Summer is a busy season for some of our most vital industries, including construction, energy and utility
work. These industries have at least one thing in common: They all depend on personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep workers safe. While the importance of PPE is recognized by most workers in these industries, the heat and humidity of the summer months can make PPE compliance a challenge.
On a hot day, it can be tempting to remove a hard hat or full-body suit to feel the cool breeze. Needless to say, deviating from proper PPE protocol, even for an instant, can subject workers to a greater risk of injury or illness.
Fortunately, there are strategies employers can use to encourage compliance with company PPE policy, even during the hottest summer days.
Consider the following:
- PPE is a worker’s last line of defense against workplace injury. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health's Hierarchy of Controls, personal protective equipment ranks as the least-effective intervention, following elimination of risks, replacement of hazardous tasks, isolating risky situations from workers and altering work practices.
This does not make PPE the “least important” safety intervention. When all else fails, PPE is the last thing standing between a worker and a potentially serious injury.
- The historical track record on PPE compliance hasn’t been great. At a 2010 American Society of Safety Engineers conference, a survey showed 98 percent of respondents had personally observed violations of PPE standards. Earlier surveys from 2006 through 2008 showed noncompliance rates of at least 85 percent on PPE usage.
- In addition to the safety problems associated with poor PPE utilization, employers face serious penalties from OSHA when their employees don’t wear their protective gear. For more information on OSHA standards and fines related to PPE, click here.
Compliance with OSHA’s PPE standards is too important to ignore. When the temperature soars, workers are more likely to want to sacrifice safety for comfort, which jeopardizes the success of their employer’s safety program. Here are a few ways to help everyone on the jobsite wear appropriate PPE, no matter how intensely the sun beats down.
PPE Compliance Tips for the Summer Heat
- Prevent PPE violations by limiting heat illness risk factors. In 2011, OSHA launched a Heat Illness Prevention campaign, addressing a then-common cause of workplace illness. The principles set forth in this program have the added bonus of helping workers stay more comfortable during hot day shifts, reducing their desire to shed safety layers.
Essentially, OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention campaign can be reduced to three main factors: water, rest and shade. Employers should ensure that all employees have constant access to clean, potable water, and encourage them to continually hydrate throughout the day. Work/rest cycles should also be put in place to keep workers comfortable. Additionally, workers should have access to cool, shady areas—or, better yet, air-conditioned trailers.
- Choose PPE that’s designed for comfort and breathability. Not all PPE is designed for comfort in high-temperature applications. Say you need a chemical-protective suit for an outdoor job; look for products built to dissipate body heat during use, such as protective coveralls from 3M™.
Some of these models, such as the 3M™ Protective Coverall 4510, use a breathable laminate on polypropylene fabric to protect skin while allowing heat to escape. It’s also a good practice to look for PPE that is light in color, which will reflect heat rather than absorb it. In some applications, heat-protective gloves and/or sleeves can help workers handle sun-heated materials in comfort.
- Provide cooling accessories for existing PPE. Rather than replacing workplace PPE, employers can invest in cooling accessories that workers can wear beneath or attached to existing items. For instance, Protective Industrial Products (PIP) offers a full range of EZ-Cool tank tops and vests that dissipate heat through evaporative cooling. Users need only soak the garment in water for a minute or two, wring out the excess and enjoy up to a full shift’s worth of cooling activity.
Neck shade attachments for hard hats are also available. Even a simple solution, like an evaporative cooling towel from PIP, can considerably improve the comfort of PPE on a sunny day.
- Plan for brightness as well as heat. In the construction industry, OSHA standard 1926.102 requires employers to “ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.” Standard 1910.133 echoes this rule in industries other than construction.
For most employees, compliance with this regulation is accomplished through the use of safety eyewear. When the summer sun is shining, this eyewear should also be built to limit glare, eliminate fogging and protect the eyes from damaging UV rays.
The 3M™ Solus™ 1000 eyewear series includes a Scotchgard™ anti-fog coating, absorbs 99.9 percent of UV rays, and is available with a variety of lens tints. PIP offers a full range of safety glasses with infrared-filtering lenses that block UV rays while protecting eyes from flash burns associated with welding arcs.
- Train employees and supervisors to recognise the symptoms of heat-related illness. Training is an essential part of any OSHA-compliant PPE program. In fact, general industry standard 1910.132(f)(1) states that, “The employer shall provide training to each employee who is required by this section to use PPE.”
Similarly, training for heat safety can help prevent illness and injury from outdoor work during the summer months. OSHA recommends educating teams on the hazards associated with summer heat, including the factors that lead to heat-related illness, symptoms of these illnesses and procedures for prevention and response. Learn more about heat-related illness on the job here, courtesy of OSHA.
While this list is far from complete, it provides an introduction to a few low-cost, high-impact techniques that can help keep workers safe during the summer months. When it comes to PPE compliance, a little bit of planning can go a long way.