Workers face many hazards at the workplace. They include falling objects, sharp edges, flying sparks, noise, chemicals, and a lot of other potentially dangerous situations. There are standards set to protect their employees against such hazards. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends three control measures to minimize the hazards: engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipments controls. Engineering controls include safety barriers between hazards and the workers while administrative controls ensuring workers adhere to the right work practice. Personal protective protects employees against health and safety hazards. These are vital especially when administrative and engineering safety controls are not effective. When engineering and administrative controls are not feasible enough or do not provide adequate protection, employers must ensure personal protective equipments (PPE) are available to employees. The employers must also ensure the employees use the equipments appropriately.
Personal protective equipments, commonly referred to as "PPE", are equipment s worn to minimize exposure to a variety of workplace hazards. OSHA defines Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, as “specialized equipment or clothing” for specified circumstances worn by employees for protection against hazardous or minimize risk (OSHA, 2002). There are various personal protective equipments worn depending on the circumstance or part of the body at risk.
Employees wear safety helmet where there is a likelihood that a worker is at risk of a falling object that may strike head or employees may strike their head against a fixed or moving object, or the worker’s head come into contact inadvertently with electrical hazards. Appropriate head protection type should be used always wherever there is a significant risk of head injury.
Head protection equipments include industrial safety helmets, caps, hairnets and scalp protectors (bump caps). When selecting head protection equipment, the user should choose an appropriate shell size. The helmet or cap should have a headband, chin strap that is easily adjustable.
Exposing industrial safety helmets to chemicals or an environment such as direct sunlight, excessively heat or humidity can reduce their strength (St. Andrews University, 2000). Helmets need frequent assessment and replacement whenever it receives any severe impact by a knocking object even if there is no visible damage, when it has cracks or deep scratches, or when it exceeds the ‘Use By’ date (St. Andrews University, 2000).
There are many risks of eye injury at workplaces. Typical eye hazards may include dust, flying particles, splashing substances, vapors, aerosols, harmful gases, sparks, ionizing radiation such as UV, and high intensity rays used in welding operations. Face and eye protection equipments must be worn wherever there are such hazards or whenever one expects an explosion. Face and eye protection equipment comes in various forms. They include safety goggles and safety spectacles. Safety spectacles are tougher than the normal spectacles and have side shields to prevent the impact of flying materials. Their lenses can be corrective depending on the use or users’ requirements (Environmental Health and Safety, 2007). Safety goggles differ with the safety spectacles in that they make a total seal around the eye area and the lenses cannot be corrective. They are usually impacted resistant and used to protect from chemical splashes. The user can wear normal spectacles may under safety goggles.
Noise at the workplace may lead to hearing impairment, induced hearing loss temporary or permanent deafness. When working in a work environment with harmful noise, employers must provide their workers with hearing protections. Noise surveys and assessment in potential noise hazard areas normally precede the selection of hearing protection. One can measure noise decibels (dB(A)), a logarithmic scale. A change of about 3 dB(A) is equivalent to a doubling of noise levels (OSHA, 1995). OSHA has guidance on the appropriate noise measurement and outlines how to control various levels of noise levels. Hearing protection is a must during situations where there is a constant noise that exceeds 80dB for normal work period of 8 hours or whenever one expects impact noise or explosive noise (OSHA, 1995).
The OSHA work regulations on control of noise require that the employers to conduct a risk assessment of noise before recommending the use of hearing protection (OSHA, 2002). Hearing protection equipment comes in the form of ear plugs, canal caps and ear muffs (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). Ear plugs fit inside the ear canals. Single-use earplug made of silicone rubber foam, fiberglass wool or waxed cotton is also available. When properly inserted, they are self-forming and work as well as molded earplugs. They are suitable for people without a history of hearing problems or ear problems. Molded earplugs or preformed earplugs can be disposable or reusable. A professional or an individual can fit them. Canal caps are soft rubber caps usually attached to a headband that presses them onto the ears and the openings of the ear canal. Ear muffs are hard plastic cups with sound absorbent material that fit over the ears. They have cushion seals and some peculiar fittings or a headband attached to some safety helmet press them tightly onto the head (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007).
If verbal communication is necessary while ear protection is on, suitable communication system must be in place. Workers must not take off hearing protectors even for a brief period when noise levels are high. Doing otherwise can cause damage to one’s hearing (Environmental Health and Safety, 2007).
Respiratory protection equipments are appropriate for protecting against inhalation of vapors, gases, and fumes dusts, aerosols or biological agents (CDC, 2002). Personal protection equipment for respiratory protection includes particulate respirators, powered air purifying respirators, half face elastomeric respirators or full face elastomeric respirators (CDC, 2002). Employers provide these after taking all other practicable measures to provide control measures, to ensure that workers do not get exposed to any injurious atmosphere.
Employees use hand protection equipments wherever there is a recognized hazard with a potential to cause hand injury. Workers must put on gloves when they handle any hazardous material, toxic chemicals, corrosive materials, and materials with sharp or rough edges and intensely hot or cold materials (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). These hazards may cause severe cuts, lacerations, punctures, skin absorption of harmful substances, severe abrasions, chemical burns or harmful temperature extremes.
