratory solutions be relied upon.

Recommendations for respirator use are issued by NIOSH and standards are developed in a joint effort by government and industry.

Eye Protection

Eye injuries to workers most commonly occur when objects strike or scrape the worker’s eye.  This most often includes wood chips, cement chips, dust and metal slivers.  These items are frequently windblown, fall from above, or are ejected by tools.  This type of injury may also occur if a worker runs into an object injuring the eye socket or eyeball, or if a large object strikes a worker in the eye.

Another common injury is penetration of the eye.  This is when an object like a sliver of metal or wood, staples, or nails go through the eyeball.  This type of injury can cause permanent loss of vision.

Chemical or heat related eye injuries may also occur.  Chemical burns are often caused by industrial chemicals or cleaning products.  Heat related, or thermal, burns, most often occur among welders.  These burns can damage eyes as well as surrounding tissue.

These eye injuries can be avoided by the use of appropriate protective eyewear including full face respirators, face shields, goggles or safety glasses.

The eye protection most appropriate for a situation depends on the hazard presented, the worker’s personal vision needs, the circumstances of potential exposure and what other PPE a worker is using.

The eye protection used must fit the individual worker or be adjustable to provide appropriate coverage.

Further, it must allow for appropriate peripheral vision and be comfortable.

Employers should use appropriate engineering controls to reduce eye injury hazards.  Employers can also determine what protective eyewear is appropriate for a task by conducting a hazard assessment.

Hearing Loss Prevention

On the job hearing loss is one of the most common workplace illnesses according to NIOSH.  Approximately 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise at work.  Further, 30 million workers are exposed the chemicals, many of which are hazardous to hearing.  Occupational hearing loss carries a high economic price to society as well as damaging workers’ quality of life.

NIOSH recommends that workers noise exposure be limited to 85 decibels or less.  Exposure to levels at or above 85 decibels is hazardous to workers.  NIOSH recommends that employers work to reduce noise levels to below the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Levels (REL) whenever possible. If noise levels cannot be reduced below hazardous levels, employers should then provide hearing equipment protection to workers.

Personal Protective Equipment for Emergency Responders

Appropriate personal protective equipment is vital for emergency responders.  NIOSH considers five primary types of PPE for emergency responders.  These include eye protection, hearing protection, skin exposure, respirators, and protective clothing.  The NIOSH website provides the following additional resources directed toward PPE for emergency responders.  Some of the topics include:

  • Eye Protection. NIOSH provides general information on preventing eye injuries.  This includes preventing eye injuries and eye infections using different types of eye protection.
  • Hearing Protection. In addition to presenting information on hearing protection, NIOSH also provides information on choosing a hearing aid, a hearing conservation checklist as well as access to the NIOSH Noise Meter.
  • Skin Exposure. NIOSH provides information on skin research, including a “skin permeation calculator” that allows users to input information and will calculate vulnerability of exposed skin to various chemicals.
  • Respirators. Basic information on respirators, types, proper selection and standards and rulemaking.  NIOSH also provides information on gas masks, escape hoods and other respirators for home and work.
  • Protective Clothing. NIOSH provides information on PPE in cases of a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD), or “dirty bomb.”

It provides information on appropriate PPE in situations involving nerve agents.

It provides employers technical assistance for emergency responses related to exposure to blister agents and biological aerosols aimed at acts of terrorism.

NIOSH provides documentation regarding PPE for flood response and cleanup workers.

If You Have Been Injured on the Job, Call The Bader Law Firm, LLC

The attorneys at the Bader Law Firm, LLC, are well versed in workers’ compensation law.  If you have been injured on the job, contact the determined Savannah workers’ compensation lawyers for a free consultation to discuss whether you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

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