The Importance of Periodically Reevaluating Your PPE
New equipment, products, or chemicals might make the PPE that was perfect last year less than ideal for what you're doing now. It's also worth asking if any new OSHA rules affect the PPE you choose.
- By M.B. Sutherland
- Jun 01, 2019
After all the work that goes into picking the best PPE to keep your workers safe, the last thing you probably want to do is repeat the process. But there are many important reasons to schedule a periodic review of the safety gear you’re using. It can keep your workers safer and more compliant and might even improve your safety program as a whole.
Innovations in Safety
Safety always comes first, so it's important to review the PPE you're using to see whether there's something that might protect even better. New innovations, improved technologies, and unique materials hit the market every year.
Manufacturers have begun creating gloves and other PPE with:
- higher cut resistance to meet the higher ANSI cut-levels that now go all the way up to A9
- better visibility, including high-vis safety gear with different colors and options to allow workers to be seen
- touchscreen compatibility so workers can keep their gloves on when using an iPad or phone—so no more forgetting to put them back on
- better palm coatings for extra grip and less mess
- customizable options and add-ons to meet more specific safety needs
Many of these weren't available even three years ago. So if you haven't taken a look at what’s new, you may not have the best protection. This is particularly important if your workers face extreme hazards or conditions, as manufacturers tend to focus on these areas to solve problems.
Innovations in Worker Comfort
Safer PPE can't help your workers if they won't wear it. That makes innovations in comfort just as important as safety developments to protect your people. Review your applications and ask your employees whether they have hand fatigue at the end of the day or whether they find that their PPE tends to trap moisture or heat. Advances in materials and construction keep workers more comfortable and more compliant than ever before through:
- mesh constructions and special venting that let heat and moisture dissipate
- lighter cut-resistant materials that create gloves with incredible dexterity and flexibility to avoid hand-fatigue
- coreless material infused with strength-enhancing micro-particles that allow workers with sensitive skin to avoid contact dermatitis
- impact gloves with better dexterity and movement
- low-profile impact gloves for lighter-duty jobs that require more flexibility
Changes to Your Applications or Environment
Periodic reviews aren't just about the PPE marketplace. If it's been a while since you reviewed your operations, it's possible things have changed. Have you implemented new:
- machinery or equipment in your plant that requires different protection
- items that add to hazards such as the noise level and might require better hearing protection
- internal rules or guidelines
- environments or job sites
- products you're manufacturing
- techniques that make the materials your workers handle more dangerous or harder to manipulate
- substances or chemicals that may require better gloves or full-body protection
Any of these might make the PPE that was perfect last year less than ideal for what you're doing now. It's also worth asking if any new OSHA rules affect the PPE you choose.
Normalization of Deviance
Periodic PPE reviews can even help with problem areas you may not have noticed. Do you find yourself issuing more reminders than you used to?
You might be falling victim to Normalization of Deviance.1 This happens when one worker begins to bend the rules. Other workers see that person slacking off on safety, and they think it's acceptable—so they start to mimic the behavior. Their bad example leads others to see it as normal and, before you know it, you're telling every other worker to wear their safety glasses. One way to break out of this pattern is to start fresh.
Review your PPE and ask your workers why they were reluctant to wear it in the first place. You might find that you have comfort or safety issues that you weren't aware of. Or it may be as simple as workers not liking the way they look in their gear.2 Getting worker buy-in to new PPE choices can eliminate many of your daily headaches.
Workers' Changing Needs
Ideally, we all want our workers to stick around. Training costs time and money, and there's no substitute for a veteran worker whom you can count on to know the ropes and do the job. But more years on the job mean more candles on the birthday cake, so it's important to review your PPE choices to be sure you're providing everything your aging workforce needs. This may include:
- prescription safety eyewear for workers who used to wear regular safety glasses but now need a little help with close or distant vision
- PPE with better dexterity and flexibility to reduce fatigue
- headsets to improve noise attenuation and sound quality in loud environments
Even younger workers might benefit from a periodic review if they have physical considerations such as back strain or other chronic pain.
Better Safe than Sorry
If you review your PPE choices and find that everything you're using is still a perfect fit, you've probably at least learned something from the extra check-in with your workers. But if you find that there's an issue you missed or some way you can do things better, you may have avoided an accident or injury. If you don't feel you have the time, consult a safety expert who can perform a thorough safety assessment.
Protecting your workers is too important to get by on good enough. Review your PPE to maximize your workers' safety!
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.