OSHA safety guidelines state that when a company cannot remove all safety hazards connected with work tasks or dangers within the work environment, they must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees. Disposable protective clothing does not eliminate the risks, but is designed reduce accidents and injury by placing a barrier between the hazard and the worker. Every industry and every work environment will present some risks to workers. Most equipment dangers are easy to recognize. Other work and process hazards may be hidden. And some accidents on the job are unavoidable. Freak accidents are simply the risky nature of fast-paced factories, unexpected equipment malfunctions, or an unfortunate case of human error.
The Importance of Protective Clothing
Protective clothing is any garment designed to increase the health and well-being of the wearer. First, the PPE must correctly fit to protect a certain body part. Next, the garment or equipment is selected for its ability to protect against the type of hazards that is present - chemical, electrical, biological, heat/fire, or physical. And finally, the protective clothing must be strong enough to act in one of 3 ways:
- Act as total barrier against infiltration of harmful substances
- If infiltration does occur, to reduce the extent of injuries from serious to minor
- To protect workers long enough for them to escape the area or the hazard
Protective clothing can perform each of these duties when employee and workplace hazards are determined. But, only if the right protective clothing and equipment is selected and worn. PPE includes hard hats, steel toed shoes, safety vests, coveralls, protective gloves, earplugs, respirators, and full body suits. The right personal protective items will reduce employee accident and injury. These include environmental, physical, chemical, mechanical equipment, electrical, fire, or biological hazards in the workplace.
How Workers Are Injured On-The-Job
So why is it important to wear protective clothing and PPE? Consider these statistics by the National Safety Counsel (NSC) concerning the rate of accidents in the workplace:
- A worker is injured on the job every 7 seconds - that's over 12,500 injuries per day!
- Over one million production days were lost to work-related injuries in 2017.
- 26% of injuries were caused equipment struck-by or caught-in accidents.
- 25,8% of all injuries were slip, trip, or fall accidents (including falls to a lower level)
- Service industries, manufacturing, and construction are in the top 5 accident-prone jobs
Employee injury can be avoided in the workplace when the right protective clothing is assigned to workers that face hazards. These include possible contact with chemical solutions, biological hazards during clean-up operations, physical hazards from the moving parts of equipment, and fire hazards for employees that work around combustible materials.
Protection from Chemical Processes
There are many companies that use strong chemicals in their manufacturing processes that will require chemical protective suits to minimize the risk of exposure. Manufacturers of detergents, light bulbs, fertilizer, dyes, metals refining, and plastics processing are just a few of the many industries that store and use some very strong and toxic chemicals. Protection from chemical processes can be complex.
First, different chemicals can can change form, from a solid, to a liquid, then release a toxic gas. These types of chemicals can affect workers in multiple ways - inhalation, ingestion, direct skin contact, or by way of splashing into the mouth or eyes. Secondly, when a chemical is released as a toxic gas, it can become a silent killer. For these reasons, some workers will require full protection from chemicals which includes a hooded chemical suit that has an attached breathing apparatus.
When workers are around harmful chemicals, the employer must supply eye protection such as goggles or face shields, along with chemical protective suits to protect workers skin, if necessary. Finally, chemicals can change in concentration when the environment changes. This includes UV light, high temperatures, sunlight, and sometimes simply mixing the wrong chemicals can be catastrophic.
Safety in Food and Beverage Operations
The food and beverage industry operates with many factors that can make a workplace dangerous. These include slippery floors, fast-moving machinery, biological hazards (meat and chicken processing), and eye and respiratory injury when processing grains, spices, or flavorings. Add these other possible dangers present in food and beverage operations:
- Working at heights
- Extreme temperatures
- Performing repetitive motions
- Inhaling sanitation chemicals
- Skin exposure to hot water or sub-zero freezers
- Confined space entry
For these industries, protection goes both ways. The employees must be protected from the process and the production process must be protected from employee contamination. Safe food handling may include disposable coveralls, gloves, arm covers, beard and hair coverings, smocks, disposable shoe covers, and anti-slip shoes. The importance of protective clothing and PPE in the food and beverage industry is so high that the health of all Americans depends upon it.
Disposable FR Clothing For Burn Hazards
Flame-resistant (FR) clothing is important to protecting employees that work in many jobs where sparks, embers, or flame can happen suddenly during regular work tasks. Welders, cooks and grill masters, iron and steel mills, electrical utilities, and certain manufacturing processes that use furnaces or boilers will all present a heat or fire hazard to workers.
Disposable FR clothing can provide layered protection of primary FR garments in some industries, while in other cases the FR coverall is worn with the normal work uniform. Fire resistant clothing will self-extinguish once it has been removed from the source of fire. Instead of catching fire and bursting into flames, the worker is allowed the time to recognize the fire and make a quick escape.
Read more at Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) - Why FR Clothing? Sometimes providing FR clothing is a voluntary safety measure. At other times, OSHA will expect some industries and job activities to provide FR clothing with the following:
- Must reduce burn injury and increase survival rates
- Is self-extinguishes and is difficult to catch fire
- The garment will not melt and drip onto the skin
- It provides some protection from heat stress
PPE for Remediation Service Workers
Biological and health hazards are the main concerns for those that work at removing lead paint, asbestos, mold, waste, and clean-up and restoration workers that help rebuild communities after heavy storms or flooding. It is impossible to control the hazards that may exist in these conditions. And biological or chemical exposure at contaminated sites can cause many health issues. These include GI tract infections, respiratory illnesses, skin infections, and many well-known diseases that will require strong antibiotics.
Keep workers safe from dangerous particles or waste material by using protective clothing designed to put a barrier between workers and substances that can cause health problems. These PPE garments will provide physical protection against mold spores, toxic chemicals, liquids, and particulates. After Hurricane Katrina, many health hazards existed in the water and in the air.
OSHA saw the dangers that workers were exposed to during clean-up operations. These included electrocution, exposure to contaminated water, and the danger of falling tree limbs. Easy to read Quick Cards and Fact Sheets were handed out to workers to help train them on how to protect themselves during various clean-up tasks. These dangers included bacterial infection due to puncture by debris, respiratory dangers caused by airborne spores, and electrical hazards.