PPE or Personal Protective Equipment must be used scientifically to protect machine workers. If too much of PPE is used, particularly to protect workers against hazards that they are unlikely to encounter, it could have the opposite effect to make workers unsafe.
PPE at the Bottom of OSHA’s Safety Controls Hierarchy
OSHA has created a “Hierarchy of Safe Controls” (or “Hierarchy of Hazard Controls), which spells out the measures an employer should take to protect machine operators against workplace hazards. In this hierarchy list, (which begins with the most effective measures and ends with the least effective ones) PPE ranks at the very bottom.
In other words, according to OSHA, PPE should be treated as the last line of defense and should be used judiciously to protect machine workers. The goal of machine safety controls should be to eliminate or avoid the hazards, and only when a certain danger cannot be removed or prevented, PPE should come into play.
Substitution and Elimination
Substitution and elimination are aimed at removing the machine hazard entirely so that it no longer poses a threat to the workers. An example of elimination of a machine hazard would be to use a robotic-assisted device to cut paper with a guillotine instead of performing such high-risk task manually. Similarly, an example of substitution of a hazard would be to replace a toxic chemical or grease with a non-toxic one.
Although these safety controls are most effective because they remove or avoid the hazard completely, they are also the toughest to implement in practice. Sometimes elimination or substitution of risk becomes too costly, particularly if it involves buying new machines. This is where PPE becomes a necessary part of the machine workplace risk mitigation strategies.
Determining the Right Extent of PPE
The machine workers’ operating comfort must not be sacrificed to protect against potential hazards that are unlikely to occur. If the workers feel inconvenienced to perform the machine operation smoothly, it could only increase their risk of accidents rather than reducing it.
In PPE, the one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Each potential machine hazard must be carefully evaluated, and an appropriate PPE safety control should be determined. Standardizing PPE or using excessive PPE in every situation will not only result in the employer choosing the wrong PPE for the workers, but it may also discourage workers from using the PPE if it interferes with their work performance.
A natural gas extraction company assigned standard safety gloves for all workers. They bought these gloves in bulk for pricing reasons. The glove turned out to be ideal for impact protection for workers operating drilling machinery, but for others who had to perform more dexterous jobs on the worksite, the gloves proved to be cumbersome. As a result, most workers took off their gloves while carrying out their duty, leaving them with no protection at all for their hands. It looks like two types of gloves should have been bought for this operation and not just one.
If the employer is unsure whether the machine workers are using excessive PPE, they should genuinely evaluate the workplace hazards and consider whether there could be any better options.
Watch YouTube Video: PPE: An Introduction – Safety Training Video Preview – Safetycare Personal Protective Equipment. The video below demonstrates the importance of having PPE in the workplace.
Machine Accident Lawyers in Sacramento
I’m Ed Smith, a machine accident lawyer in Sacramento. Personal Protective Equipment is designed to protect machine workers but unfortunately, the one-size fits all approach doesn’t always work. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in the workplace, call me for a free consultation at 916-584-9355.
I have had the honor of helping many clients in Sacramento and in Northern California obtain the compensation they deserve in wrongful death and personal injury cases since 1982.
I am a member of the Million Dollar Advocates.
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