What to Look for in Head-to-Toe PPE Solutions
Selecting the right head-to-toe PPE solutions is the first step in keeping laborers safe in the most extreme conditions.
- By Jim Bailey
- Dec 02, 2019
From oil rigs to shipping docks, factory floors to refineries, the world’s laborers rely on head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe while working in some of the most extreme conditions on Earth. When it comes to selecting PPE, it’s critical to provide workers with effective solutions that will stand up against the hardest work, the highest safety standards and the best possible comfort while on the job.
Securing the ideal PPE for your specific working environment will not only help ensure that your workers are protected from injury, but it can also pay off in other ways, leading to improved employee morale, higher productivity and lower turnover for your company. Here are some pointers on what to look for when selecting PPE solutions, specifically for the safety of workers’ eyes, hands, bodies and feet.
Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection, according to OSHA. The majority of eye injuries result from small particles or objects striking or scraping the eye, such as dust, cement chips, metal slivers and wood chips. These materials are often ejected by tools, windblown or fall from above a worker.
OSHA’s eye protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.133, requires the use of eye protection when workers are exposed to eye hazards such as flying objects, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the organization that certifies eyewear. The ANSI eye standard, Z87.1-15, requires that the product must go through rigorous third-party testing, which simulates hazards such as impact by flying objects and debris, high mass impact, and sharp object penetration. In each testing scenario, the lenses and frame must stay intact to pass.
When selecting eye protection, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests identifying four factors: what kind of hazards the worker faces; how frequently the hazards are encountered; compatibility of eyewear with other face protection equipment, such as face masks, and compatibility with workers’ own eyeglasses or other types of visual aids needed when working on the job.
Depending on the job requirements, you may also want to identify specific safety hazards such as resistance to oil, grease, aromatic solvents or alkaline; whether workers need UV protection; as well as the product’s adjustability, which can add to the wearers’ comfort when selecting protective eyewear.
Other key attributes to look for in protective eyewear include:
- Absorbs 99.9 percent of harmful UV light
- Lenses are finished with an anti-scratch and anti-fog coating
- Curved lenses for a comfortable fit
- Made of 100 percent durable purity optical grade/polycarbonate
- Soft frame tips to aid in slip resistance, and a soft nose pad to ensure a snug fit
Finally, it will not matter if your eyewear passes all of the safety standards if they don’t fit properly because you still will be at risk for injury. When looking to find the perfect pair, it’s important to remember that there should be no uncomfortable pressure points, the nose piece should sit comfortably on the bridge of your nose, you should be able to see in all directions, the frames should sit close to your face without hitting your eyelashes, lenses should cover the eyebrows, and the eyewear should stay in place when you move your head around.
Hand injuries rank as the second leading cause of work-related injuries. Over 110,000 recorded lost-time hand injuries occur within the U.S. each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Protective gloves are among the most important kinds of personal protective equipment to include in a head-to-toe solution—yet 30 percent of hand injuries result from wearing the incorrect type of glove, according to the American Society of Safety Professionals. Gloves are often selected on price or appearance rather than on the assessment of hazards they can help prevent.
Conducting hand-hazard assessments in the workplace will help to identify areas of potential harm. Both internal and external teams can perform the assessments—this will allow your company to benefit from the knowledge, experience and awareness of the internal team, and to have a fresh set of eyes from a third party. When selecting gloves for your workers, key areas to address include the comfort and dexterity needed to perform the job functions, the amount of protection the gloves provide and the durability of the gloves in the long-term.
Specific types of gloves are available for a wide range of workplace environments including commercial and residential construction, light manufacturing, landscaping, material handling, warehousing, mechanical repair, oil and gas light duty, heavy manufacturing, and more. Your PPE solutions provider can advise you on the best model for the tasks required.
Even with proper training, employees who are required to wear specialized PPE for long, grueling hours might avoid wearing items they consider uncomfortable, which can put them in harm’s way. Recent innovations in garment materials now make it possible to meet the demand for more lightweight and comfortable safety garments that meet or exceed the safety standards achieved by their bulkier predecessors.
For example, people have become accustomed to wearing garments made of soft, breathable materials in their free time. Now these technological advances are making their way into workers’ safety garments. Certain kinds of coveralls are now made with conductive fibers that actively move heat away from the skin and create an instant cooling sensation—a distinct advantage for workers where they are exposed to excessive heat.
Other features to look for in safety garments, depending on workers’ needs, include flame resistance, water and wind resistance, oil resistance, welding protection, non-sparking zippers, electric arc flash technologies and anti-static properties. Also check for features that keep workers comfortable on the job, such as 360-degree shoulder movement and added venting.
It is important to understand the unique hazards of the job and find purpose-built footwear to protect your employees. Workers in industrial settings must have protective footwear according to OSHA. And while OSHA dictates the use of PPE, ASTM International (formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials) sets the performance requirements.
The most widely recognized safety footwear standard in the U.S. today is ASTM F2413-18. The ASTM F2413-18 standard contains basic requirements to assess footwear including:
- Impact resistance for the toe area
- Compression resistance for the toe area
- Metatarsal protection for the metatarsal bones at the top of the foot
- Conductive properties to reduce static electricity buildup and lower the possibility of ignition of explosives, volatile chemicals or fine particulates in the air
- Electric hazard protection when accidentally stepping on live electric wires
- Static dissipative properties to reduce hazards that result from a buildup of static charge where there is risk of accidental contact with live electrical circuits
- Puncture resistance (to protect the bottom of the foot) from sharp penetrating objects
Any safety footwear provider can claim its products are safe and offer the protective properties required for the task at hand, but it’s important to verify that they are ASTM-compliant. Make sure your provider has followed the current, most up-to-date testing and performance requirements and can provide a Certificate of Conformance.
What to Look for in a PPE Solutions Provider
Ensuring worker safety starts with finding a PPE provider that can provide complete and effective head-to-toe solutions. Here are some key signs that a potential candidate will be able to meet your workers’ needs.
Its product shipments are moving. While getting products to and from your operations can pose challenges, a provider should be able to ship PPE product to any location within a few days of being ordered.
It offers a wide variety of PPE. Your equipment provider should always have a breadth of products available. If it can supply a wide range of head-to-toe workwear offerings, it will minimize the time, money and energy you need to spend searching for solutions.
Its products meet or exceed evolving safety standards. Safety standards generally change every three to five years and provide a set of minimum requirements that PPE must pass during testing. The PPE partner should consistently update its assortment with the latest up-to-code, lab-tested and field-proven materials.
A solutions-first, product-second mindset. If a provider puts the emphasis on products more than the safety of your workers, it may not be the right fit for you. A good partner should form a close strategic relationship with you, help determine the biggest safety risks for your workers and provide ongoing solutions and education to mitigate those risks.
Reducing, rather than adding, more work for your company. The best providers simplify the entire process. Look for a provider that offers a digital platform that helps streamline the ordering process.
A true one-stop shop.
The provider can offer everything from original product designs and raw goods sourcing to quality manufacturing, testing, distribution and service. It is important for anyone responsible for workers’ health and safety to understand how to select the right PPE for the job. By knowing what to look for in head-to-toe PPE—and what you should expect from a qualified provider—you’ll be able to keep your focus on key business activities, and most importantly, keep your workers safe on the job.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.