Re-examining Issues of PPE and the Hierarchy of Controls — Occupational Health & Safety

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Re-examining Issues of PPE and the Hierarchy of Controls

Before the pandemic, it seems that the vast majority of the population did not give PPE a second thought. That has changed.

In today’s world, personal protective equipment (PPE) is everywhere. The COVID-19 virus has profoundly affected people worldwide, and outside of social distancing, the next steps in protection are the PPE recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 Going to the grocery store or standing in line now requires six feet of separation, mouth coverings and face shields for counter employees.

In comparison to before the pandemic, it seems that the vast majority of the population did not give PPE a second thought. That has changed.

That is why it is important to revisit the issue of personal protective equipment on the job. Meetings after meetings are being held on complying with the guidelines regarding the virus, while in the shadows, there still lies danger to the worker from the other workplace hazards. We as safety professionals need to remember to bring those other hazards out of the shadows and place them back in the spotlight.

The basic PPE issued to many employees generally includes a hard hat, safety glasses, high visibility retro-reflective vest or clothing, safety toe boots and gloves. This discussion will focus on the issue of hand-protection and how the current supply of safety gloves has been able to curtail some of the more significant injuries sustained by the worker.

It’s About Protecting the Hands

Before COVID-19, some employees worked in hazardous conditions with basic hand protection. Providing employees with leather or latex gloves provided a way for some companies to check the box for hand protection and move on. Thankfully, developments over the years have improved the quality and functionality of the current supply of hand protection.2

One area where gloves proved to be an issue is with the nation’s meat packers. With the ever-increasing demand for beef, chicken and pork, the meat packing industry has had to increase production. This means that more people are needed to do the work faster than before and with little consideration for the packer. Combine those elements with sharp knives and a moving line, the chances of hand injuries are increased considerably.3 The response to this increased hazard is to provide cut-resistant gloves to the employee. Check the box and move on.


This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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