What to Look for in Head-to-Toe PPE Solutions

Working outdoors presents a range of hazards for workers. From falling objects to temperatures that can be extremely hot or bitterly cold, it’s important to be prepared and equip workers with head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE) that can handle a wide range of situations, meets the highest safety standards and provides the maximum possible comfort while on the job.

Securing the right PPE will not only help ensure workers are protected from injury, but can also help improve employee morale, increase productivity and lower turnover.

Protective eyewear

Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection, according to OSHA. The majority of eye injuries result from small particles or objects such as dust, cement chips, metal slivers and wood chips striking or scraping the eye. These materials are often ejected by tools, windblown or fall from above a worker.

When selecting eye protection products, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests identifying four factors: 1) the types of hazards workers face; 2) frequency of hazard encounters; 3) compatibility of eye-wear with other equipment such as face masks, and 4) compatibility with workers’ own eyeglasses or other needed visual aids.

Depending on the job requirements, you may also want to identify specific safety hazards such as oil, grease, aromatic solvents or alkaline; whether workers need UV protection; and product adjustability, to ensure compatibility and comfort. Furthermore, eyewear should have no uncomfortable pressure points, the nose piece should sit comfortably on the bridge of your nose, you should be able to see in all directions, the frames should sit close to your face without hitting your eyelashes, lenses should cover the eyebrows and the product should stay in place when you move your head around.

Protective gloves

Hand injuries rank as the second leading cause of work-related injuries with around 110,000 recorded in the U.S. each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And on top of that, 30% of hand injuries result from wearing the incorrect type of glove, according to the American Society of Safety Professionals.

To ensure the right gloves are selected, conduct hand-hazard assessments in the workplace to identify areas of potential harm.

Look for options that provide the comfort and dexterity needed to perform job functions, the proper amount of protection and long-term durability. Gloves are often selected on price or appearance rather than on the assessment of hazards they can help prevent.

Specific types of gloves are available for a wide range of workplace environments. Your PPE solutions provider can advise you on the best model for the tasks required.

Protective garments

Even with proper training, employees who are required to wear specialized PPE for long, grueling hours might avoid wearing items they consider uncomfortable, putting themselves in harm’s way. In part, this is because many have become accustomed to wearing garments made from soft, breathable materials in their free time.

Fortunately, recent materials innovations have made it possible for more lightweight, comfortable safety garments to meet or even exceed standards achieved by their bulkier predecessors. Other features to look for in safety garments, depending on workers’ needs, include flame resistance, water and wind resistance, oil resistance, welding protection, non-sparking zippers, electric arc flash technologies and anti-static properties. Also check for features that keep workers comfortable on the job, such as 360-degree shoulder movement and added venting.

Protective footwear

It is important to understand the unique hazards of the job and find purpose-built footwear to protect your workers. In fact, OSHA requires workers in industrial settings to wear protective footwear. Additionally, ASTM International (formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials) sets performance requirements for protective footwear.

The ASTM F2413-18 standard contains basic requirements to assess footwear including:

• Impact (I) resistance for the toe area

• Compression (C) resistance for the toe area

• Metatarsal (Mt) protection for the metatarsal bones at the top of the foot

• Conductive (Cd) properties to reduce static electricity buildup and lower the possibility of ignition of explosives, volatile chemicals or fine particulates in the air

• Electric hazard (EH) protection when accidentally stepping on live electric wires

• Static dissipative (SD 10, 35 or 100) properties, allowing for three levels of protection, to reduce hazards that result from a buildup of static charge where there is risk of accidental contact with live electrical circuits

• Puncture resistance (PR) to protect the bottom of the foot from sharp penetrating objects

it’s important to verify that any safety footwear provider who claims its products are safe and offers the protective properties required for the task at hand are ASTM-compliant. Make sure your provider has followed the most up-to-date testing and performance requirements and can provide a Certificate of Conformance.

What to look for in a PPE solutions provider

Ensuring worker safety starts with finding a PPE partner that can provide complete, effective head-to-toe solutions. Here are a few attributes to look for.

  1. AVAILABILITY AND SHIPPING: While getting products to and from your operations can pose challenges, a provider should be able to ship PPE product to any location within a few days of an order being placed.
  2. A WIDE VARIETY OF PPE. Your equipment provider should always have a breadth of products available. If they can supply a wide range of head-to-toe workwear offerings, they’ll minimize the time, money and energy you have to spend searching for additional solutions.
  3. PRODUCTS MEET OR EXCEED SAFETY STANDARDS. Safety standards generally change every three to five years and provide a set of minimum requirements PPE must pass during testing. Your partner should consistently update their assortment with the latest up-to-code, lab-tested and field-proven materials.
  4. A SOLUTIONS-FIRST, PRODUCT-SECOND MINDSET. If a provider puts the emphasis on products more than the safety of your workers, it may not be the right fit. A good partner should form a close strategic relationship with your company, help determine the biggest safety risks for your workers and provide ongoing solutions and education to mitigate risks.
  5. REDUCING YOUR WORKLOAD. The best providers simplify the entire process. Look for a partner that offers a digital platform to help streamlines the ordering process.

By knowing what to look for in head-to-toe PPE – and what you should expect from a qualified provider – you’ll be able to keep your focus on key business activities, and most importantly, keep your workers safe on the job.

Jim Bailey is managing director for the Americas for Red Wing Shoe Company, overseeing the sales and operations for the energy sector.

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