Four years ago on Christmas day, an employee working for acompany that recycles lead from used batteries paid dearly for failing to wearpersonal protective equipment.
He had just finished moving a container pot filled withmolten metal from a furnace to a cooling area when the pot suddenly explodedjust as he was reversing his forklift truck. The molten metal, also known asslag, splashed the worker. When the worker jumped out of the forklift truck togo to an emergency shower wash station, more misfortune struck. He slipped onthe slag, and ended up receiving third degree burns to both legs, second degreeburns to the back of his neck, and third degree burns on his left palm.
The matter did not end there. Tonolli Canada Ltd. was fined$80,000, plus a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge credited to a specialprovincial government fund to assist victims, by the Ontario Court of Justicefor a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) after it pleadguilty for failing to ensure that the worker wore protective boots, leggingsand other protective clothing.
The courts have recognized the importance of personalprotective equipment (PPE), and are increasingly unforgiving with employers whofail to ensure employees wear PPE, says John Lazenby, a health and safetyconsultant who provides PPE training. Over the past six months, no less thanfour companies in Ontario were fined up to $170,000 for violations regarding PPEenforcement.
“Enforcement is the issue surrounding personal protectiveequipment,” noted Lazenby, the coordinator of an Ontario Workplace Safety &Insurance Board (WSIB) Safety Group sponsored by the Canadian FoundryAssociation. “Supervisors typically don’t like to discipline workers. Theydon’t want to upset them because they work with them. Supervisors tell me ‘ButI’ve told him, told him and told him.’ But it has to be enforced, or people aregoing to get injured.”
Build a PPE program
Progressive disciplinary measures, ranging from a verbalwarning to a written one to suspension and possibly even dismissal, should beone of the anchors behind the implementation of a PPE program, says Lazenby.“Most companies have one — not all enforce it,” he says.
To encourage compliance, a PPE program must becomprehensive, and requires the active participation of senior management,supervisors — and workers, if only because they are the ones who are familiarwith workplace hazards.
The first step in the development of a PPE program is toconduct a workplace hazard assessment to identify the hazards in the worksite.An on-site inspection of the workplace should be performed, followed by acomprehensive breakdown of work practices, job procedures, equipment, and workplacelayout.
You should review your manufacturing or other processes andcompile an inventory of chemical and physical agents. Also, you need to examineyour existing control measures for hazards because PPEs should “rarely be yourlast line of defense,” says Clyde Whalen, a founder and instructor of theAlberta British Columbia Safety Inc., a firm that specializes in trainingworkers in the Alberta oil sands.
“I hope I never put myself in a situation where I only haveto use my PPE to protect myself,” says Whalen. “Companies have to follow whatis called a hierarchy of control. Whenever they identify a hazard that putssomeone at risk, the first thing they have to try and do is eliminate thehazard. Failing that, you have to try to control the hazard through engineeringcontrols, if not, administrative controls. Finally, it is the PPE.”
Pick the right gear for the job
After you conduct your workplace hazard assessment andestablish the need for PPE, the next step is to determine the PPE that bestmatches the hazard. With some jobs, it’s relatively easy to select proper PPE,as workers face the same hazard throughout the shift. With others, such asfoundry workers who are exposed to a variety of hazards including molten metaland silica dust, selecting proper PPE becomes more complex. Foundry workers,for instance, are typically required to wear tinted eyewear, flame-resistantclothing, special boots with quick release fastening, and some needrespirators. Resorting to a consultant to help with the selection of PPE is notnecessary, but shopping around and discussing your basic needs with trainedsales representatives is, says Lazenby.
When you make your selections, it is vital to spend time toensure that the equipment fits each worker properly. Fit testing conducted byqualified personnel is key to ensuring safety and compliance, says Lazenby.“If, for instance, a respirator doesn’t fit a worker’s face properly and a gapexists around the edge of the respirator, the hazardous gases will seep in, andit will provide little protection,” says Lazenby. You’ll need to conductthorough fit tests on all the rest of your gear including safety glasses,hearing protection and other kinds of PPE.
Training is key
Training workers is also essential. Preferably conducted insmall groups to provide individual, hands-on attention, training should coverhow to wear PPE, how to adjust it for maximum protection and how to properlymaintain it.
After you’ve had your PPE program in place for severalmonths, you should perform an audit to gauge the effectiveness of the program,recommends Lazenby. An audit should include a visual inspection to determinewhether workers are wearing their PPE as required, and a workplace survey tomeasure workers’ views over whether the PPE program is working effectively.
“The main thing about audits is to make sure that workersare wearing what they are supposed to wear when they are supposed to wear it.If they are not, supervisors should be looking after the matter, and followingit up,” says Lazenby.
Enforcement is not an issue in the Alberta oil sands, saysWhalen. That’s because some employers have a zero-tolerance policy.
“Workers have no option,” says Whalen. “If the PPE isrequired, you have to wear it, and if you don’t, you’re fired. It’s thatsimple. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise you are going to face situationswhere you are trying to get people to wear their PPE. If it’s flat across theboard and there are no exceptions, people wear it.”
Luis Millan is an award-winning journalist and frequentcontributor to COS magazine. You can reach him at: email@example.com