Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safeguarding Workers: The Role of Personal Protection

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safeguarding Workers: The Role of Personal Protection

Article excerpt

SAFEGUARDING WORKERS: THE ROLE OF PERSONAL PROTECTION

Don't underestimate the value of a good personal protective equipment program. Selection, use, employee training, and supervisory enforcement should all play key roles.

How important is personal protective equipment (PPE)? Tom Conry, vice president for administration for Ertl Co., a Dyersville, Iowa, manufacturer of metal die-cast toys and injection-molded plastic model kits, says, "In some instances, we are able to engineer a problem away. But, more often than not, our business is hands-on. Personal protective equipment may be all we have between the employee and some kind of a hazard."

Given the often vital role that PPE plays in worker safety, it's important for employers to have a carefully designed program in place for matching the right equipment to particular hazards. Employers also need to make sure that the PPE is used correctly, that employees also need to make sure that the PPE is used correctly, that employees are properly trained to wear it, and that supervisory enforcement is available when workers fail to wear necessary gear.

Survey of Use

Workers may need personal protection when job redesign or engineering controls are deemed infeasible or when they are less than completely effective. PPE can also serve as a backup to other controls, as pointed out by Frank Boehm, director of safety for Petrolite Corp., a St. Louis-based manufacturer of specialty chemicals and polymers. According to Boehm, Petrolite "always plans for the worst" by combining personal protection and engineering controls in certain operations. He says, "Even engineering controls can fail. Then what do you do?"

Where possible, the company has installed "closed systems" for transporting and using extremely hazardous chemicals. This eliminates the need for workers to actually move the drums or pour the chemicals. Even so, employees who work these processes are protected as if they were handling the chemicals in an "open system." They might be required to wear, for example, a chemical protective suit or air-supplied respirator, in addition to chemical-resistant rubber gloves, goggles, chemical-resistant aprons, safety shoes, and hardhats -- the basic protection for all production workers.

Petrolite may also require workers to wear disposable coveralls when working with dry granular materials. Chemical suits and airsupplied respirators are available for emergency situations or for work with the specially designated "closed systems."

At Ertl, safety shoes and glasses are among the minimum requirements. Gloves are another basic in the Ertl program, although the type and application are anything but standardized. "Gloves are worn throughout our operation, but for very different jobs -- from the very start where the people are pouring hot metal for the toys all the way up to the packing people, who may only be wearing gloves to prevent blisters," company V.P. Conry says.

For the 60 to 70 workers in Ertl's die casting area, protection is significantly greater than elsewhere in the plant. They wear flame-resistant cotton clothing, gloves for heat protection, safety glasses with sideshields, and protective head coverings.

Another plant covered by our field check, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Sunnyvale (Calif.) Site, uses PPE to protect against chemical splashes and vapors. According to Val Fernelius, an industrial hygienist and chemical specialist at the Sunnyvale Site, exposure could come during chemical mixing, transfer, and maintenance operations.

Therefore, some of the 300 workers in the plant's printed circuit division are required to wear splash goggles, chemical-resistant shoes, faceshields, aprons, rubber overboots, and gloves. Where vapors pose an extreme threat, such as with ammonia and hydrochloric acid, workers wear chemical suits and respirators.

For Frank Perry, safety manager for Houston-based Oil Tool Div. …

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