Seven Questions Any PPE Training Program Should Answer.

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Courtesy of HAZMAT Plans & Programs, Inc.

Personal Protective Equipment training programs; we all need to have them for any protective equipment we require our workers to wear. No matter how great we think our training programs are, the proof of the proverbial pudding is in the eating. The measure of a good training program is whether all the workers actually wear the equipment at the right time, in the right place and use it effectively. Over the years, I’ve found there are many reasons that workers resist wearing PPE. One is a feeling of invulnerability, that “I’ve been working for thirty years and never had an accident” syndrome. Another is that the gear is uncomfortable or inhibits the ability to do the job well. No matter what the excuse, if employees are not wearing the required PPE, it could be that the training program is partly to blame.

I’ve put together seven questions that I think should be answered by any PPE training program, plus my reasons for asking the question. Let me know if you have a different list.

1. Why do I have to use this?

“Because I told you to,” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to personal protective equipment programs. If the answer is only that it’s an OSHA requirement, the temptation is to only use the equipment when the employees think OSHA might be watching. So I give a full answer that includes the regulatory requirements, the fact that I want to keep all my workers safe from harm and the hazards involved in their jobs that necessitate the PPE being worn. You might also want to throw in that if a worker receives an injury that could have been prevented by wearing PPE, the workman’s comp. insurance company might not pay the full amount of the claim. It might be half as much, and that could well affect not just the worker but the lives and happiness of his family too.

2. What will it protect me from?

If I want my workers to wear a piece of personal protective equipment, even when I’m not around to check, they need to fully understand the personal benefit involved. Clearly explain the hazards involved in the task and exactly how the equipment will keep the workers safe.

3. What won’t it protect me from?

All personal protective equipment has its limitations. For instance, ordinary safety glasses will not provide protection from harmful fumes and vapors. Safety goggles with tight fitting seals would be required where harmful vapors could be absorbed through the eyes. Although this information may seem basic, I can never take for granted that my employees have figured it out for themselves.

4. How do I use it, exactly?

Personal protective equipment varies greatly in complexity. You would expect to thoroughly cover how to use fall protection equipment and what to look for in terms of the correct fit, anchorage systems and adjustments. But what about something simple like ear plugs? Earplugs may seem self-explanatory, but without proper instruction on how to roll the foam plugs so that there are no creases and how far to insert the plug into the ear, your workers may not be protected.

5. What should I look for when I inspect it?

Some things are obvious when it comes to equipment inspection. Cracks and tears are one thing but do my employees know to look for stains that could be chemical burns or other less obvious signs that the equipment may not provide the right protection?

6. How should I store it and take care of it?

Improper storage can end up costing the company money when personal protective equipment is damaged unnecessarily. I try to ensure everyone knows how to take care of the equipment allocated. Dirty equipment is also much harder to properly inspect so care and cleaning instruction should be part of the program.

7. When should I replace it?

This is another important piece of the puzzle that isn’t self-explanatory. Scratched safety glasses hinder the ability to see while working. That means the workers are less likely to wear them. This goes hand in hand with proper care and storage. A worker who constantly needs to replace his equipment may need to be retrained in the use and storage of that equipment, so keep a check on how often protective equipment is replaced. A lot of PPE, such as fall protection rigs and hard hats, have an expiration date. You’ll be able to find this date on the equipment, on an attached tag, or in the case of a hard hat, just under the brim.

That’s it. Regardless of the method and medium the training uses, or the item of personal protective equipment that is being discussed, I think if those seven simple questions are answered it’s probably a good program. Perhaps there is one last thing and that would be for the manager to answer. The question for the manager is, “How am I going to enforce this?” I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on enforcement of PPE programs.

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