The MARCOM Group, Ltd.

The Revised Personal Protective Equipment Standards for General Industry

- By:

Courtesy of The MARCOM Group, Ltd.

 Over the years, the OSHA Standard regarding personal protective equipment has changed as times have changed. Most recently, in the early 1990's, OSHA conducted a comprehensive review of their Personal Protective Equipment Standard for General Industry. That study showed that the practices set forth in the existing regulation were outdated, and that they focused primarily on workplace issues of the 60's and early 70's.

During the review of the regulation, OSHA found that a staggering number of accidents and deaths were caused by the improper use of PPE, or by workers not wearing PPE at all... and could often have been prevented if a newer, more up-to-date regulation had been enacted. OSHA's studies showed that:

A significant portion of all work related injuries and fatalities involved workers being struck in the eyes, head, face, hand, and feet by foreign objects. As many as 2,500 eye injuries alone occurred in the workplace every working day. Every year there were more than 320,000 hand and finger injuries... many of them disabling.

Because of these, and other findings, OSHA revised the PPE Standard to address the problems that workers and employers had been facing for sometime... lack of information (workers not knowing which PPE they should select for the job, or how to properly use the personal protective equipment that was available)... and a lack of protection provided by the equipment itself. For workers, the price was injury and lost wages. For safety manager's and company executives, the inadequacy of the personal protective equipment that their employees were using was costing them in lost work time... and dollars.

In looking at the use of personal protective equipment one of the things OSHA decided was that the revised regulation had to foster a better acceptance by workers toward wearing PPE. In other words, more comfortable and better quality PPE designs needed to be introduced into in the workplace. Research showed that more workers would be willing to wear the right PPE for the job, if it fit properly and could stand up to the rigors of their daily work schedules.

On July 5, 1994, when the general requirements of the PPE Standard (CFR 29 1910.132) were revised, OSHA added provisions that they felt would address all of these issues, including:

  • 'Requiring employers to select appropriate PPE based on the hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace.'
  • 'Prohibiting the use of defective or damaged PPE.'
  • 'Requiring that employees be trained so that each affected employee can properly use the assigned PPE.'

At that time, OSHA estimated that full compliance with the new regulation would prevent more than 700,000 lost-work days and more than four fatalities each year.

But even with these startling statistics, the new regulation was not without some controversy. During the 'public comment' period, some companies objected to the phrase... 'employers shall insure'... the safety of their employees. Under this language, companies felt that they would be held liable for any misuse of PPE regardless of employee misconduct or other extraneous circumstances. OSHA agreed that some workers could misinterpret the regulation to mean just that..., hence the words 'employers shall insure' were omitted.

The question of who had to pay for protective equipment was also debated. The way the regulation is currently interpreted, employers are required to provide and pay for any personal protective equipment that they require employees to use to perform their jobs safely (and in compliance with OSHA standards). However, as with many regulations, you have to read 'between the lines,' to get the full story. In situations where equipment is 'very personal' in nature (and is usable by the worker off the job), OSHA has held that the matter of 'to whom the bill goes' is up to negotiations between labor and management.

Examples of where OSHA says employers would be held accountable for providing and paying for PPE to their employees include:

Welding gloves, wire mesh gloves, respirators.
Hard hats, specialty glasses, goggles and specialty footwear.
Examples of PPE that could be used by the employee in personal situations and might not be paid for by the employer include:

  • Non-specialty glasses
  • Safety shoes
  • Cold-weather outerwear.

However, if workers require shoes or other outerwear to use in toxic, contaminated or otherwise hazardous conditions, it must be paid for by the employer (If companies fail to pay for this type of PPE, they could be cited and fined by OSHA). But these items cannot be used for personal work away from the site.

Another concern raised during the revision process was related to the selection and comfort of PPE. When the PPE regulation was first developed in 1971, the workforce that was affected by the Reg was predominately male... and PPE was shaped and sized accordingly. As more and more females began doing jobs that needed personal protective equipment, they were forced to choose between wearing PPE that was designed to fit males... or not wear PPE at all. Unfortunately, improper fit, discomfort, and irritation frequently caused female workers to not use personal protective equipment at all. To address this problem, in the revised regulation OSHA mandated that PPE be available that fit all workers.

Training also became a bone of contention during the public comment period. OSHA felt that training employees on how to select and use personal protective equipment was key in preventing injuries and lost time. However, some companies thought that PPE training would not be necessary for 'simple' equipment such as safety shoes and eye protection. But others, such as DuPont (a chemical giant headquartered in Wilmington, DE) felt that 'proper employee training is fundamental to an effective PPE program.' As many safety managers already know, the better trained your employees are in the selection and use of personal protective equipment, the fewer injuries that will occur. While everyone agrees that PPE, such as respirators, requires detailed training, companies like DuPont believe that you should train workers on all the different types of personal protective equipment. And because of people like DuPont, if you take a look at the revised regulation closely, OSHA states that every employee who needs personal protective equipment, should be trained to know at least the following:

  • 'When Personal Protective Equipment is necessary.'
  • 'What Personal Protective Equipment is necessary' in various work situations.
  • 'How to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear Personal Protective Equipment.'
  • 'The limitations of Personal Protective Equipment.'
  • 'The useful life, proper care, maintenance, and disposal procedures for Personal Protective Equipment.'

If you haven't already, you should review your company's current training program on the general requirements for the selection and use of Personal Protective Equipment to make sure it includes this information. And you need to periodically verify that the Standard is being followed by everyone using PPE... since as part of the amended regulation, OSHA also requires that employees be 'retrained' if it appears that they have forgotten what they originally knew about using Personal Protective Equipment (employees also must be retrained if there are any changes in their work environment or the type of PPE that they use that have caused their previous training to be out-of-date).

Still another area that was debated during the comment period deals with eye protection. In order to prevent the more than 70,000 eye injuries that had been occurring every year, OSHA proposed in their original drafts of the revised regulation that eye protection used by employees should guard against hazards coming from both the front and the side. This resulted in a number of comments. While many companies agreed with OSHA's position, other companies didn't. They believed that requiring all eye protection to have side-shields was 'overkill' (of course, there are many situations that exist where safety glasses without side shields are certainly adequate... and some companies pointed out to OSHA that they should not ignore the fact that many employees would be reluctant to wear safety glasses with side shields). As a result of this input, the final ruling now says that front and side protection is required when there is a hazard from flying objects.

The PPE Standard is a vital part of any company's efforts to protect their workers from injury. Company safety leaders also need to remember that each job..., and each job site..., carries its own unique hazards. Everyone needs to be conscious of the PPE that should be used in each situation. Safety personnel need to make sure every employee has received the training required by the 1910.132 Standard and is following that mandated guidelines. And finally, a personal protective equipment program only works if you have everyone's 'buy-in.' So, empower your workers to take charge of their PPE..., because it might just save their life someday.

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