Monday, September 13, 2010

Are You Seeing Proper Protection in Your Workplace?

Selecting and using proper personal protective equipment for workers is one of the most frequently encountered issues both in Construction and General Industry. Eye protection is a key component of this issue.
Eye protection comes in many different forms, from safety glasses, to goggles, to face shields. The most important part of selecting equipment is to first identify the hazards that may be present. For example, protective equipment that is appropriate for using a power drill will be different than that appropriate to welding. The employer, under current OSHA Standards has the responsibility to assess the operations that workers perform, then decide what level of protection is appropriate. After that, the PPE must be provided to the employee, along with training that includes a discussion of how and when the equipment should be used, what its limitations are, and how to properly care for the equipment.
Safety glasses are probably the most common form of eye protection encountered among workers. Most modern safety glasses are either plastic or metal framed, have built-in side shields, and built-in brow protection. Look for ANSI Z87.1 certification on the lens or frames to easily identify glasses that meet the current requirements for strength and impact-protection. In general, safety glasses provide good low-level protection against impact from flying particles. General construction duties, demolition operations, mechanical shops, and manufacturing facilities may all benefit from the use of safety glasses. Employees who wear prescription lenses can obtain prescription safety glasses that incorporate side shields, usually for a reasonable price. Prescription glasses used as safety glasses still have to have the ANSI Z87.1 rating. It will usually be printed right on the frame of the glasses.
Safety glasses may not provide the level of protection needed for more intense operations such as grinding, abrasive blasting, or chipping. Safety glasses also provide very little protection from chemical splashes. For these types of jobs, goggles may be required. Goggles come in a few different configurations, usually based on their method of ventilation. The most protective type of goggles are unventilated. They have a seal or gasket that completely surrounds the eye to give maximum protection from flying chips, sparks, and chemical splashes. They also tend to be the most uncomfortable to wear, since they severely restrict airflow to the eyes. The next step is the indirect ventilated goggle. They usually have a series of baffled valves to let in some air, but still do a reasonably good job of protecting against chemical splashes. The final type is the direct ventilated goggle. These usually have a series of small holes in the sides of the goggles that provide the best airflow, but trade some of their ability to keep out chemical splashes. These are the best choice where the chief hazards are flying particles, chips, etc, but don’t include chemical hazards. Goggles can be purchased that will accept prescription inserts, or that are designed to fit over prescription lenses. Contact lenses should be discouraged in any operation that may contain chemical hazards.
There are other types of specialty eye protection that may be selected when appropriate. Items such as welding goggles and laser-protective eyewear should only be selected by qualified individuals who are familiar with the exact nature of the hazards involved. Consultants and manufacturers may also be a resource for more information.
Personal protective equipment is a very useful tool to prevent injury in the workplace when used properly, but it will never take the place of proper work procedures, and engineering controls. It definitely will not take the place of common sense. If a job seems too hazardous, or something just does not seem right, then we should stop and evaluate our process to see what changes can be made, or what training needs to be provided. Protective equipment is one more weapon in our arsenal to prevent workplace injuries and help insure our ultimate goal of keeping workers safe.


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