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Here’s What to Do Before Buying PPE | 11th March 2019

Personal Protective Equipment or PPE is a must especially in hazardous work areas such as sites with chemicals and fumes, direct exposure to sunlight, elevation, limited visibility, strong or persistent noise and falling objects.

However, buying PPE should be treated as a last resort, an interim measure or as a back-up. That’s because the priority and focus should still be on eliminating the workplace hazards (making the site safe in the first place). Does this mean PPE is now unnecessary? The practical answer is that PPE works best if used along with other safety control measures.

Why PPE alone is not enough

The purpose of PPE is to further reduce risk to the workers’ health and safety. Hard hats, goggles, face masks, respirators, ear plugs, gloves, high visibility clothing, safety shoes and boots, safety harnesses and sunscreen are actually being used to protect the workers (and not to make the job site a safer workplace at all). This means the dangers in the area are still there. The difference is that with PPE, the workers get “shielded” from those dangers.

For instance, elevated job sites (e.g. construction sites, working on transmission towers) have inherent and natural risks with them. The risk of falls is always there no matter how sturdy and high quality the safety harnesses we use. Good thing is that the risks are being minimised and in addition, the workers can better focus on the task at hand (fewer worries about falling).

However, problems start to appear when we heavily rely on PPE. There’s still no replacement for adequate job training and eliminating the hazards in the first place. In our example above about working at elevated job sites, using the safety harnesses is not enough. The best thing and first step to do is to eliminate the hazards or postpone the work when the dangers are there (e.g. halt the work if it’s too windy or weather’s getting extreme).

It’s a similar case in chemical plants. No type of goggles, face masks and protective clothing can adequately protect workers from huge chemical leaks, fires and explosions. It’s best to prevent the occurrence of those emergencies or minimise their potential effects by isolating the areas of potential explosions (e.g. reaction vessels, storage areas of explosives).

Also, when these emergencies occur there is no time for committee meetings and office decisions. Correct and real-time decisions should be made at the lowest organizational level possible because the dangers can spread and get worse quickly. Because of the immediate and huge potential impact of chemical leaks and emergencies, it’s best to resort first on preventing those occurrences in the first place.

Workplace accidents have immediate effects to the workers (immediate harm to head, eyes, skin and other parts of the body). But what about the insidious hazards such as vapours and noise? Again, using PPE is not enough to protect workers from these insidious hazards. Enclosed spaces make the vapours concentrated and the employees might inhale dangerous amounts despite wearing face masks. It’s a similar case in job sites with high noise levels such as areas with construction activities and heavy traffic. Although workers can wear earplugs to protect themselves from the noise, the strong and frequent vibrations can still affect their health.

We also have to consider other personnel in the site’s vicinity. For instance, although most personnel won’t be directly operating the backhoe or jackhammer, still they can hear and feel the noise. If the area has noise levels higher than 85 decibels (approximately the loudness in areas with heavy traffic), damage to hearing starts to occur. It even gets worse (up to the point of possible loss of hearing) if the exposure is too long and frequent. Aside from damage to hearing, exposure to constant and excessive noise can also cause headaches, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, irritability and digestive disorders.

What to do before buying PPE

The thing about PPE is that it sounds optional and heavily depends on human behaviour and supervision. It’s possible that at any time a worker forgets to wear the hard hat or the goggles. In addition, the risks and dangers will always be there despite wearing the highest quality PPE. And in case of catastrophes, all the PPE including goggles, face masks, hard hats and protective clothing won’t be enough to save human lives.

As a result, the first step should be to identify and eliminate or minimise the hazards in the workplace. The use of PPE should be thought of as a back-up or last resort. This doesn’t mean though that you discard or forget about PPE. What this means is that we have to first think about the workplace and nature of work (and then identify and eliminate the hazards). This way we prevent the catastrophes and in case accidents occur, the effects will be minimal (and the effects will be further reduced because of the PPE).

Personal protective equipment still has its place in protecting the workers’ health and safety, which is why many of our clients (small businesses and multinational corporations) contact us here at All Trades Group for their requirements. We understand that your priority is protecting the workers and enabling them to focus on their tasks, which is why we share the same commitment by supplying only the highest quality PPE to our clients. Contact us today for more information.