Safetip #93: Control Methods & Development of a PPE Program

August 23, 2017
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about the importance of evaluating all other hazard control methods before developing a personal protective equipment (PPE) program.

PPE Is the Least Effective Hazard Control Method

PPE is worn by workers to minimize exposure to occupational hazards that can cause risks of injury and illness. Examples of PPE include gloves, respirators, safety glasses, full body suits, hard hats, fall protection, aprons, vests, earplugs or muffs, and shoes.

Many workplaces will include situations where the use of PPE is inevitable. Therefore, as part of an occupational safety and health (OSH) program, an effective PPE program should be designed. However, PPE is only one part of a comprehensive OSH program. More importantly, PPE does not eliminate or reduce the hazard itself, it just provides additional protection to lessen the risk of injury or illness.

There are other methods to control hazards, which are more effective than PPE in mitigating risks of injury and illness. In fact, PPE is the least effective hazard control method. For this reason, you should evaluate all other hazard control methods, and implement the ones that are practical and economically feasible, before considering PPE.

Follow the Hierarchy of Controls

Before developing a PPE program and determining cases where PPE will be used along with the specific PPE equipment, perform a risk assessment and use NIOSH’s hierarchy of controls. Determine if any of the other four control methods can be implemented before selecting PPE as a last resort. The most effective methods are at the top, while the least effective ones are at the bottom:

Hierarchy of Controls

Elimination and substitution are the most effective methods because they completely remove or replace the hazard, thus eliminating the risk of incidents. But these methods can be difficult and costly to implement. Examples include: Replacing a hazardous chemical with a non-hazardous one, or using the same chemical but in a different form that reduces exposure.

Engineering controls do not remove or replace the hazard, but they control worker exposure to the hazard, i.e. they prevent contact between the hazard and the worker. A good example is the installation of a ventilation system to remove hazardous air contaminants.

Administrative controls are the second least effective methods, after PPE. They seek to limit worker exposure to hazards by limiting or changing tasks performed under hazardous conditions, by providing training on how to avoid exposure, and other practices. A good example is a rotation schedule where each worker is exposed to the hazard for only a very small total amount of time.

Finally, it could be tempting to opt for PPE because it’s less costly than some of the more effective control methods. But when looking at costs, it’s important to look at the big picture and take into consideration the risks of incidents that can result in potential higher costs in the long term. Therefore, incurring more costs upfront to eliminate or reduce risks of incidents, through more effective hazard control methods, may be better.

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