As safety professionals know, personal protective equipment (PPE) is only effective when the employee selects the correct type and size, and wears or uses it properly. Thus the need for proper training.

PPE can be broken down into eight basic categories: hearing protection, eye and face protection, head protection, foot protection, torso protection, hand protection, fall protection and respiratory protection. The type and extent of PPE requirements can be determined via a number of ways: material safety data sheets (MSDS), job safety analysis (JSA), atmospheric testing, past incidents and employee input, just to name a few. Once the specific hazards are identified, you can start making decisions about exactly what PPE is required.

While there are volumes written about each type of PPE, this article provides simple, useful pointers that will help educate your employees and ultimately keep them safer.

Hearing protection

The key to an effective hearing protection program and training adherence is comfort. Some pointers to give your employees:
  • Demonstrate & practice proper insertion of the hearing PPE.
  • The PPE should be comfortable; if it’s not, try others.
  • Make sure the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of the hearing protection is adequate for the specific noise exposure.
  • Double hearing protection is required for exposures greater than 100 dBA.
  • Dirty hearing protection can cause ear infections.

    Head protection

    Despite an employee’s attachment to his collection of stickers, a hard hat and its suspension should be replaced according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Most call for replacement of the hard hat every five years and the suspension every year. You can tell the age by the stamp on the bill. Hard hats may become brittle after time. Test them periodically by slightly flexing the hardhat by pushing the sides together. It should be flexible and not brittle or crack. Hard hats must be worn with the bill forward and the suspension properly adjusted.

    Eye and face protection

    When it comes to eye and face protection, the options seem endless. Emphasize to your employees the importance of picking the proper protection and then wearing it! Your employees should have a good understanding of the hazards and what PPE styles, sizes and features are available. Safety glasses with a brow guard offer much more protection than those without. Street glasses and sunglasses typically are not acceptable for safety glasses. Look for the ANSI Z87.1 designation.

    Hand protection

    Of all PPE, gloves may be the most diverse. There are literally thousands of different types of gloves made in various types of materials, size ranges, dexterities, colors and grips. Then there is temperature resistance, cut resistance, flame-retardant, durability, disposable, non-disposable, and comfort, just to name a few other considerations.

    One interactive way to help employees understand the need for specific hand protection is to make a “hands on” glove demonstration. Your safety equipment supplier can provide you with a dozen or two different gloves that offer various types of protection. Print out the description of the gloves and attach it to each pair of gloves. Have the employees identify which gloves would be appropriate for specific hazards they encounter.


    The need for attributes like steel-toe protection, chemical resistance, slip resistance, etc., all play a vital role in the selection of foot protection. Fit and comfort, of course, are also critical. Previewing approved shoes will help employees understand various features. Most vendors are a good educational source.

    Have your employees show the bottoms of their shoes at your next safety meeting. This is a good way to proactively find worn-out soles that are ready for a slip.

    Respiratory protection

    This is a broad and complex area of PPE. Without delving into types, protection factors, regulations, etc., we will instead offer some general pointers on how to make your respiratory protection program more effective:
  • Conventional eyeglasses cannot be worn with most respirators due to improper fit.
  • Fit testing, pulmonary function testing (PFT) and medical evaluation must be performed annually.
  • Employees must be clean-shaven around the seal area of tight-fitting respirators.
  • Cartridge-type respirators cannot be worn in immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmospheres.
  • Non-disposable respirators should be properly cleaned and stored.

    Fall protection

    OSHA requires fall protection anytime there is potential for fall of six feet or greater. Employees should be 100-percent tied off in these situations. Inspect your equipment prior to each use; any fray or defect should be tagged and removed from service. Do not tie a knot or wrap a lifeline around a beam or pipe; this may reduce the capacity of the line by 50 percent or more. Use the clasp or hooks.

    In conclusion, take advantage of PPE training tools such as posters, signs on equipment, and incident reviews. Send employees home with safety glasses, earplugs and other PPE to help build the culture of proper PPE use. Lose the mentality that one size fits all. Teach your employees that specific hazards require specific PPE.

    Karen Jenkins, CSP, is safety, health & environmental coordinator and Dan O’Brien, CSP, is safety, health & security manager for the Cabot Corp. Ville Platte, Louisiana Carbon Black plant.

    Sidebar: PPE usage: How to get employees to cooperate

    AYear after year, work-accident statistics show that an alarming number of injured workers were not wearing PPE that could have prevented — or at least lessened the severity of — their injuries. Making sure your employees use required PPE is a tough responsibility that you can’t dodge since it comes straight from OSHA’s PPE standard (Subpart I). However, it’s a duty made lighter by providing employees the proper training.

    Once you’ve done your hazard assessments and selected the right protective equipment, you want to make sure your workers are using it correctly. Section 1910.132(f)(1) of the standard requires you to train employees concerning each type of PPE before allowing them to perform any work requiring its use. At a minimum, your PPE training program must include the following information:

  • when and what PPE is necessary;
  • how to properly don, doff, adjust and wear PPE;
  • limitations of the PPE; and
  • proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the PPE.

    The regulations [1910.132(f)(3)] also require you to retrain whenever:

  • changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete;
  • changes in the types of PPE to be used render previous training obsolete;
  • inadequacies in an employee’s knowledge or use of assigned PPE indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill.

    Training tips

    Here are some training tips to encourage employees’ cooperation.
  • Explain the need for each type of PPE. Identify each hazard that employees face on the job and explain specifically how a particular type of PPE protects them against this hazard.
  • Point out that OSHA requires it. Make sure your employees understand that the requirement is mandated by law. The company could be cited and fined if employees don’t use PPE required by OSHA regulations.
  • Dramatize the consequences of failing to use required PPE. Tell your horror stories or miracle stories. Or borrow someone else’s. If possible, show them a piece of damaged PPE that saved a worker from an injury. Or show a video that dramatizes the importance of wearing PPE.
  • Help employees recognize that PPE gives them more control over their own safety. People like to feel that they are in control of their own destiny. Donning appropriate PPE will do just that.
  • Lead by example. Always use required PPE yourself in the work area, and require visitors to use it, too. The example you set for your employees is a powerful motivator.

    — Peter Braver, freelance editor, written for Business & Legal Reports (BLR)