What’s new in personal protective equipment (PPE)
A wide range of personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to protect head, hands and feet, on the jobsite, and there’s specific PPE to protect a worker’s sight, hearing and breathing. But it isn’t enough to use what you’ve always used. New research, advancements in materials and an ongoing desire by PPE manufacturers to provide more comfortable, more effective protection are resulting in new PPE choices you should consider. Check what’s new in personal protective equipment.
Head and eye PPE
Protection is the number one consideration with personal protective equipment (ppe) eyewear and it should always meet or exceed the ANSI Z87.1–2010 standard. However, manufacturers of PPE eyewear are introducing products that fit the job and the user better so safety glasses, goggles and face shields will get used. Keep in mind, premium safety eyewear offers real advantages that far exceed any small differences in price, so let that be your buying guide.
Manufacturers realize that to get workers to use eye protection it should be comfortable and stylish, so greater efforts are being made to make glasses, for example, more appealing to the wearer. Lenses are stronger and optically correct – including prescription lenses. And frames are designed so the wearer feels not only assured of protection but also content with the design of the frames and side protection.
Since eye protection is often accompanied by a hard hat, it’s important the two work well together. Any hard hat should have built-in adjustability for a head-hugging fit but newer designs also have slots to accept accessories. Adaptors or “blades” fit into slots in the hard hat to allow you to add a visor. This allows the wearer to adjust the position of the face shield nearer to or farther from the face, minimizing fogging on visors. This also makes it easy to move the face shield above the hard hat when it isn’t needed.
The condition of a hard hat is critical. Over time and with hard use, the surface can become crazed with small cracks, weakening the hat. In addition, exposure to ultra violet (UV) rays from the sun can change the structure of the material, making it brittle and less likely to provide adequate protection. Earlier this year, a company introduced a hard hat with a sensor pigment in the hard shell. The sensor changes color from red to white as the hard hat is exposed to UV light, indicating when it’s time to replace it.
Hearing protection is often used with a hard hat, and a well-designed combination will allow the worker to adjust ear protection. Ear protectors should be possible to move up or down for a better fit, or moved on top of the hard hat when not in use. The advantage is that they’re easily available when required, increasing the chance they’ll be used when necessary.
Some of the newer hearing protection devices include noise-cancelling technology that effectively eliminates machinery noise. This technology greatly attenuates the constant rush of noise, while allowing the wearer to hear instructions and warnings. The noise cancellation is highly responsive and can deal with sudden load noises, as well as background noise.
Ryobi Tek4 Audio Plus Noise Suppression Headphones use noise-cancelling technology, as well as speech amplification technology to enhance close-range conversations. An auxiliary input allows you to use the wireless headphones with iPods, MP3 players and similar sound devices.
Many jobsite situations can be hazardous to the lungs, and so required breathing protective equipment, ranging from a simple face mask to a full respirator. As with other PPE, it is essential that the equipment matches the hazard. A contractor performing varied tasks should have a variety of disposable masks and a respirator available. A general-purpose respirator will have replaceable cartridges and filters and can be a half mask over the nose and mouth or a full face respirator that includes a visor for eye protection, as well.
Hand protection is critical on many jobsites. Injuries to hands, wrists and fingers account for the second-highest number of workplace injuries. While most of those injuries are a result of not wearing gloves at all, 30 percent occur because the gloves being worn were “inadequate, damaged or wrong for the type of hazard present,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To improve fit and encourage use, glove manufacturers are working to increase dexterity by designing gloves that use layers of materials. This move to layered construction has resulted in a high-performance glove that is similar to a mechanics-style glove. It reduces the bulk of the glove, making them more comfortable to wear, while providing the needed protection.
Protecting hands from harsh or corrosive chemicals is critical. Thin surgical-style gloves are available that protect hands from lubricating oil or hydraulic fluid, for example. The gloves are usually available in multipacks so a torn glove can be easily replaced. Using them keeps hands clean, too, resulting in less use of potentially harmful soaps or cleaning solutions. These thin skin protectors can also be worn inside other more absorbent gloves for additional protection.
Work boots should protect toes, arches and ankles, and have a non-slip sole that also prevents punctures. But today’s work boots do more. For example, toe caps for work boots, which were once made of steel, are available in aluminum and some are even with composites. These new toe caps reduce weight and make the boots less cumbersome.
Work boots should have an abrasion-resistant mesh upper lining, a cushioned removable footbed, an impact-resistant lining, and an oil and slip-resistant rubber outsole. They should also have a label that says they are ASTM rated.
And while most work boots are certainly rugged looking, they don’t have to be. Some of the premium cowboy boot manufacturers now offer tooled cowboy boots in a variety of colors with built-in toe protection and other safety features.
The bottom line on PPE is worker preference. If they don’t like the type of protection – if it’s uncomfortable, doesn’t fit well, or is impractical – they won’t wear it. And if they don’t, they ’re an accident waiting to happen.
—By Steve Sturgess