Advancing the Art of Employee Safety

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ADVANCING THE ART OF EMPLOYEE SAFETY

How effective are current efforts to safeguard the health and safety of workers through the use of personal protective clothing?

Not effective enough, according to at least one consultant, Zack Mansdorf, Ph.D., president and chief health scientist for S.Z. Mansdorf & Associates Inc., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Mansdorf estimates that 90 percent of American companies fail to fully implement effective personal protective clothing (PPC) programs. In these firms, he says, "You're relying on the user to protect himself. That typically does not work out."

Jeff Stull, program manager for protective clothing technology at Texas Research Institute Austin Inc., a chemical permeation testing laboratory, predicts that PPC use will increase in the years ahead. While engineering controls will alleviate some hazards, recognition of new hazards, particularly chemical ones, is likely to prompt additional requirements for protective clothing, he submits. He also cites the need to protect agricultural workers from pesticides.

Mansdorf says more must be done to help employers and employees understand hazards, choose proper equipment, enforce PPC requirements, and evaluate success or failure of the program. The responsibility for education rests not only with the employer but also with the hazardous materials suppliers and safety equipment manufacturers, according to Mansdorf.

He adds his belief that OSHA needs to pay more attention to PPC, which might convince employers to treat it on a level similar to respiratory protection. "Perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 people have taken a formal course in respiratory protection," Mansdorf says. "But I would guess fewer than 500 have been trained in chemical protective clothing."

Lack of information about hazards is another problem. "There really isn't enough known to say when a worker is adequately protected," according to Dr. Steve Berardinelli, senior industrial hygiene chemist in NIOSH's Division of Safety Research. To know for sure, he explains, you must know all of the hazards, know what exposures are considered acceptable, know what level of protection is required, and know how the protective equipment is working. That's usually not possible, he says, given differences in hazards, data, and equipment.

Chris Kairys, product line manager--protective clothing for Pittsburgh-based MSA, explains the problem this way: "It's just not possible right now to always have 'apples-to-apples' comparisons." For example, differences in the method used to test equipment against certain hazards can create the illusion of more or less protection.

But help in assessing PPC may be on the way -- thanks to new standards, changes in the market, and new technology.

New Standards

The American Society of Testing and Materials' (ASTM) subcommittees of Committee F23 on Protective Clothing are considering standards to address the problems with assessing hazards and the corresponding level of protection required. Subcommittee F23.6, which Mansdorf chairs, has reported out a labeling standard which calls for protective clothing to be labeled with the manufacturer's name, the type of garment, the composition, and the size.

"You pick up just about any article of protective clothing -- gloves, suits, and so forth -- and it doesn't say anything on it," Mansdorf contends. "For example, I can't tell you the difference between a nitrile and a butyl glove if they're both black. Nor can anybody. But there's a big difference in performance."

Before becoming effective, the labeling standard would have to be approved by ASTM as a whole later this year.

In addition, Subcommittee F23.6 is working on a standard which would prescribe the key elements of a chemical protective clothing program, including guidelines for such things as assessing need, testing PPC for effectiveness, having a decontamination scheme, training workers, and implementing inspection and audit procedures. …

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