As a Human Resources Practitioner, upholding the safety of employees is something held to a very high regard. For those that didn’t know, I happen to work in a mining town so discussions of safety tend to pop up now and then, even at the gym room-my new home (Where I, like many, have made New Year’s resolutions to shed the kilos). Subsequently, Safety in my work station is fundamental and Issues of safety disobedience are things I am inclined to take personal. I have sat in on disciplinary enquiries of safety breach and witnessed a couple of dismissals due to some serious safety transgressions.
Naturally, working in a mining environment increased my appreciation of safety, safety of my peers and importance of protective equipment or gear. I have been told of and witnessed accidents and incidents where this thing called ‘PPE’ saved many a life. What is this PPE? Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) refers to protective apparel.This may be in the form of helmets for builders, goggles for gardeners, aprons for chefs, latex gloves for cleaners, ear plugs if you are constantly in the presence of loud machinery or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection.
The hazards addressed by protective equipment include physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter. Protective equipment may be worn for job-related occupational safety and health purposes, as well as for sports and other recreational activities. "Protective clothing" is applied to traditional categories of clothing, and "protective gear" applies to items such as pads, guards, shields, or masks, and others. The purpose of personal protective equipment is to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective to reduce these risks to acceptable levels.
PPE is needed where there are hazards present. A risk assessment should be carried out to determine the hazards that exist and which apparel would be most fitting for each organisation-we would not want helmets in our restaurant kitchens, unless of course assessment shows a need! Practices of occupational safety and health make use of hazard controls and interventions to mitigate workplace hazards, which pose a threat to the safety and quality of life of employees. The hierarchy of hazard control provides a policy framework which ranks the types of hazard controls in terms of absolute risk reduction.
At the top of the hierarchy are elimination and substitution, which remove the hazard entirely or replace the hazard with a safer alternative. If elimination or substitution measures cannot be applied, engineering controls and administrative controls, which seek to design safer mechanisms and coach safer human behaviour, are implemented. Personal protective equipment ranks last on the hierarchy of controls, as the workers are regularly exposed to the hazard, with a barrier of protection. The hierarchy of controls is important in acknowledging that, while personal protective equipment has tremendous utility, it is not the desired mechanism of control in terms of worker safety.
Insignificant as implied by the hierarchy, protecting your team or your employees is one of the most significant responsibilities you have as an employer. Although at times you would have to delegate these duties with your Health and Safety Representatives and contractor (depending on the activity and organisation size and nature), there still remains the knowledge in the field that no one should skip. When it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace there can be a lot of confusion; ‘how much of it do I really need for this job? Do I need it on all the time? Why is it so important?’ Well, let us just say, PPE could be the difference between you coming to work the next day, losing a limb or having your colleagues heading out to bury you over the weekend.
The reality of things though is that, regrettably, safety professionals are still struggling to get this message across, let alone to make it stick. For some reason, ‘Wear your PPE because it says so in the safety rule book' just does not seem to hold up as a convincing argument. The Mines and Quarries Act states that, ‘all employees must have and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).’It is essential that employees are made to understand not only the need for and correct use of P.P.E, but the repercussions of failure to adhere and getting hurt in the process. They should be in a position to use the supplied apparel comfortably and correctly for their safety and be able to tell when it has denatured and thus unfit as well as to care for it.
I mean, what would be the point of having an apron/chef coat as a chef with holes so big that your own clothing is exposed or wearing safety boots that are so big you trip over yourself. The purpose would therefore be defeated. Employees should understand this. PPE has the limitation in that, it does not eliminate the hazard at its source and therefore may result in employees being exposed to the hazard if the equipment fails. Yes, Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a vital part of health and safety because it gives your employees life-saving protection against a variety of workplace hazards. However, like all equipment, it gets old and can stop working properly. This consequently means your employees may be using PPE that puts them in as much if not greater danger than if PPE was not made use of.
Truth be told, PPE is really in everyone’s best interests. Organisations save moneys tremendously on possible injuries, deaths of its employees, PR damage control due to tarnished reputation and subsequent need for re-recruiting. For the employees, even if you won that million Pula law suit, what good will it is to you if you are unable to work or worse, dead. Let us be safe.