In a recent Safety Office article in TRACKS, we explained the role of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in the hierarchy of controls. Although PPE is the last resort in controlling a hazard, it is widely used across the depot and other industrial sites because it is the most effective and most cost-efficient means of controlling a hazard.

If we cannot effectively eliminate the hazard, we implement controls that limit employee exposure. That is where PPE comes in, acting as a personal barrier between you and the hazard. Just like any other control, it must be used properly to effectively reduce the risk posed by the hazard.

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PPE comes in a wide variety of brands, uses and ratings, varying based on its intended use. Selection of this equipment may seem like a simple task, but there is a lot of research required in the selection process to ensure that employees are equipped with adequate protection. The depot performs very specialized operations that take a toll on the equipment that we use every day. Due to the extensive strain, the right equipment must be selected. Special considerations are taken by the Safety Office, Industrial Hygiene, and the Safety Supply Store to ensure the equipment selected will hold up to the work environment and tasks performed.

There is also a human factor involved after the equipment has been selected, and that is where the employee comes in. Many hours of work go into selecting, ordering and distributing PPE to our employees. All that work is useless if the PPE is not worn properly or not worn at all.

The depot has many processes in which specialized equipment is needed to adequately protect employees such as respirators, welding hoods and blast suits Perception could lead you to believe that proper PPE use is only important on a task requiring specialized equipment, but the reality is no matter if you work on a job where specialized equipment is required or a job where only normal equipment is required, proper use of PPE is crucial to your individual safety. Many injuries that we see across the depot, such as hand injuries, could have easily been prevented by utilizing proper PPE.

Every employee also has the additional responsibility of ensuring PPE is maintained in a safe and functional condition. Wearing damaged or excessively worn PPE can pose the same hazard as not wearing it at all.

Shops utilizing specialized equipment may have additional requirements for cleaning and storage of PPE due to hazards caused by heavy metals or other conditions. Shops that only require normal PPE such as safety shoes, safety glasses, and earplugs must also ensure that PPE is properly maintained and stored. Safety shoes should be inspected periodically to ensure that they offer adequate support for the long workday, that the sole is not excessively worn, and the safety toe is not exposed. Safety glasses should not be broken or modified in any way and should fit firmly on the employee’s face. Gaps larger than a pencil eraser at the bottom corners and across the top of the frame do not adequately protect the employee from potential debris and should be repaired or replaced. Earplugs must be properly inserted in the ear to adequately protect employees from exposure to hazardous noise levels. The Safety Supply Store has several options for glasses and earplugs to ensure employees get the correct fit.

PPE may seem like a simple subject, but it is a process that involves input from many different areas. It is very simple to use, but it is also easily misused, which can and has resulted in serious injury.

PPE is the last line of defense between you and a hazard after all engineering controls have been implemented. Specialized equipment is constantly working throughout the day to protect you from hazardous exposure, but simple equipment such as safety glasses is there to protect you when you least expect it. Select PPE that fits to keep you from suffering an injury.