Both good employers and good workers should be aware of the proper use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to ensure that the equipment truly provides the protection it was designed for. Just the same way conscientious employers and workers should learn to recognize when it is time to safely dispose of and replace PPE. While some PPE is designed to last for years at a time, other PPE naturally wears out with regular use and should be replaced regularly to help ensure workplace safety. As the holidays approach, give your workers the gift of vigilant protection by replacing the following seven PPE products before New Year’s Day arrives. Here, our list of PPE safety tips for when and why to replace seven essential pieces of gear.
Gloves are one of the most versatile and commonly used types of PPE. Fabric and rubber coated work gloves can provide general-purpose hand protection, and protect against dirt, abrasions, chafing and slivers. Disposable gloves made from various kinds of rubber can provide resistance to liquids and potentially harmful chemicals. In the short term, some types of hand protection, such as white cotton inspection gloves, can be laundered for reuse. The glove manufacturer typically provides instructions for safe and effective laundering. Employers should think twice before reusing gloves that have been exposed to toxic chemicals. Because of the safety risk of tears or punctures in the tips of the fingers that can occur with frequent use, and the degradation caused by chemical exposure, gloves should be replaced once a year at the very least.
Specialized footwear is necessary to protect against potential workplace impact or compression injuries, and to resist the hot surfaces common in roofing, paving and hot metal industries. All protective boots and shoes should be regularly inspected for cracks, holes, broken buckles or laces and embedded pieces of metal that could cause electrical or slipping hazards. As with ordinary footwear, protective footwear wears out over time and should be replaced regularly to ensure optimal function.
Protective headgear is some of the most crucial PPE. While periodic cleaning and inspection may extend a hard hat’s shelf life, hard hats with any perforation, cracking, or dents should be replaced immediately. Any safety helmet, from construction hard hats to full brim hard hats, that has sustained an impact should be replaced whether or not there is any visible damage to the hat. Hard hats that are exposed to paints, paint thinners or certain cleaning agents should be replaced regularly, as those substances can weaken the hats’ shells. One of the most serious degradation threats to your workers’ head gear is UV rays. If your crew frequently works outside, sunlight has likely began to significantly wear down their hats’ protective casings. Inspect such items more frequently and consider replacing them with a UV-damage-indicating model, like the 3M Uvicator hardhat, which partially changes color as sun damage becomes more intense.
To provide adequate safety, protection goggles must fit tightly, covering the entire eye and facial area surrounding the eye. With regular use, goggles can become more loosely fitting, or can sustain small cracks. The smallest perforation can potentially allow harmful dust or liquid particles access to the eye area. Goggles are relatively inexpensive, and a conscientious employer should see that they are replaced regularly to ensure workplace safety.
The old reliable white lab coat protects the wearer’s street clothes, allows for cleaning at high temperatures, makes any foreign substances easily visible, and acts as an unofficial uniform for scientists and medical professionals. However, lab smocks and coats are not always in a condition to be laundered and reused. As with ordinary clothes, lab coats may become worn and torn over time, and should be replaced accordingly. Lab coats that have been heavily stained or that cannot be safely decontaminated should also be discarded immediately. It is helpful to have a stock of replacement lab coats at the ready.
Fall Arrest Systems
Fall arrest systems regularly save the lives of those who work at heights. As a general rule of thumb, fall protection equipment should be replaced a maximum of five years after the first use. However, frequent use of this essential PPE safety product may require the system to need replacement sooner, and the life expectancy of particular systems can vary. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and check the system regularly to determine whether it needs to be replaced. A failure of one small part of the system could cause the entire thing to malfunction, so do not hesitate to replace your fall arrest system regularly.
Workers who are regularly exposed to high decibel levels must have some kind of hearing protection. Molded earplugs are a safe bet, as they are individually fitted by a professional. Some molded earplugs may be washed and reused, but they should be replaced at least once a year because they are subject to losing their shape over time, and for sanitary reasons.
Follow these PPE safety tips to keep your workplace running like new all year. In addition to replacing these PPE pieces yearly, always be sure to conduct routine maintenance of safety products to monitor any degradation that may occur throughout 2015.