What I didn't know about PPE


What I didn't know about PPE


The provision and use of personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) is so common in the workplace these days that most of us don’t give it much thought.

Of course, the purpose of PPE is to protect us from exposure to some particular hazard, which it can’t do if we have the incorrect type of PPE, don’t use it or have poor fitting PPE.

Is your vapour filter type A, B, E or K? What is each type of vapour filter designed for?

Is your “dust” filters type P1, P2 or P3? If you do know the type of filter you have what is the difference?

Notwithstanding the above examples, which highlight many of us do not know the capabilities, limitations or control options with PPE, experience tells us that the biggest issue with PPE is not that it won’t work, but often it is not used correctly.

Looking at the three (3) main issues for PPE broadly:

  • Right type of PPE for task
  • Correct fit
  • Used correctly

The first point requires an understanding of; the capabilities, limitations and control options with PPE We recommend you complete an assessment for each work area of the identified contaminant(s) and document the correct type, or types, of PPE which will satisfy the protection requirements.

Many of us have in the past ignored the possibility that PPE may not deliver the required level of protection due to poor fit e.g. loose mask around the face. This is what we traditionally call the “illusion of safety”. It looks OK from a distance, but the closer you get the more problems you can see.

How long do filters last?

Some people only replace filters when they smell contaminants inside the mask. Is this OK or not? We also notice a lot of respirators are left lying on work benches when not used, and people don’t realise they are absorbing contaminants and possibly contaminating the inside of the respirator.

How do you check if a respirator fits?

Most respirator users never formally do a fit test to confirm it actually does the job it is designed to – protect the wearer from harmful levels of exposure.

Remember - If the vapour, gas, fume or dust is harmful enough to require a respirator it is important enough to do a fit test.

Now let’s look at hearing protection

As with respiratory hazards we need to follow the same principle to ensure protection for wearers.

So which type of hearing protection attenuates best?

  • Ear Muffs or
  • Ear Plugs?

In the past we could only validate ear muffs so many safety professionals insisted on ear muffs in order to deliver a quantifiable level of protection. Today, it is possible to validate the level of protection provided by ear plugs in the ear channel. When fitted correctly, results show that they provide a higher level of protection* than earmuffs. Interesting!

But what if your team need to communicate regularly while wearing hearing protection? Good suppliers now provide a number of good solutions with microphones and automatic electronic attenuation of noise inside the muffs.

Well at least eye protection should be simple?

Recent studies* show 42% of workers who sustained eye injuries were wearing eye protection. This suggests incorrect type of eye protection or incorrect fit. * Per 3M.

An engineering consultancy group some years ago introduced “double eye protection” and claimed a year later that they had not experienced any further eye injuries after the introduction of this rule. 3M suggest focusing on keeping the gaps around the face to less than 6mm might deliver a similar result (to double eye protection).

If you would like to hear more about the common mistakes and tips for effective PPE programs then come along to our next Breakfast Briefing (changed to) Wednesday 30th July 2014. We are fortunate to have the 3M team available to lead us on an interesting presentation on PPE and the various solutions developed by 3M. Note: 3M will not be selling anything as 3M do not have retail stores, but you can better understand what to look for at your local PPE store.

Book you place early by emailing enquiries@safetyaction.com.au or T: 03 9690 6311.

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