Personal protective equipment (PPE) consists of specialized clothing or equipment that is worn to protect against safety and health hazards. Properly used, PPE protects the body and its parts (eyes, ears, face, head, hands, etc.) from potential harm and damage caused by work conditions. PPE can also protect against acute and chronic illness, and may even save lives.
It is important to note that PPE does not eliminate hazardous conditions. Rather, it is intended to protect the user from the hazardous effects related to exposure. Improperly used, maintained or faulty equipment will allow a worker to be exposed to such hazards and will offer little to no protection.
Before deciding which PPE should be used, it is important to conduct a hazard assessment to determine the nature and level of exposure. For farmers and gardeners, this may be as simple as reviewing the tasks at hand and selecting the most appropriate PPE.
The best defense against injury is to eliminate the hazard and the need to use PPE. The following are recommended control strategies to prevent injuries.
This strategy involves physically changing the machine or work environment to prevent exposure to the hazard and could include creating a physical barrier between the worker and the hazard or selecting an alternative product that is less hazardous or toxic.
This strategy involves training workers to perform work properly, thus reducing potential exposure and hazards. Training can range from self-education through reading various safety publications, to a more formal setting involving employees and training programs. Periodic reviews should be conducted to identify any new hazards or features and to make sure workers do not grow complacent while performing day-to-day tasks. Reviewing how or when a task is performed can help reduce exposures related to fatigue, ignorance or lack of direction.
Choosing Personal Protective Equipment
PPE is the last line of hazard control if the previous control strategies cannot be accomplished. Once hazard assessments have been completed and unnecessary hazards have been reduced or eliminated, it is time to select the appropriate PPE to best protect the worker from the intended exposure. In order for personal protective equipment to perform as it was intended, it is critical that PPE is properly selected, used, maintained and disposed of after its useful life.
Know Your Rights
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has specific guidelines and standards that must be followed. OSHA’s mission is to ensure a safe, healthful workplace by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach and education. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for following these standards. Those interested in learning more about specific OSHA standards are encouraged to research the wealth of information provided through print and electronic media.