Effective Training : Covering the Bases

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Stevens Publishing Corp.

Summary Statement

Article that explains the importance of training in the selection and use of personal protective equipment, focusing on eye, hand, head, foot protection and reducing exposure to noise.

It is very important for workers who need protection to practice wearing the equipment that will shield them from job hazards.

Most protective equipment is simple to use and such a routine part of a daily job that training on its use may seem trivial and unnecessary. After all, how many ways can a person put on gloves or don safety goggles? PPE training, however, needs to go beyond how to just wear the equipment. Workers need to know why it's important to wear it and how to care for it. In fact, getting the point across that PPE is their personal shield of protection from job hazards may be just the ticket that prompts them to wear it routinely.

Goggles must be fitted close to the eyes to achieve the widest field of vision and a tight facial seal, but the eyelashes should not touch the lenses.

All employers with work situations that expose employees to potentially hazardous conditions must provide those individuals with protective equipment and training in its use. OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards at 1910.95 and 1910.132-139 apply to those employers. Important elements of OSHA's PPE training requirements are ensuring that workers not only understand the proper way to wear their protective equipment, but also how to inspect, care, and maintain it for continual maximum protection.

The following information provides fit, care, and maintenance tips for five commonly used types of protective equipment that can be easily incorporated into a training program.

Eye and Face Protection

Safety glasses are the most commonly used form of eye protection. They are designed primarily to provide protection from flying particles that may strike the eyes from the front. Sideshields, either built into the frame or detachable, and full (cup) shields provide additional protection. A professional who can adjust the glasses should fit prescription safety glasses.

Goggles protect the eyes from hazards that may strike from any angle by completely surrounding each eye with the protective device. They are available with a variety of lenses and often have ventilation openings for air to circulate through the cup to prevent fogging. Goggles must be fitted close to the eyes to achieve the widest field of vision and a tight facial seal, but the eyelashes should not touch the lenses.

Care and maintenance

Inspect protective eye equipment prior to each use. Pitted or scratched lenses may reduce vision and compromise the level of protection, and so they should not be worn. Equipment with broken parts or distorted by heat needs to be repaired or discarded.

  • Have the frame adjusted periodically to prevent glasses from sliding down the nose and to keep the lenses directly in front of the eyes.
  • Always put safety glasses on and remove them with both hands. Using one hand can loosen the frames, which could impair vision over time.
  • Keep the lenses clean. Before cleaning, flush them with water. This removes dirt or grit that could be ground into the lens and result in a scratch when the lens is wiped. When facilities are not available to flush lenses, blow on the surface to remove dirt prior to wiping.
  • Where goggles are used extensively, clean them often with a disinfectant or mild soap and water, and use a defogging solution.
  • Regularly check lenses, frames, and headbands of all eyewear for wear or damage. Promptly replace any device that doesn't fit properly or is scratched, bent, or broken.
PPE Hazard Assesment-What's Required?

Head Protection

Head injuries are usually caused by the impact and penetration of falling or flying objects, bumping against a fixed object, or contacting exposed electrical conductors. Head protection, in the form of a protective helmet, must do two things: resist penetration and absorb the shock of a blow.

These are achieved by making the helmet's shell of material hard enough to resist a blow or penetrating object and by creating a shock-absorbing lining made of a headband and crown straps to keep the shell away from the wearer's skull. This system spreads the force of impact over a wider area of the head.

To provide the best protection, a safety helmet must fit properly. The headband should be adjustable in at least 1/8 hat-size increments. Adjust so there is adequate clearance between the shell and the headband and space to allow ventilation.

Chin and nape straps may be necessary to keep the helmet firmly on the head. The straps should break, however, at a reasonably low force to prevent a strangulation hazard.

