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PPE Considerations for the Construction Industry

Top Tips for Every Safety Manager to Keep in Mind

By Tito Warren, Contributor

In the fast-paced world of construction, personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a vital role in safeguarding workers from potential hazards. While PPE is important across various industries, the construction sector requires specific considerations to establish an effective safety program. In this article, we will explore crucial factors that every safety manager must bear in mind when developing their PPE program.

Protection from Falls

According to the latest data from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), falls were the leading cause of job site fatalities in the construction industry in 2020. The first line of defense against falls is the job site equipment itself, including scaffolding, ladders, and hole covers. While it is crucial to prioritize secure and sturdy job site equipment, such as scaffolding, ladders, and hole covers, the last line of defense lies in the quality and fit of the workers’ PPE. In the event of an incident, the worker’s PPE can significantly impact the outcome.

A personal fall arrest system (PFA), which often includes a full-body harness, shock absorber, lifeline, and more, can protect from serious injury in the case of a fall from a working height, such as a roof or multi-floor building site. Additionally, many falls originate from a slip at a higher height, so ensuring that workers are outfitted with best-in-class work boots that provide high-quality traction treads is essential for deterring slips.

A properly-fitted safety hard hat is another invaluable piece of PPE. Due to the highly variable nature of construction work and the use of heavy-duty building materials, your workers may require heavier-duty head protection. It is essential to enforce the use of hard hats with shock-absorbing capabilities to counter the impact of falls as well as brims to deflect falling objects from above. Make sure to source the appropriate type and class of hard hats for your specific job site requirements.

All-Weather Workwear

Many construction sites are exposed to the elements throughout the year, so your organization’s safety program should consider both hot and cold weather concerns.

Without the right PPE, workers may be more susceptible to heat-related ailments such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, which can impair their mental and physical capabilities and increase the risk of incidents. Keeping workers cool in the summer can be a challenge; while staying covered can raise temperatures, it’s important that everyone on a job site is protected from hazards like falling debris and workplace injury. Implementing PPE options with auxiliary cooling systems, like cooling vests and work boots with cooling technology to move heat away from skin, will instantly cool workers without compromising their safety. Additional features like venting in lightweight summer safety clothing can help increase airflow on the job.

Similarly, a comprehensive PPE program that is designed to protect workers in cold weather should consider environmental hazards, such as ice and rain, and physical impairments, such as frostbite and numbness. In cold environments, slips and falls become an even bigger concern on job sites. Therefore, it is crucial to provide workers with safety footwear options that include top-of-the-line outsoles engineered to insulate feet from extreme temperatures while also offering enhanced grip. Protect from rainfall and snow by choosing work boots with a multi-layer waterproofing system that acts as a barrier to keep moisture away from the foot and can help to prevent frostbite. A focus on waterproofing and insulation should also extend to PPE outerwear like safety jackets and trousers.

Safeguarding from Electricity

Electrical work is common on most construction sites, whether residential or commercial. While not every worker may be directly involved in outfitting electrical systems, many workers can be exposed to the risk of electrical shock while work is in progress.

To safeguard from electric shock, those who are performing work on or near electrical systems should wear rubber insulating gloves designed to protect specifically against the voltage they will be working with in order to have an effective safeguard against injury or death. These gloves should be worn in tandem with leather glove protectors designed to fit on top of rubber safety gloves to further protect against exposure to electricity in case the rubber gloves fail.

Head protection is another crucial aspect for electrical safety. Ensure that your workers have a hard hat option that resists electrical currents and reduces shock to minimize injury in case of an electrical incident on the job.

Well-Fitting Safety Gear

A robust PPE program should consider the individual needs, job functions, and body types of every worker, as ill-fitting PPE compromises job site safety. When building a PPE program, take into account all of the tasks that your workers may encounter throughout the day, such as hauling supplies, constructing building framing, and operating machinery. Consider what level of dexterity and repetitive movement this position requires, along with the fall risk. A skilled PPE provider will help you assess the individual needs of your job site and develop a custom PPE program.

While job function considerations are crucial to the safety of your workforce, fit and comfortability should always be considered. If workers are wearing ill-fitting PPE, they may be more susceptible to injury based on job site incidents, or potentially to long-term health issues like back and knee pain or increased fatigue. For example, wearing work boots that are a half-size too big can lead to foot and leg fatigue, increasing the likelihood of missteps or slips. Workers may also accommodate for this fit issue by relying more on their back or knees, causing chronic overuse that may result in the need for physical therapy or other medical intervention.

Comfort is also a key factor for worker safety. If workers aren’t comfortable in their PPE, they may be distracted and not vigilant about other safety considerations on the job. For example, if a worker is dealing with discomfort due to ill-fitting safety eyeglasses, they may remove the glasses to relieve pain or readjust. While this may seem like a quick fix, any amount of time without proper safety gear can be a serious risk to the safety of your employees. Therefore, it is essential to promote and provide PPE items renowned for their comfort and regularly engage with your workforce to confirm that the safety gear meets their needs.

Conclusion

Remember that just as the safety concerns of the construction industry may vary from other trades, the safety needs of every job site will vary based on location, environmental hazards, and the job functions performed. By designing a safety program that takes these major considerations into account, your enterprise can more effectively adapt to the specific challenges and requirements of your workforce.

Tito Warren is President of Global Industrial Sales and Operations, Red Wing Shoe Company (redwingshoes.com).

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