PPE is there to protect us but we often choose not wear it because of the hassle or the feeling that it really isn’t that necessary. But PPE is important and it must be used not only for legal reasons but for our own safety and wellbeing.
PPE is important in the workplace as it reduces the risk of harm in dangerous circumstances. But PPE on its own is not the whole solution. It is just one part of a wider workplace hazard control system. A combination of controls, which includes PPE, come together to create a safe work place.
So what is PPE, why is it so important, and what else should we be doing to keep ourselves safe?
Why is PPE important?
PPE is important because if all else fails, it is you personal final defence. Hang on a minute you say. PPE keeps me safe. It has to be the first defence! A lot of people think like this, but are wrong. They think that personal protective equipment will stop them from getting hurt, or stop them from getting sick.
If you don’t have the right controls in place, PPE can give you a false sense of security. It is important to know that PPE can not guarantee that you won’t get hurt, or you won’t get sick. PPE is there as a last attempt to protect you when all the other safety controls have failed. When all else fails PPE steps up to save the day (hopefully). And that is the key point… if the PPE fails you will be exposed to the hazard.
What is meant by hierarchy of controls?
The hierarchy of controls is a widely accepted five step system for controlling occupational risks in the workplace. They are listed in order of importance:
- Elimination: Remove the hazard
- Substitution: Replace the hazard with a less hazardous solution
- Engineering controls: Isolate people from the hazard
- Administrative controls: Change the processes to reduce the risk
- Personal protective equipment: Provide safety clothing to protect them in the event of a hazard.
How to use the hierarchy of controls
Employers, managers and safety officers can all use the hierarchy of controls to make the workplace as safe as possible. The most effective solution is to remove the hazard entirely. If you can’t do that you need to try and lessen the risk by following the steps in order, down to the last step which is PPE. As the hierarchy of controls lists the steps in order of importance, it is simple to use the model.
So if PPE is the last resort, is PPE effective?
So you have probably got a fair idea of the answer to this by now. Yes, PPE is effective when it is used properly, but it does have limitations and can fail. You are safest when there are a range strategies in place to create a safe environment as well as using PPE.
Why is PPE important in construction?
Even though we think of doctors wearing isolation gowns and masks, the health sector is not the only industry heavily relying on PPE. In Australia, industries that regularly buy protective equipment in Australia are mining, construction, meat processing, welding, painting, and emergency services.
Like the healthcare sector, these industries tend to have a higher number of potential hazards. While they may not be a viral or bacterial hazards like in healthcare. The hazards in these industries can cause lifelong health implications, and even death, if not properly managed.
Hazards are not always obvious. There are some you can’t even see! For example, fine particulate dusts breathed in can cause long term health issues like silicosis. Debris from cutting or grinding can shoot out at high speed and damage your eye. What if that brick falls from the scaffolding even though there are toeboards in place? I would not want that landing on my head.
While at work everyone has a right to be as safe as possible. So employers must put in safety controls to reduce risk to an acceptable level. These measures usually include providing PPE to their employees.
How many types of PPE are there?
PPE is available to protect virtually any part of the body. But there is a bare minimum of PPE that is often required onsite. This is known as the 5 points of PPE.
Personal Protective Equipment list for Construction
While this is not a complete list, it covers the most common personal protective equipment for construction, mining and other industries.
- Head protection eg. hard hats and helmets
- Face masks: eg. nuisance masks, P2 respirators
- Protective Eyewear eg. safety glasses, goggles, and visors
- Hand protection eg. disposable gloves and contractor gloves
- Foot protection eg. steel cap boots
- Body protection eg. coveralls, hi vis clothing, harnesses
- Hearing protection eg. earplugs and earmuffs
Why are hard hats important?
Hardhats are perhaps, the most easily identifiable piece of construction PPE gear. Australian regulations state that hard hats must be worn on sites when there is a risk of being hit on the head, whether by falling objects or from a collision with a fixed object.
Hard hats are important because they give your head and face some protection from hazards that you might not know are coming your way. Falling tools and materials, a side strike to your head, deflecting objects, and resistance to penetration. There is also the chance that you could fall from heights. These are all reasons why, if an accident is to occur, you want a hard hat on your head.
The internal suspension system of the hard hard really absorbs the shock of heavy objects. If a brick is to fall on your head, it might not stop you from getting injured. But it could lessen your injuries and save your life.