Care and maintenance

  • Clean the shell with a mild detergent and rinse with clear water. Inspect for signs of cracks, penetration, or other damage caused by rough treatment or wear. It's a good idea to inspect the helmet daily, or prior to each use. If the helmet is damaged, it should not be worn.
  • Consult the manufacturer before painting a helmet shell or using a solvent to clean it. Some paints and solvents may damage the shell and reduce its protective level.
  • Holes should never be drilled or punched in a helmet shell for ventilation. This reduces the helmet's ability to sustain impact. Class E helmets must never have holes drilled in the shell or any accessory that contains metal.
  • Do not store a safety helmet on the rear window shelf of a vehicle. Overexposure to ultraviolet light such as sunlight and extreme heat may cause the shell to deteriorate.

Foot Protection

The toes, ankles, and feet are exposed to a wide range of on-the-job injuries. Safety shoes and boots provide impact and compression protection for workers who handle heavy materials or work in areas where materials could fall or roll onto their feet.

Puncture-resistant footwear incorporates a steel insole to provide protection where sharp objects are present that could be stepped on. Conductive footwear minimizes electrical hazards by preventing the accumulation of static electricity, and electrical hazard footwear reduces the hazards from contact with electrically energized equipment.

No matter which type of protective footwear is worn, the most important element is how well it fits the wearer.

  • Select and try on safety shoes or boots at the end of the day, when the feet are slightly swollen.
  • Wear the same type of socks that will be normally worn on the job.
  • Have both feet measured. The best fit will be the length of the longer foot and the width of the wider one.

Care and maintenance

Caring for safety shoes and boots will add to their effective life. Inspect regularly for cracks and remove any embedded objects from the soles. Replace or professionally repair worn or damaged shoes.

Air out shoes and boots when they are not being worn and dry them thoroughly if they get wet on the inside. If your feet tend to perspire, change into clean dry socks halfway through the workday.

Hand Protection

We don't give it much thought, but our hands are the most convenient tools we have for accomplishing a wide variety of jobs. Because hands, fingers, and thumbs are so essential to daily activities, both on and off the job, keeping them strong and healthy is important.

Gloves are the most common type of complete hand protection. They are relied on to prevent cuts, abrasions, burns, and skin contact with chemicals capable of causing local or systemic effects following exposure. No type of glove can protect from all hazards. Gloves need to be selected based on the protection they provide for each particular job hazard.

Make sure gloves fit properly--a small glove tires and constricts the hand and a large one is clumsy to work with. Also, gloves that are too large, stiff, or bulky decrease dexterity and the ability to sense objects. A fit test to ensure the right glove for the job includes:

Caring for safety shoes and boots will add to their effective life. Inspect regularly for cracks and remove any embedded objects from the soles.

  • Tactility: The wearer should be able to identify objects by touch without looking at them.
  • Dexterity: The wearer should be able to pick up small objects successfully.
  • Grip: The wearer should be able to hold heavy objects while moving the arm in different positions.

Whenever gloves are worn, it is necessary to wash the hands often. This prevents the build-up of sweat and dirt, which may cause skin irritation. Cover all cuts to the hands before gloves are put on. Change gloves often and keep a spare pair on hand while the other pair dries.

Care and maintenance

Check gloves for cracks and holes, especially at the tips and between the fingers. Damaged gloves do not provide adequate protection. Replace worn or damaged gloves promptly.

Keep gloves clean and dry. Workers should know how long gloves can be worn and whether or not they can be reused.

Hearing Conservation

High noise levels, a common problem in most industrial settings, carry a very serious health hazard: permanent irreversible hearing loss. Hearing loss has an impact on a person's quality of life. A worker who doesn't hear well has a difficult time communicating with others and may feel isolated. Hearing loss can also affect job safety when a worker doesn't hear a shouted warning or a back-up alarm signal.

Because of the hazards associated with high noise levels, all workers who are exposed to 85 decibels or more for an eight-hour period must be placed in a hearing conservation program and provided with hearing protection.

