You can safeguard yourself and your employees from exposure to physical and chemical hazards by using personal protective equipment (PPE). It’s critical to be knowledgeable about the potentially dangerous materials you are exposed to and understand what PPE should be used when handling chemicals so you can modify your equipment accordingly.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lists four types of PPE and four PPE levels. The main categories of PPE are respiratory, eye and face, skin, and noise. Level A is for the highest level of protection, requiring all four types of PPE. Level D is only for nuisance contamination, requiring safety shoes and coveralls.
The most commonly used types of PPE are closed-toe shoes, gloves, eye protection and maximum skin coverage. However, respirators, earplugs, aprons, splash shields and protective gloves may occasionally be advised for safety. Assess the work environment and risk of exposure to chemically hazardous materials to determine the best PPE for your company and workers.
The Necessity of PPE
For respirator protection, consult the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Guidelines for a chemical PPE guide. You’re required to take several measures to comply with the respirator protection regulations. The EHS guidelines can guide you through the steps you need to apply and teach you how to take care of and use your respirator appropriately.
PPE can save lives by protecting wearers from potential risks or physical harm they may experience at work. Tools such as hard hats, earplugs and safety glasses with side shields aid in ensuring worker safety while they carry out their duties. You should use PPE when handling chemicals for several reasons:
- PPE protects employees from risks and injuries at work, including illnesses, burns, lacerations and accidents from machinery and materials that can cause injury.
- Some PPE covers the mouth, nose and skin, helping stop the spread of contagious illnesses like influenza and tuberculosis and reducing physical contact between individuals.
- Employees can work with confidence and high morale, knowing they are protected at their high-risk jobs. Employees are less stressed and have a better attitude about their work when they feel safe and at ease. This results in a more contented workforce with fewer sick days and absences.
- You may see a reduction in staff turnover as employees who enjoy their occupations frequently stay on the job longer than those who don’t. Give your staff appropriate occupational safety equipment, so they are adequately protected and have no reason to quit their jobs. Protecting employees from occupational dangers limits absences from work due to illness or injury and helps to lower staff turnover. A secure workplace enables your business to operate at its full potential, boosting output and revenue.
- PPE increases work efficiency and helps operations run smoother. For example, wearing gloves while preparing food allows you to handle large quantities of materials without risking burns or cuts. Similarly, you can see better and prevent eye injuries when welding when wearing goggles.
- You must supply the necessary equipment to safeguard your employees from work-related diseases, injuries, and fatalities. Failing to do so could result in legal action, severe fines, compensation payouts or even jail time.
The Dangers of Chemical Exposure: Short and Long Term
Working with dangerous chemicals can raise many concerns for your workers’ health and safety in the short and long term. This includes the risk of contracting cancer; injuries from fire, explosions and smoke; and eye, skin and lung irritation. Vapors, gases, dust and other fumes can pose a severe threat if people inhale them or get them in their eyes. Skin absorption of a chemical could also be an exposure source. Consider wearing PPE when handling the following:
- Skin irritants
- Paints and paint removers
- Respiratory sensitizers and carcinogens
- Some building materials, such as asbestos
Effects on your health from exposure to these materials could manifest immediately or take years to arise. Symptoms of short-term exposure to hazardous chemicals include:
- Dizziness and confusion
- Sore mouth, throat and nose
- Stinging, burning or watery eyes
- Skin rashes, blisters, itching, redness or dryness
If your employees are exposed to any hazardous chemicals, it’s essential to remove them from harm and seek treatment as soon as possible. You may also want to train some of your employees in first aid procedures for exposure to chemical hazards. Prolonged exposure to low quantities of dangerous chemicals can have severe long-term effects. Some of the symptoms may include:
- Organ damage
- Nerve damage
- An impaired immune system
The risk of developing cancer may increase with exposure to carcinogens, including formaldehyde, asbestos and wood dust. Ototoxic chemicals in degreasers, thinners, paints, glues and engine exhausts can also harm the inner ear or auditory nerve. This can result in vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and deafness. Protect workers against these potential incidents by following the five steps of the Hierarchy of Controls:
- Elimination: Remove the hazard physically.
- Substitution: Replace it with something safer.
- Engineering controls: Distance people from danger.
- Administrative controls: Change the work conditions and how people operate.
- PPE: Provide PPE for the staff.
Assess hazards and risks before putting control measures in place. This analysis should include a look at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for any chemicals. All chemical providers, including wholesalers, on-sellers and distributors, must offer an SDS with any hazardous materials.
Five Pieces of Essential PPE
Employers are responsible for providing any PPE that may be required in compliance with standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This includes a danger assessment, selection and provision of appropriate PPE, instruction of staff members in using such PPE and review and replacement of damaged equipment as required. Here are the five standard PPE items:
- Gloves: Gloves offer protection when employees physically handle potentially infected goods or contaminated surfaces.
- Gowns: Gowns protect against wearing clothing contaminated by potentially contagious substances.
- Covers for the head and shoes: Various covers protect workers from exposure to a hazardous environment.
- Respirators and masks: Surgical masks shield employees’ mouths and noses from splashes, and respirators filter the air before workers breathe it in.
- Additional face and eye defense: Goggles protect workers’ eyes from splatters. A face shield protects the skin, eyes, nose and mouth from splashes.
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