What do the different colours of hard hats mean? The hardhat colours most people are familiar with are yellow and orange. This is because these colours are worn mostly by employees doing general construction labour. You will often see supervisors, engineers and architects wearing a white hard hat. And I am sure a red hard hat reminds you of our firefighters.
Why is it important to wear safety glasses?
We take our vision for granted most days, but just think how your life would change if one day you went to work and got a permanent eye injury. Could you do your job if you lost your sight?
This is why it is so important to protect your eyes on the construction site. PPE such a safety glasses, goggles, visors and face shields are all options that can help protect your face and eyes from injury.
There are just so many opportunities during cutting, drilling, welding and grinding where a rogue piece of debris can flick into your eye at high speed. In fact Safework Australia says that there are approximately 500 admissions to hospital a year due to eye injuries occurring in the work place.
What level of hearing protection do I need??
A construction site can be a very loud environment to work in. You should have hearing protection in circumstances where noise levels may exceed 85 decibels.
Jackhammers, heavy machinery, hammers, loud crashes and bangs are all instances where you should be wearing hearing protection.
Not all people realise that the daily impact of noise all can add up over time. This means, that a noisy workplace day after day can cause a loss of hearing and other adverse health effects
But wearing earplugs and earmuffs also comes with challenges. While it is important to protect your hearing, it is also hard to operate and potentially dangerous if you are unable to hear what’s going on around you.
The great thing these days, is that you can get electric earmuffs. These amplify low level sounds so you can easily hear conversations and carry on as normal. And when the earmuffs sense that the noise is at dangerous levels, it shuts off the amplifier, and you are left with the standard protection of the earmuffs.
The importance of wearing gloves
The construction site provides plenty of hazards that can harms your hands and wearing proper gloves might be the only thing between you and a trip to the hospital.
Specialised jobs call for specialised protection. Heavy-duty nitrile gloves are necessary for working with concrete and brick. Welding gloves, of course, are for welding, and insulated gloves and sleeves should be utilised by anyone working with live electricity. Steel mesh gloves can do a lot to protect hands from cutting accidents.
Why you should wear safety boots
We really take our work boots for granted when we slip them on our feet each morning. They are working tirelessly to protect our feet all day. There are just so many hazards on a job site that are deflected by our trusty work boots.
There is no denying that it’s going to be a much worst result if you step on a nail without a puncture resistant sole. Or if you roll your ankle without a sturdy ankle support. Not to mention the damage caused and the pain you would be in, if an object falls on your toes without your steel cap boots. Insulated soles can also provide protection against electrical injury from downed wires
How does high vis work?
Hi Vis clothing has become an industry norm for workplaces with hazards from moving vehicles, equipment or other high-risk situations.
The fluorescent colour of protective clothing makes a bold statement. It is such a bold statement that it is scientifically proven to make you more visible to moving vehicles or machinery.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays actually react with the fluorescent colours. Even in the poor light of early mornings, a Hi Vis vest will still make your more visible. Add the reflective strips, and you are increasing your odds of being seen day and night.
The future of PPE in Australia
Currently the biggest organisations in Australia manufacturing personal protective equipment are Wesfarmers Limited, 3M, and Brady Australia Holdings.
The safety equipment market is thought to rise in the next 5 years. The recent global complications of importing vital PPE has demonstrated not having local manufacturing options puts Australia at risk in pandemic situations.
In early 2020, the Australian Government has been advertising for Australian businesses to let them know what PPE they are able to manufacture locally. I expect to see more and more manufacturing to occur on home soil.
What does PPE stand for?
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It encompasses a range of safety clothing that provides some protection from of hazards such as injury or infection. PPE is also known as the last control or last resort of the hierarchy of hazard controls.
What are the advantages of PPE?
The main two advantages of PPE is that it
1. provides you personal protection when all the other safety controls have failed, and
2. while you may not have control or visibility over other safety precautions in place, you have personal control over what PPE you wear.
What are some Personal Protective Equipment examples?
1. Head protection e.g. hard hats and helmets
2. Hearing protection e.g. earplugs and earmuffs
3. Respiratory protection: e.g. nuisance masks, P2 respirators
4. Eye and face protection e.g. safety glasses, goggles, and visors
5. Foot protection e.g. steel cap boots
6. Hand protection e.g. disposable gloves and contractor gloves
7. Body protection e.g. coveralls, high visibility clothing, fire retardant clothing, harnesses