There is hardly anyone in the United States and around the world who has not heard of the acronym PPE. PPE is short for Personal Protection Equipment.
In the age of COVID-19 we all know the importance of face covering, or masks and face shields. We are also encourage to use gloves, hand sanitizers, along with regular hand washing.
The shortage of PPE was a common news headline at the beginning of this pandemic especially affecting first responders and health workers. Thankfully the shortages lessen as production of these items ramped up in every corner of the globe.
When this pandemic is finally behind us the masks and gloves may not be our first day to day priority but PPE’s will continue to make a difference between life and death for many occupations and such as construction, commercial, and industrial industries.
Safety and PPE are synonymous. One does not exist without the other. Head, hand, eye and foot protection are the basic four criteria for protecting the construction worker and others in industries where physical injury is a concern.
Personal protective clothing and equipment are to be designed with safety in mind. They are to consider the work to be performed and must be kept maintained in good condition, sanitary, and without defects. PPE must meet NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and/or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards. Those recommended standards have been incorporated by statute into the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules and regulations.
As of the date of this writing we see some of the four basic PPE regulations:
A) Eye and Face Protection – ANSI Z87.1-1989 – Our faces have some of the most delicate parts of our body, especially the eyes. A nose can be repaired, teeth can be replaced with implants but currently medicine does not have the technology to give our site back once it is lost.
Eye and face protection must be suitable for the type of work being done. There are four basic eye and face protection gear as follows:
- Single Lens Goggles – Vinyl framed goggles of soft pliable body are designed to provide adequate eye protection from a variety of hazards. The goggles are generally averrable with clear or tinted lenses, perforated, port vented, or non-vented frames. Single lens goggles proved similar protection to spectacles and may be worn in combination with spectacles or corrective lenses.
- Welders/Chippers Goggles – They are available in rigid and soft frames to accommodate single or two eyepiece lenses. Welders goggles provide protection from sparking, scaling, or splashing metals and harmful light rays. Lenses are impact resistant and are averrable in graduated shades of filtration. Chippers/Grinders goggles provide eye protection from flying particles. The dual protective eye cups house impact resistant clear lenses with individual cover plats.
- Face Shields – Generally face shields consist of an adjustable headgear and face shield of clear or tinted acetate or polycarbonate materials, or wire screen. They are can be ordered in various sizes, tensile strength, impact and heat resistance and light ray filtering capability. Face shields will be used in operation when the entire face needs protection and should be worn to protect the entire face against flying particles, metal sparks, and chemical/biological splash. It is important to note that the type of face shield currently seen on television, internet advertisers, and other media for COVID-19 face protection should not be used for any other purpose. Meaning, they are not designed for protection from flying particles generated by construction, commercial, and industrial operations.
- Welding Shields – The welding shield is generally manufactured from vulcanized fiber or glass finer body, a ratchet/button type adjustable headgear or cap attachment and a filter and cover plate holder. The shield is designed to protect the welder’s eyes and face from infrared or radiant light burns, flying sparks, metal spatter and slag chips which are byproducts of welding, brazing, soldering, resistance welding, bare or shielded electrical arc welding and oxyacetylene welding and cutting.
Many of the eye protection equipment can be designed with corrective lenses built in. However, keep in mind that it is generally less expensive to replace a damage goggle or shield with standard lenses versus ones that require a doctor’s prescription.
B) Head Protection – ANSI Z89.1-1986 – The basic principal of head protection is to reduce the possibility of an injury due to falling, or flying objects, and bumping the head against a fixed or moving object. The head protection, often referred to as the hard hat, need to be designed such as the shell of the protective hat is hard enough to resist the blow and the headband and crown straps keep the shell away from the wearer’s skull. Such hats when property chosen can also protect against electrical shock.
There are five basic categories of head protection as follows:
- Type I hard hats are intended to reduce the force of impact resulting form a blow only to the top of the head
- Type II hard hats are intended to reduce the force of lateral impact resulting from a blow which may be received off-center, from the side, or to the top of the head.
- Class E (Electrical) hard hats are designed to reduce exposure to high voltage conductors and offer dielectric protection up to 20,000 volts (phase to ground). This is for head protection only
- Class G (General) hard hats are designed to reduce exposure to low voltage conductors and offer dielectric protection up to 2,200 volts (phase to ground). This is for head protection only
- Class C (Conductive) hard hats differ from their counterparts in that they are not intended to provide protection against contact with electrical conductors and may include vented options.
C) Foot Protection – ANSI Z41.1-1991- Safety shoes are to be worn in the shops, warehouses, maintenance, cage wash, glassware, and construction sites. Safety shoes or boots with impact protection are required to be worn in work areas where carrying or handling materials such as packages, objects, parts or heavy tools, which could be dropped. Also, for other activities where objects might fall onto the feet. They are also to be worn where skid trucks, manual or power pallet jacks or other such material handling equipment where such equipment has a potential of rolling over the operator’s feet. They also protect against penetration of the shoe or boot sole from penetrations by sharp objects.
D) Hand Protection: There are no current ANSI standards for gloves, however, selection must be based on the performance characteristics of the glove in relation to the tasks to be performed such as:
- Natural Rubber – Used against alcohol, dilute water solutions and fair against aldehydes and ketones. Disadvantages: Poor vs. oils, greases, organics. If imported may be of poor quality.
- Natural Rubber Blends – Used against same as Rubber. Disadvantages: Physical properties frequently inferior to natural rubber.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – Used against Strong acids and bases, salts, other water solutions, and alcohol. Disadvantages: Plasticizers can be stripped. If imported may be of poor quality.
- Neoprene – Used against Oxidizing acids, anilines, phenol, glycol ethers.
- Nitrile – Used against Oils, greases, aliphatic chemicals, xylene, perchloroethane. Fair against toluene. Disadvantages: Poor vs. benzene, methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, and many ketones.
- Butyl – Used against Glycol ethers, ketones, and esters. Disadvantages: Expensive and poor vas hydrocarbons, and chlorinated solvents.
- Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) – Used against Aliphatics, aromatics, chlorinated solvents, ketones (except acetone), esters, and ethers. Disadvantages: Very expensive, water sensitive, poor against light alcohols.
- Fluro-elasomer (Viton)™ (Trademark of DuPont Dow Elastomers) – Used against Hazmat work and has excellent chemical resistance. Disadvantages: Poor fit, easily punctures, poor grip, and stiff.
As can be seen above glove selection can be somewhat complex. There are 97 common chemicals that are generally used in various construction, commercial, and industrial settings. In addition, there are a variety of other industries such a medical and cosmetics which have their own unique hazards to consider when choosing hand protections.
The above discussed items are only the basic four and there are certainly more PPE’s to consider such as fall protection when discussing specific operations.
Humans are delicate forms of nature. We have sensitive skin, eyes, face, arms, legs, feet, and body. Personal protective equipment does not guarantee that all injuries can be eliminated but we can reduce the risk of an injury and death by using these widely available basic protective equipment.