Health & Safety

Personal Protection

Before a worker begins work, it is important to consider what types of accidents could happen on the specific job and personal protection. Using common sense and wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment will reduce the worker’s chances of being injured.

For example, hard hats are worn to protect the head. The outer shell of a typical hard hat is made to protect the head from a hard blow. The webbing inside the hat maintains a space between the shell and the head to help cushion the head from any blows to the hard hat. The headband of a hard hat lets the wearer adjust the fit so that the hat fits comfortably and the webbing is properly positioned.

At one time, hard hats were made of metal. However, most hard hats are now made of impact-resistant plastic, since metal will conduct electricity, and metal hard hats cannot protect against electrical hazards.

The hard hat should be inspected before it is used. If there are any cracks or dents in the shell, or if any of the webbing is worn or torn, the hard hat should not be used.

In addition to head protection, it is also important to protect the eyes. Eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles should be worn wherever there is even the slightest chance of an eye injury. Regular safety glasses protect the wearer from objects coming from the front, and side shields can beaded to provide protection from the sides. However, the best protection from all directions is provided by safety goggles because they totally enclose the eyes.

Safety glasses and goggles must be inspected before use and always handled with care. If they become scratched or damaged, they should be replaced. The lenses should be cleaned regularly with lens tissues or a soft cloth.

Another type of protection that may be needed is hearing protection. Hearing protection is particularly important, because the ears may not always give a warning when they are being damaged. For example, exposure to high noise levels over a long period of time can cause hearing loss, even when the noise is not loud enough to cause pain.

Ear protection is usually provided by using earplugs or earmuffs that are specially designed for this purpose. Earplugs fit into the ear, where they can filter out noise. Earmuffs are large, padded covers for the entire ear. In extreme cases, both earplugs and earmuffs may be required.

Many job sites require the use of gloves to prevent injury to the hands. Work gloves may be made out of cloth, canvas, leather, or rubber. Workers should wear the kind of work gloves that are best suited to protect their hands for the job they are performing. Leather work gloves are used to prevent cuts and scrapes when the wearer is handling sharp or rough materials. Heat-resistant gloves are sometimes used for handling hot materials, and special rubber insulated gloves are used when work is done on or around live circuits.

Gloves should be inspected before each use. Gloves that have become worn, torn, or soaked with oil or chemicals should be disposed of properly, and new ones should be obtained. Rubber gloves used for electrical work should be tested and certified regularly to make sure that they will protect the wearer from electrical hazards.

For foot protection, probably the best shoes to wear on the job are approved steel-toed, steel-soled safety shoes. The steel sole prevents nails and other sharp objects from puncturing the feet, and the steel toe protects the toes from falling objects. The next best footwear material is heavy leather.

Work shoes should be inspected before they are put on. They should be replaced when the sole tread becomes worn, when there are holes in the upper part, or if they become soaked in oil.

Another important type of personal protection equipment is worn to protect the wearer from being injured by a fall. The fall protection system has a safety harness that consists of shoulder and chest straps and leg straps. It also has a D-ring, which is used to attach a lanyard. The other end of the lanyard is attached to a strong anchor point located above the work area.

Workers should wear fall protection when required by their company’s work rules. For example, workers may be required to wear fall protection when they are working near a large opening in a floor, near a deep hole, or over protruding re-bar.

A fall protection system must never be used for anything other than its intended purpose.

It is important to inspect the harness carefully before each use. The buckles and the D-ring should not be bent or deeply scratched, and the harness should have no cuts or rough spots. If any damage is found, the harness should be turned in for testing or replacement.

Not all of the hazards on a job can be seen. Another area of personal protection is concerned with a breathing hazard. A respirator is required whenever there is a danger of suffocation or other breathing hazard. Personnel may be required to pass a physical examination before they are allowed to perform work that requires a respirator.

There are two general types of respirators: air supplied respirators and air purifying respirators.

One type of air supplied respirator is a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). SCBA gear has its own air supply in a compressed air tank. It may be used where there is not enough oxygen to support life (atmosphere that is less than 19.5% oxygen) or where there are dangerous fumes in the air.

Another supplied air respirator uses a remote compressor or air tank. A hose supplies air to a mask. Supplied air respirators may be used under the same conditions as SCBA gear.

Air purifying respirators can only be used in atmospheres where there is enough oxygen to support life (atmosphere that is more than 19.5% oxygen). For example, full-facemasks or half-face masks with chemical cartridges are normally used for brief exposures to dangerous gases or fumes. The type of cartridge used with a mask is determined by the type of hazard the cartridge is designed to remove from the air. For example, different cartridges are designed to remove dusts, toxic gases, and vapors.

Before any respirator is used, it should be checked carefully for damage, and fit checks should be performed. The general condition of the respirator should be checked before it is put on. The straps, the sealing surface, and the gaskets should be inspected for any cracks. If a respirator is not in good condition, it should not be used.

If a respirator appears to be in good working order, the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed to put it on and adjust it for a comfortable fit. Two fit checks must be performed. One is an exhalation, or positive pressure, check, and the other is an inhalation, or negative pressure, check.

The first step in making the positive pressure check is to block off the respirator’s air outlet. Exactly how this is done varies depending on the type of respirator used. With some respirators, the air outlet can be sealed off using a hand.


The next step is to exhale and maintain a positive pressure inside the facepiece. If the respirator fits properly, there should be no leaks around the sides of the facepiece.

If there are no leaks, the negative pressure test is performed next. With the respirator used as an example, the hands are placed over the air inlets. The user then inhales and holds his breath to establish a negative pressure inside the facepiece. If the respirator fits properly, it should hold the suction inside the facepiece as long as the air inlets are blocked off, and there should be no leaks around the sides of the facepiece.

If the respirator fails either one of the fit checks, the user should readjust the straps or harness on the respirator and repeat both checks. If the respirator still fails one or both tests after several readjustments, a supervisor should be informed, and the respirator should not be used.

It is important to remember that even personal protection or the best protective equipment is of no value unless it is inspected regularly, cared for properly, used properly, and never altered in any way.

Another area of personal protection is concerned with lifting. Many injuries occur when heavy objects are lifted. As with most things, there is a wrong way and a right way to lift an object. Before any object is lifted, its size, its weight, its contents, its position, and the duration of the lift should be considered. The following guidelines apply to lifting an object safely:

  • Stand as close to the object as possible, with your feet shoulder-width (about12 to18) inches apart.
  • Make sure that your footing is secure and your body is well balanced.
  • Squat down and take a deep breath as you get a firm grasp on the object.
  • Keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • Keep the object close to your body at waist level, and be sure that it does not block your vision.
  • When you put the object down, be sure to use your leg muscles and not your back. Put the object down slowly, and be careful not to drop it.
  • If a load is too big or heavy, get someone to help you.
  • Following these guidelines allows workers to use their strongest muscles, which are the ones in the legs, instead of their weakest muscles, which are those in the back.

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