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Why Should We Protect Ourselves With PPE?

The COVID-19 pandemic popularized the term PPE–earlier an oft-overlooked aspect by the general public when it comes to occupational safety.

Now, however, it is mandated by most employers, as well as governments around the world, that their employees use some form of PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, in the workplace.

What Exactly is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety:

“PPE is equipment worn by a worker to minimize exposure to specific hazards. Examples of PPE include respirators, gloves, aprons, fall protection, and full-body suits, as well as head, eye and foot protection. Using PPE is only one element in a complete hazard control program that would use a variety of strategies to maintain a safe and healthy environment.”

Thus PPE can be considered safety garments or gear that is worn in addition to work clothes or uniforms to protect the wearer from dangers in the workplace environment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States adds that PPE is necessary because “injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards.”

A joint report by the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization states that a total of 1.88 million deaths and 89.72 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) could be attributed to 41 pairs of occupational risk factors and health outcomes.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Who Should be Using PPE?

No job is free from risks but there are some professions where the risk of encountering these hazards substantially increases. Lately, PPE has been associated with the healthcare sector specifically. However, apart from medical personnel (doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers), here are some jobs that you may not have considered generally require PPE:

  • Construction
  • Mining
  • Manufacturing
  • Oil and gas engineers
  • Forestry
  • Utilities
  • Welding
  • Laboratory work
  • Painters
  • Masonry
  • Tile workers
  • Nail technicians 
  • Heavy machinery operators
  • Airport workers
  • Musicians
  • Event stewards
  • Electricians
  • Fire and rescue services
  • Kitchen staff
  • Emergency services
  • Security personnel
  • Truck drivers
  • Warehouse staff
  • Waste collectors
  • Traffic control staff
  • Tollbooth staff
  • Contractors
  • Delivery drivers

Each of these occupations has its unique risks and hazards. If you are working in any of the professions mentioned above, it becomes necessary to have protective gear on a daily basis and be well-trained in wearing and/or using it.

What Type of PPE Should You Use in Your Profession?

Levels of PPE

Personal protective equipment usually has four different levels depending on the nature of the risks involved.

1. Level A

This level deals with cases of respiratory, eye and skin exposure to corrosive chemicals and hazardous fumes, e.g. chlorine and ammonia.

Level A PPE includes:

  • Outer and inner chemical resistant gloves
  • Long pants made from chemical resistance materials
  • Chemical resistant boots
  • Totally encapsulated chemical- and vapor-protective suit
  • Filter respirators

2. Level B

This level of  PPE is used in critical situations such as contact with toxic gasses and fumes.

Here it becomes important to ensure equipment such as:

  • Positive pressure, full face-piece self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
  • Positive pressure supplied-air respirator with escape SCBA
  • Face shields
  • Outer chemical-resistant boots
  • Hooded chemical-resistant clothing

3. Level C

PPE Level B differs from Level C in that B deals with unknown toxic gasses and fumes, while C helps protect against known substances. Specific tools are employed to purify the air including:

  • Full-face air purifying masks
  • Biochemical resistance gear
  • Two-piece biochemical splash suit worn alongside chemical resistance clothing
  • Disposable biochemical resistance boots with reinforced steel toes
  • Hard hats

4. Level D

Level D PPE offers the least amount of protection. This level helps protect against chemical splashes, immersions, inhalation of toxic gasses, and skin exposure to harmful surfaces. Level D equipment includes:

  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Face shields
  • Coveralls
  • Chemical-resistant boots

Types of PPE

Head Safety PPE

  • Helmets
  • Bump caps
  • Accessories
  • Hard hats
  • Guards
  • Safety harness

Eye Protection PPE

  • Eye shields
  • Face shields
  • Over specs
  • Safety goggles
  • Visors

Ear Protection PPE

  • Earplugs
  • Earmuffs
  • Ear defenders
  • Noise meters
  • Acoustic foam

Respiratory PPE

  • Dust masks
  • Lightweight respirators
  • Powder respirators
  • Gas detectors
  • Filter respirators
  • Gas monitors

Limb and Back Safety PPE

  • Gloves
  • Safety footwear e.g. gumboots
  • Workwear e.g. overalls
  • Elbow and wrist support
  • Knee pads
  • Shin guards
  • Electrically conducting shoes
  • Back support

High-visibility Clothing

  • Fluorescent vests
  • Reflective jackets and coats
  • Overalls
  • Full body suit

Fall Protection Systems

  • Work restraint equipment
  • Work positioning equipment

PPE Benefits the Workforce and General Public

While it’s easy to understand why PPE is important in the event of direct injuries and illnesses, there are also several indirect ways PPE benefits the workplace and workforce.

Using PPE ensures the safety and wellbeing of employees leading to increased productivity and better quality of work.

Happy employees who are assured their companies care about their health and safety are also more likely to stay with the company.

By preventing illness and disability, PPE indirectly protects against unnecessary medical expenditure, costly insurance plans and early retirement.

This is not to say that personal protective equipment cannot be useful in your everyday life as well. Wearing masks and respirators not only reduces your risks of catching COVID-19 or other air-borne illnesses, but it also protects against environmental pollution and potential allergens.

PPE guarantees the safety of the wearer and also of the general public by preventing the spread of contagious diseases, thereby reducing risks of epidemics and pandemics. However, in order to achieve that target it’s important that everyone uses PPE and not just a select few individuals.

The Law Requires You to Wear It

You might not be aware that the country has certain laws for safety in the workplace which focus on the importance of PPE. Under these laws, employees are well within their rights to demand employers provide them with the right kind of PPE for their job or refuse to work.

In the same vein, employers can also penalize employees if they refuse to use PPE.

It is legally mandated that both employers and employees work in compliance with OH&S acts and regulations.

Personal protective equipment needs to be inspected regularly and if found defective, needs to be discarded.

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