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Everything You Need to Know About Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Construction

Ensuring a safe jobsite is essential in today’s construction landscape. While on-going training, standard methods and processes and even construction technology are all part of the first-line defense on a jobsite, workers need the right protective equipment as the final barrier to safety. That’s why, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required clothing or gear worn by construction workers when they’re working on or near a potential hazard, whether that’s something like a steep drop off or a dangerous chemical.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide “safe and healthful” workplaces for their employees. And, yes, that includes supply PPE devices where they’re needed.

While PPE might not be every construction workers preference, it not only dramatically reduces the risk of worker injuries, but it also helps your bottom line by minimizing workers compensation costs. Since minimizing risks and maximizing profits are key goals for all construction companies, a robust safety gear program is essential to any growing building business.

If you’re looking for a refresher on PPE or need to ramp up your safety program, below, we’ll discuss how to get the right gear that keeps your workers safe and productive.

Establishing Your PPE Program: The Basics

To ensure personal protective equipment is being used effectively at your construction site, warehouse or plant, it’s important to know:

  1. When workers need PPE
  2. Which PPE devices apply to which types of situations
  3. How to train workers in proper PPE usage
  4. How to safely maintain the quality of PPE devices

Once you’ve successfully figured out how to execute each of those four items, you’ll have mastered the basics of PPE best practices.

When Do Workers Need PPE?

PPE doesn’t just protect your workers; it protects your business from OSHA sanctions and legal liability. Besides that, OSHA mandates that you provide PPE to your employees free of charge.

But just because you equip workers with adequate devices, it doesn’t mean they’re going to wear them.

Based on statistics from a Bureau of Labor Statistics study:

  • Hard hats are worn by only 16% of workers who sustain serious head injuries
  • Face protection is worn by only 1% of workers who sustain serious face injuries,
  • Safety boots or shoes are worn by only 23% of workers who sustain serious foot injuries, and,
  • Eye protective equipment is worn by only 40% of workers who sustain serious eye injuries.

Countless worksite injuries are caused not by the lack of available PPE, but by workers opting not to wear it, even when they know they should.

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That’s why the first determining factor for figuring out when a worker should be wearing a piece of PPE is the worker themselves.

If someone is wondering if they should or shouldn’t wear a piece of PPE in a particular situation, always err on the side of caution and instruct them to wear the protective device. It takes two seconds to put on a hard hat and just as few seconds to be struck on the head by a falling piece of debris. Educating and training your workers on the potential hazards of not wearing the right gear, is essential for maintaining a culture where safety first is ingrained.

Second, recognize that PPE is only supposed to be used as a last resort after you’ve eliminated as many hazards as possible.

Create a general worksite safety checklist and eliminate or reduce the risk of each of those items before implementing PPE devices. Once you’ve removed as many risks as possible, that’s when it’s time to think about finding PPE for the remaining worksite risks.

In addition to a safety checklist, ensure your workers have immediate access to all relevant safety documents, including OSHA handbooks and manuals. Having these documents readily available on mobile construction software, can also help avoid any potential legal fines during those “surprise” site visits.

Last, to officially determine whether or not workers need PPE, ask yourself if the environment someone is working in could cause damage to any of these five areas of the body:

  • Body: From extreme temperatures (cold or heat)
  • Lungs: From inhaling noxious chemicals or contaminated air
  • Skin: From touching corrosive equipment or materials
  • Head and FeetFrom falling debris and materials
  • EyesFrom dust, flying particles or splashes of liquid

If a worker is working in an area that could cause damage to any of those five areas of the body, they need the appropriate PPE devices.

How Do I Figure Out Which Devices I Need?

Using the wrong PPE equipment is as good as not using any personal protective device at all. For PPE to be effective, it needs to appropriately ward against the relevant hazards, fit the user correctly, and integrate effectually with other devices.

To determine which pieces of PPE are needed for a particular situation, consider the following questions:

  1. Who is being exposed to what?
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Different tasks require different types of PPE, but in some cases, your entire worksite might need a particular kind of equipment. For example, anyone working on a construction site could be hit by falling debris and needs to wear a hard hat. On the other hand, some people on that same jobsite may be working on the roof while others work on the ground. In that situation, only those workers stationed on the roof need fall arrest system PPE devices.

2. How long will they be exposed to the hazard?

Make sure the PPE device you’ve provided a worker for a given task will hold up for the entire duration of that task. If a worker is doing a welding project that lasts all day, a simple plastic face mask won’t hold up to 8+ hours of continuous heat. Instead, that worker needs a leather and glass or metal and glass face mask. Consider the amount of time a worker will be interacting with a hazard in order to equip them with the best possible PPE device.

3. How much of the hazard are they exposed to?

Construction worksites contain myriads of potential hazards, but just because someone is working on a site that has a particular hazard, that doesn’t mean they’ll be exposed to it for long enough to warrant the use of PPE.

After you compile a list of devices your crews need, take your worker’s measurements. An ill-fitting hard hat could cause headaches or heat exhaustion if it’s too tight, or fall off if it’s too loose.

Protective equipment only works when it fits correctly. What works for a male employee, may not work for a female worker. It’s critical to consider varying body types and sizes when choosing the right gear.

Relatedly, if a worker is wearing multiple types of PPE, make sure all the individual pieces fit well together. If a worker needs safety goggles and a respirator, a too-big respirator could push up the safety goggles, interfering with a worker’s field of vision. Make sure each piece of gear a worker wears functions in tandem with all of their equipment.

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Do I Need to Train My Employees on How to Use PPE?

In short, yes.

When a piece of PPE isn’t correctly used, it can’t do its job. For example, if a worker’s protective eyewear is sitting on top of their head all day rather than over their eyes, that protective eyewear has no value.

Training workers on why they should wear a particular type of PPE, the risks associated with not wearing that device, when the device should be used, and what the limitations of that device are should all be included in a comprehensive safety training program.

Also, it’s especially important to teach all workers the “golden rule” of just because a task “only takes a couple of minutes,” it doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear PPE.

A worker is just as likely to have a piece of concrete fly into their eyes whether they’re using a jackhammer for four hours or “only” four seconds.

What Do I Need to Do to Maintain My Devices?

It goes without saying that cleaning and storing PPE devices in dry, well-kept storage spaces are critical for device maintenance, but that isn’t where your maintenance process should end.

Thorough device maintenance entails regular inspections every day, twice a day: before a worker puts something on and when they take it off.

Construction work is physically taxing not just to worker’s bodies but also to equipment. A screw could come loose, or a cord could rip at any moment. Taking ten seconds to look over PPE devices for damage could be the difference between a solid day of work or a severe injury on the jobsite.

It’s also essential to keep replacement parts on hand at all times in case something breaks and to train workers on how to replace individual pieces of their PPE devices.

Set Your Project Up for Success with PPE Best Practices

Jobsites are full of hazards. Reducing dangers with the right processes and equipment will better ensure your workers can ultimately keep working, healthily and happily. The right gear is essential for keeping them safe and productive on projects. By adopting these PPE best practices, you increase your chances of getting the job done with less risk and costs.

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