Disposable and reusable ear plugs

Disposable ear plugs are designed for one-time use. They are made of formable material and designed to insert into a person's ear canal. Once inside the ear canal, they will expand and conform to the shape of the ear canal. Ear plugs must fit snugly inside the ear canal to reduce the noise level. This type of hearing protection may need to be shaped before use.

Reusable ear plugs usually are premolded and made of silicone, plastic, or rubber. They are available in different sizes and fit into the ear canal the same way as disposable plugs. Reusable plugs are joined by a string for easy removal and reinsertion, and to prevent the plugs from getting lost.

  • Wash hands and inspect plugs before insertion.
  • Wash reusable plugs daily and store them in a clean case.
  • Replace plugs that are hard or discolored.
  • If ear plugs are working properly, the wearer's voice will sound louder to him/her.

Headband plugs

Headband plugs can be worn comfortably with safety glasses or protective helmets. These plugs are on a flexible plastic band that is worn under the chin while the protectors are in the ears. Headband plugs should be kept clean by wiping with a clean damp cloth and care must be taken not to bend or twist the band.

Ear muffs

Ear muffs have cups and cushions that fit securely around the ears, covering them completely, and are held in place by a headband. Long hair, sideburns, or facial movements such as chewing gum can interfere with a proper fit and reduce the protection level. In extremely loud situations, wear ear plugs and ear muffs.

  • Inspect cushions before wearing and wipe them with a damp cloth after each use. Replace the cushion when it loses its resilience.
  • Check headband tension to ensure a good fit by holding the band at the top of the arc. The ear muffs should almost touch at the bottom. This will provide enough pressure to give a tight seal around the ears.
  • Muffs should fit firmly and comfortably--loose muffs will not reduce the noise.

Make sure gloves fit properly--a small glove tires and constricts the hand and a large one is clumsy to work with.

Practical Training Goes a Long Way

It is very important for workers who need protection to practice wearing the equipment that will shield them from job hazards. Merely showing the equipment is no guarantee that, when they need the protection, they will know how to determine its adequacy and be able to wear and remove it properly. PPE training must include demonstrations and practical exercises in the following:

  • The correct method for putting on and taking off each type of protective equipment that will be used.
  • How to check for wear or damaged parts that could compromise the protective qualities of the equipment.
  • How to correctly adjust the equipment to get the best fit and afford the greatest protection.
  • When PPE training covers all the angles, workers will have a better understanding of their protective equipment and the important role it plays in keeping them safe, both on the job and off. It really is their personal "shield of protection."

PPE Hazard Assessment--What's Required?

OSHA requires a workplace assessment to identify whether any hazards or the potential for hazards that necessitate PPE exist. During the 1998/99 fiscal year, employers were cited 1,033 times by federal OSHA for violations of the hazard assessment paragraph in the PPE standard. Under the regulation, it is the responsibility of every covered employer to determine if, where, and when protective equipment is needed.

Workers in a wide range of occupations are exposed to significant risk of death or injury by being exposed to hazardous substances, air contaminants, moving equipment, sharp tools, flying materials, heavy objects--the list is as varied as there are jobs in the workplace. Many injuries, illnesses, and fatalities can be prevented or reduced in severity when exposed workers wear appropriate protective equipment.

Where these hazardous situations are identified, it is the employer's responsibility to:

  • Select and provide PPE that provides the maximum level of protection;
  • Ensure that it fits properly, is maintained in sanitary and reliable condition, and that workers use it whenever necessary; and
  • Train all workers who will wear the protective equipment, prior to the start of the job.

The training must cover:

  • When and what PPE is necessary,
  • How to properly put on, adjust, wear, and remove the PPE,
  • Proper care and maintenance of the equipment,
  • The limitations of the equipment, and
  • When to replace the PPE and appropriate disposal methods.
Julie A. Nussbaum ( jnussbaum@jjkeller.com) is Editor, Workplace Safety, for J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. (www.jjkeller.com) of Neenah, Wis.