Key Considerations for a Successful PPE Program

Electricity is an indispensable commodity in our modern society. It powers industries, businesses, and homes. With a flick of a switch, customers expect electricity to come through. To achieve this, numerous workers put themselves on the line and are exposed to hazards every day.

In a study conducted by the Electrical Safety Foundation from 2011–2022, contact with and exposure to electricity is one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities in the U.S. with a total of 1,322 cases reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In this article, we will highlight the importance of a safety program that can help mitigate this risk for a safer power industry.

Workers are aware of the hazards caused by electrical energy and are often wary, but since the danger is ever present, it can be taken for granted and they become complacent around it. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) can help keep them protected at all times (Figure 1) and the implementation of a successful PPE program will result in not just a safer workplace but more efficient operations.

1. Power company workers are exposed to many hazards, including the risk of electrocution. Courtesy: TRADESAFE

Hazard Assessment: Shedding Light on Risks in the Workplace

Hazard assessment is the process of identifying potential and existing hazards in the workplace to recognize and anticipate them. Conducting a hazard assessment is crucial for worker safety and to boost productivity. By assessing these hazards, organizations can evaluate their severity and implement safety measures to mitigate their impact.

The first step in the process is identifying the hazards. Many hazards are similar across various industries. In the power and energy sector, the prominent hazards include electrocution; falls; confined spaces; fires and explosions; sprains, strains, and fractures; and environmental stress.

Of these hazards associated with electrical work, electrocution is a major cause of injuries and fatalities, with electricians being the top occupation at risk. Accidents happen mostly during electrical installation, maintenance, and repair work of power lines where the proper use of the right PPE may mean the difference between life and death.

After identifying the hazards, organizations then need to evaluate their risk level so that appropriate control measures can be implemented to mitigate them. Control measures include engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of PPE. It would be best to eliminate the root cause of the hazard or substitute it with safer alternatives but these are not always possible.

Importance of Appropriate PPE Solutions

As the name suggests, personal protective equipment should be appropriate to a person’s work and able to protect them from specific hazards they are exposed to. PPE should foster a culture of care and not just compliance. A comprehensive PPE program is essential to advocate the proper selection, use, and maintenance of PPE for a safe and secure work environment.

Since workers in the power industry are exposed to electrical energy, appropriate PPE includes hard hats, safety glasses, face shields, insulating gloves and sleeves, flame-resistant clothing, and safety shoes. Depending on the result of the hazard assessment conducted, additional protection such as fall protection equipment, arc flash PPE, and insulating protective equipment (IPE) may be required.

Selecting the Right PPE. OSHA requires employers to provide the appropriate PPE for their workers to protect them from hazards present in the workplace. Selecting the right PPE is a process in itself and has certain criteria to follow, including:

  • Protection Level. Based on the hazard assessment, PPE provided by the employer should effectively protect from identified hazards and comply with standards approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
  • Comfort and Fit. PPE should be the right fit to ensure optimum protection and comfort. Ill-fitting PPE is one of the reasons why workers discontinue their use despite the risk. Furthermore, these may pose additional risks like loose gloves being caught in machinery and the wrong size boots can cause tripping.

Improper PPE can cause more harm than good. Providing the right PPE to workers provides them with the responsibility of proper usage and maintenance, encouraging positive safety practices in the workplace.

Training for PPE Use and Maintenance. Training workers on the proper use of PPE translates to safe and efficient operations. Providing the proper PPE is not enough, it should be worn consistently and correctly to achieve workplace safety. Educating workers on donning, doffing, and adjusting PPE is essential and should not be overlooked.

Proper cleaning and storage of reusable PPE is important and workers should be taught how to maximize its service lifespan. Inspecting PPE before reusing it should be done regularly. Workers should look out for tears, cracks, scruffs, and other damages that could affect the integrity of the PPE. Damaged PPE should be disposed of responsibly and replaced by the organization to ensure continuous protection.

Furthermore, regular evaluation of PPE should be conducted to check that they are still an effective type of protection to use. Technologies in the power and energy industry are constantly evolving and new hazards may have been introduced or removed, so the required protection should keep up as well.

An efficient PPE program is an investment. It is an investment in workers’ safety and wellbeing, which can boost productivity and prevent financial losses caused by accidents and penalties for violations.

Strategies to Ensure a Successful PPE Program

For a safety program to be effective, the insights and experiences of the parties involved should be taken into consideration. Because the PPE program is designed to protect workers, including them in the decision-making gives them a sense of shared responsibility to uphold the program and adhere to its implementation. Enlisting workers’ participation in the process gives them value and a voice. Some tips include:

  • Involve representatives from different occupations within the industry in the PPE selection process so they can communicate their specific safety needs.
  • Empower tenured employees by including them in conducting safety training to share their practical knowledge and experiences on safety.
  • Engage employees in the regular evaluation of PPE so they can provide feedback and suggest improvements.

A zero-accident workplace is a relentless pursuit of safety managers that every facility hopes to achieve. In the energy sector, safety in the workplace is not achieved by accident. It is having effective safety programs in place and a collaborative effort toward successful implementation.

Herbert Post is the vice president for Safety and Health at TRADESAFE and has dedicated his career to facilitating best practices and educating others on safety compliance and updated regulations.

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