There are many glove types available for protecting against a variety of hazards. The hazard and tasks involved affect the selection of protective gloves. Gloves designed for one function may not fit different function. It is vital that employees use gloves designed for the hazards and operation found in the workplace (OSHA, 2002). Factors that influence selection of protective gloves for a workplace include chemicals handled, nature of contact, duration of contact, area requiring protection, grip requirements, thermal protection, size and comfort, abrasion or resistance requirements (Health and Safety Committee, 1999). Careful selections of gloves according to breakthrough, chemical compatibility and degradation times are necessary in a prolonged contact with or immersion in the substance (Health and Safety Committee, 1999).
There are four categories of protective gloves: chemical and liquid resistant gloves, insulating rubber gloves, leather, canvas or metal mesh gloves, fabric and coated fabric gloves (OSHA, 2002). Examples of leather, canvas or metal mesh gloves, aramid fiber gloves, aluminized gloves and synthetic gloves. They protect the hand against burns and cuts from heat, cold, chips or rough objects. Leather gloves protect against burns and cuts from sparks, blows, moderate heat or rough objects.
Chemical-resistant gloves include gloves made from different rubber or plastics. They include butyl, nitrile neoprene, and fluorocarbon, polyvinyl alcohol polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyethylene. Latex rubber gloves are popular general-purpose glove (Health and Safety Committee, 1999). They are comfortable with most users. They feature admirable elasticity, tensile strength. They are resistant to temperature as well as abrasions resulting from grinding and polishing. They protect hands against solutions of alkalis, acids, salts and ketones.
OSHA (2002) recommends users of latex glove to use them reasonably because latex can cause allergic skin reactions. It is appropriate to carry out risk assessment in the use of latex gloves. Workers can then use ‘Non-Powdered Latex Gloves’ only when latex gloves become difficult to avoid. The user should continuously undergo appropriate health surveillance whenever he or she uses the gloves. Disposable nitrile or vinyl examination gloves are sufficient when handling laboratory, chemicals to protect against accidental contact or splashes.
Leg and Foot Protection
Employees in the workplace with falling or rolling objects must wear protective footwear to avoid injuries from penetrating or crushing materials. Foot and leg protection also includes non slippery shoes for areas with risk of falling on hot, corrosive or poisonous materials. Non conductive footwear protects workers exposed to electrical hazards while conductive footwear protects against exposure to static electricity (OSHA, 2002). Other situations that require foot or leg protection include situations where sharp objects may fall on the employee’s feet; exposure to hot liquids or molten metal; and working on slippery or wet surfaces. Protective foot and leg wear include leggings, metatarsal guards, toe guards, foot and shin guards, and safety shoes (OSHA, 2002).
Leggings are for protection of lower legs and feet from welding sparks or molten metal. They have safety snaps that allow quick removal. Metatarsal guards made of fiber, plastic aluminum or steel with straps on the outer side serve to protect the instep area from compression and impact hazards. Toe guards also made of aluminum, steel or plastic and fitted over the toes of employees’ regular shoes protect the toes from compression and impact hazards. Safety shoes with heat-resistant soles, as well as impact-resistant toes, protect the feet against hot surfaces in hot metal industries, during roofing or paving. The metal insoles may also protect against puncture wounds. There are other safety shoes that are electrically conductive or nonconductive designed to avoid the buildup of static charges or electrical hazards respectively.
Employees working around machinery or hazard materials should not wear loose clothing or have unrestrained long hair. Loose clothing and unrestrained long hair can stick on machinery or contact chemicals. Where contact with chemicals on clothing is likely, such as pesticide application or during spill cleanup, polyethylene coated protective clothing provide additional protection (St. Andrews University, 2000). Some chemicals can penetrate some materials. One must properly understand the limitations of such protective clothing in situations where contact with hazardous material is likely. Leather clothing or accessories can absorb some hazardous chemicals. Absorbed chemicals may come into contact with the skin if held close to it for a long time (St. Andrews University, 2000). Employees should remove contaminated items promptly and use appropriate techniques to remove the absorbed in clothing and then held close to the skin prolonged periods.
Protective clothing includes lab coat, coveralls, partial encapsulating suit, total encapsulating suite, laboratory aprons, flame resistant clothing, and gauntlets. All laboratories require lab coats to minimize clothing contamination and exposure of skin to hazardous laboratory chemicals (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). They provide splash protection, abrasion protection and some minimal thermal protection. They also offer some protection against fire temporarily. They are convenient because users can quickly remove them to isolate harmful substance exposures or flames (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). When working with radiological hazards, workers should wear yellow lab coats with red collars (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007).
One may also use coveralls in place of lab coats. Encapsulating suits have polymer coating to increase resistance chemical permeation (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). Aprons manufactured in vinyl polyethylene, and rubberized fabric are resistant to chemical oils or acids. One can put them on top of lab coats or coveralls to provide additional protection in case of maximum exposure occurs (Brook Haven Laboratories, 2007). Electrical workers wear flame resistant clothing or clothing with flame resistant layering to protect against potential, thermal hazards.
All equipment must have safe design and construction, clean and reliable and properly maintained. When selecting appropriate the equipments for their employees, employers must ensure they are comfortable and fit. Fit and comfortable equipments encourage their use. Most protective equipments come in multiple sizes. One should select the best size for each worker. Equipments worn at the same time should be. OSHA requires that all protective equipments to meet the American National Standards Institute or be equivalent to the standards. Employers must make sure that existing or new equipment meets the stated ANSI standard. They should also ensure that employee-owned equipments conform to the workplace criteria in accordance with OSHA requirements and ANSI standards based on hazard assessment.