Every job is easier and safer with the right tools - and attitude - at hand
Safety equipment is about much more than personal protective equipment (PPE) - the hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs and brightly colored vests your workers wear (or should be wearing).
After all, neither the company, nor your workers, should rely on PPE for complete protection from hazards.
Controlling hazards requires a multi-faceted approach that includes implementing engineering controls and machine guards, as well as developing and using best practices and procedures for workplace safety.
Providing the right safety equipment, as well as ensuring there is enough equipment to go around and that it's in the best working order is a key responsibility of management at your company.
Message to management from safety equipment makers
Dan Shipp, President of the Industrial Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) puts it this way: "An employer's failure to provide workers with PPE, and make sure they wear it, is a mistake that gambles with employees' safety and health, with the bottom line and potentially with the company's future."
Manufacturer members of ISEA produce safety equipment for head, eye and face, respiratory, hearing, hand and fall protection; environmental monitoring instruments; safety warning signs and symbols; emergency eyewashes and showers; first aid kits; clean room garments; and safety clothing.
ISEA notes on its web site that safety equipment "offers clear bottom-line benefits to employers."
As well as saving lives and limbs, ISEA notes that the use of personal protective equipment can save hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lost-time injuries. "For example," ISEA observes, "road construction companies pay out $17 million more for eye and face injuries yearly than it would cost to protect hazard-exposed workers with safety glasses."
PPE mandates for bosses and workers
As an employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that you
- perform a hazards assessment of the workplace
- identify and provide personal protective equipment to employees
- train employees in the use and care of PPE
- maintain PPE, including replacing worn or damaged safety equipment
- review, update and evaluate the effectiveness of your company's PPE program.
And workers must
- wear their PPE as necessary and as demonstrated
- attend training sessions on personal protective equipment
- care for, clean and maintain their PPE
- inform a supervisor if their safety equipment needs repair or replacement.
Personal protective equipment must meet, or be equivalent to, standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Even when the PPE is provided by the worker, the employer needs to ensure that it complies with OSHA regulations and ANSI standards.
Types of personal protective equipment
PPE includes a broad range of safety gear and apparel that includes, but is not limited to
- eye protection such as safety glasses and goggles
- face shields
- masks, including gas masks and dust masks
- hard hats
- helmets, masks and gloves for welding
- body armor
- safety harnesses
- knee, wrist and back supports
- work gloves, including nitrile and latex gloves.
- steel-toed shoes and work boots
- noise control devices
- coveralls and aprons.
Beyond the PPE that your workers wear, there exists a range of safety equipment employed to protect everyone in the workplace from injury or death:
- machine guards and barricade tape
- fire extinguishers
- flame / fire retardants
- devices for spill containment
- systems for air filtration and water filtration
- leak detectors
- first aid kits
- alarm monitoring systems and window film for security purposes
- environmental chambers for testing substances and equipment.
Beyond the PPE and devices mentioned here, safety equipment also encompasses safety materials that are used in many different applications. The most predominant safety materials are leather and three synthetic materials: Nomex, Tyvek and Kevlar.
These materials are highly valued because of their protective traits, such their ability to withstand high temperatures and their flame retardance, chemical resistance and tear resistance.