PPE: No room for improvisation

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Although PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) come last in the hierarchy of preventive measures to be implemented, they are sometimes the last bastion against a risk or a danger. Yet how to select PPE and more importantly, how to get all employees to use them?

Workplace Hazard Prevention requires action to eliminate hazards and reduce health and safety risks. At first, we always try to eliminate the dangers. If this is not possible, another option is to substitute the hazardous processes, operations, materials or equipment with one or multiple less dangerous equivalents. When this is impossible or insufficient, implementing collective protections and reorganizing the work . could be considered. Administrative prevention measures are then added if this is not enough. And only after finding that this hierarchy of preventive measures has been followed and that dangers and risks still remain, personal protective equipment are deployed.

But all PPE cannot be deployed in business, as it would imply spending substantial amounts of money for little or no results. Indeed, a poorly chosen PPE can be used but does not reduce the danger or the risk because it is unsuitable. Otherwise, the PPE may not provoke the commitment of the end-user employees and not (or hardly) be worn. Despite their availability, employees in both cases can still be subjected to possible clashes, injuries, accidents ... thus rendering said PPE obsolete and useless.

Therefore, the choice of PPE is not improvised. It must be controlled and methodological. For that, it is necessary to carry out a series of actions.


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Considering existing realities on the ground, a necessity

To begin with, placing human beings in the center of concerns is essential. One person, probably not aware of all or part of the existing realities "on the ground" to be considered for decision making, cannot choose PPE for all.

It is preferable to come up with a working group combining managers, operational and EHS agents. Each will then be able to bring their knowledge of the context and all the constraints to be considered when choosing the most suitable PPE. This approach fulfils the requirements of ISO 45001 for employee participation and consultation.

This group will have to meet several suppliers to have as wide a range of choices as possible. This will also allow to collect and confront the opinions of these PPE professionals who also act as a consultant for their customers.

The working group should come up with the definition of the PPE(s) that might be suitable for eliminating the hazard or reducing the risk. If possible, it is best to isolate several models available from multiple vendors for testing.

Equipment to be tested, over time

The test should ideally be carried out in real conditions by people who will have to adopt the PPE at term. It will therefore be necessary to set up a panel of testers and not just those initially selected for the working group. Other collaborators will have to be integrated in order to have an even more heterogeneous, representative and objective panel. Indeed, focusing only on people in the working group presents the risk of getting compromised results because of possible preconceived ideas due to the sensitivities of each group member. Their choice may already be oriented towards a PPE because of a better “feeling” with a particular supplier, a preference for a particular model ...

The field test should be oriented towards the performance of the PPE in particular as regards its ability to eliminate the danger and reduce the risk, but not only. The feedback wanted should also deal with the comfort of working with the PPE, the discomfort encountered, the possibility of using the PPE daily without having to change PPE, the PPE lifetime ...

There are multiple questions that must be asked. It is therefore impossible to plan a test over a few days only. To review all the possibilities and get the test results, weeks are often needed. Time wasted wisely since it will ultimately buy just for maximum results.


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PPE Training, a must

Once chosen, PPE cannot simply be distributed with the command to be worn. Each deployment must come with prevention work, especially to supervise and prevent the phenomenon of resistance to change or any other refractory phenomenon.

For particularly specific PPE, consider scheduling training provided by the PPE supplier. For instance, this is offered during the deployment of ventilated helmets to better understand the various settings available (among others). This training will particularly be about the PPE appropriation. It may seem expensive at first but will quickly pay off if the PPE is adopted quickly and easily, and not left in a closet.

Also feel free to educate future users and give demonstrations if necessary. It is better to show them how to use it rather than to encourage them to neglect PPE or to see it for themselves (which might be very dangerous). For example, you can easily demonstrate the performance of an anti-cutting glove or an anti-shock glove.

Finally, use concrete cases to explain why these PPE are needed. For example, you can discuss the subject during Toolbox Talks and present articles or reports of previous work accidents that have taken place internally. Examples from outside may also be relevant. It is always easier to stick to something if you identify with it, which is easier to do with a concrete case.

You will, therefore, have concluded that choosing a PPE is not just about choosing a model in a catalog. Deploying it in your company is not just about distributing it to your employees. Finally, having them wearing it does not mean giving the command to do so. The EHS department must be at the center of a long and complex process that yet benefits everyone when it is properly carried out.


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