January, with its New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more, is focused on personal health. For all of us at CHA, health and safety are critically linked, so while we’re focused on lifestyle changes to better our physical wellbeing and health, we suggest making another resolution to evaluate and address workplace health and safety. Now is the perfect time to assess your gear and replace old or damaged work equipment before the major construction season begins in the spring.
Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Instilling a culture of safety that permeates throughout an entire company—no matter how small or large—creates a safer workplace and ultimately improves the bottom line. In achieving this goal, personal protective equipment (PPE) is vital to maintaining a safe working environment—and saving lives. PPE is gear workers wear to protect themselves from falling or moving objects, gases, loud noises, burns, shocks, and other life-threatening hazards that are unable to be removed or mitigated through other means. The type of required PPE is determined by the hazards and potential hazards identified during a site characterization and analysis. The severity and presence of hazards drastically influences the gear you need, from safety glasses to flame-resistant clothing.
At CHA we require our employees to always wear an appropriate level of PPE. CHA’s minimal level of PPE for all site work includes a hard hat, safety glasses, and work boots, with high visibility vests, ear plugs, and work gloves provided and to be used as needed. Other types of PPE also must be worn to protect against significant hazards.
Respiratory Protective Equipment
Respirators protect against inhaling dangerous airborne containments. Respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)/Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) should be used when necessary, including when working in oxygen deficient environments or environments containing toxic vapors, fumes or dust. Before wearing a respirator, you’ll need to meet physical requirements and complete training on how to use it properly. No unkempt beards either! A clean or partially shaven face is needed to facilitate a good seal on the face and prevent leaks.
Eye Protective Equipment
Safety glasses and eye protection must comply with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards. Well-fitted, overall-type goggles and/or a face shield needs to be worn whenever near chipping, chiseling, grinding, wire brushing, heavy hammering, or any other activity where there is a greater likelihood of an eye injury. UV safety glasses can also be worn when bright sunlight presents a hazard.
Foot Protective Equipment
All personnel need to wear at least ankle length work boots on a construction site or during field data collection activities. Leave the flip flops at home—sandals and athletic shoes are not allowed.
Hearing Protective Equipment
Ear plugs, headphones or other suitable hearing protection should be worn in areas of moderate, extreme or long-term noise. Hearing protection should always be worn where noise is above 85 decibels. If you must shout to be heard by someone 5 feet away, the noise level is above 85 decibels.
Hand Protective Equipment
Always wear gloves when handling objects or substances that could cut, tear, burn, or injure the hand in any way. Gloves should also be inspected for defects—holes, tears, cuts, etc.—before each use.
Head Protective Equipment
Hard hats are a standard on every construction site. This protective head gear is divided into two types: Type I protects only the top of the head, and Type II protects both the top and sides of the head. Hard hats are further classified according to the type of electrical protection they provide to the head. Class C (Conductive) Hard Hats offer protection against impact and penetration, but they do not protect against electrical hazards. Class G (General) Hard Hats, however, protect not only against impacts and penetration but also exposure to low-voltage conductors (2,200 volts). Class E (Electrical) Hard Hats offer the greatest electrical protection, shielding the head from high-voltage conductors (20,000 volts).
Hard hats can prevent serious injury and death, but if a hard hat doesn’t fit correctly, it is ineffective. Hard hats also have expiration dates (look inside the hard hat!) and should be replaced every 3 to 5 years maximum. The same guidelines are applicable for all PPE. Appropriate gear should fit comfortably and be kept clean. Remember to routinely inspect your equipment for cracks, tears or other damage. Even if no visible signs of damage are present, if you’ve used the same equipment for years, it may be time to replace it. CHA trains our staff in proper inspection and cleaning procedures when they first receive their personal protective equipment. If you can’t tell on your own if your gear is safe, consult your safety director!
No single combination of equipment and clothing can protect against all hazards. PPE is most effective when used with engineering controls that eliminate or mitigate the hazard. When engineering controls are not practical, PPE offers additional protection. But, don’t go wearing everything you can. Using PPE can itself increase significant worker hazards such as heat stress, physical and psychological stress, and impaired vision, mobility, and communication. Over-protection is just as dangerous as under-protection!
To help you put safety first, CHA offers health and safety training sessions year-round that dive into the latest OSHA regulations and PPE standards. Check out our Health and Safety page for a list of site-specific and group training sessions available through the year. If you have any questions, feel free to contact CHA’s Health & Safety Specialist, Jeff Malo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.