USING THE RIGHT PPE

Personal protective equipment or PPE has become a household phrase since the onset of COVID-19. Typically when we think of PPE, we think of face masks, sneeze guards, gloves, and lots and lots of hand sanitizer. However, PPE goes well beyond that. Before it was said in reference to medical supplies, PPE meant protective gear for dangerous tasks, namely eye protection.

We’ve all seen guys (and a few ladies, too) walk around construction sites with safety goggles on--usually clear, but sometimes tinted. Sometimes you wonder, “Will those goggles really do anything?” Well, a plumber in the UK answered that question in 2019.

One summer afternoon in 2019, then 31-year-old Michael Goodall was using an angle grinder to cut tarmac when the grinder suddenly shattered sending a shard of the grinder back and up towards his face. Luckily for Goodall, he was wearing safety goggles. He was left with a deep laceration down his face, a shattered eye socket, and reduced vision in one eye. The goggles didn’t prevent Goodall from getting injured, but they did stop his injuries from being much worse. Now Goodall is an advocate not just for PPE, but for the right kind of PPE.

Most safety glasses are made from polycarbonate, which is very tough and very light. This durability and light weight make it the perfect material for safety glasses that need to be worn for extended periods of time. But how do you know if you have the right safety glasses?

Just like there are different levels of danger, there are different levels of protection against danger. In the US, safety glasses will either be basic impact or high impact and must undergo testing to be certified as either. Testing involves striking lenses with steel balls at high velocity. If they don’t break, crack, or chip, they’ll be certified. When safety glasses pass these tests and get certified, they are rated ANSI Z87.1.

But being certified isn’t enough. It’s on the user--the technician, operator, engineer--to make sure he or she is wearing the appropriate PPE for the job. PPE likely saved Michael Goodall’s life, but, by his own admission, he may have avoided some of his injuries had he been wearing the right PPE.

PPE goes beyond just a pair of safety glasses. Do you need splash goggles? Gloves? How about an apron? A dust respirator? Maybe a vapor respirator? Before beginning any job, the operator or tech should ask these types of questions to ensure the right PPE is used.

The official OSHA and ANSI websites are great resources for determining the right kind of PPE for your job. Again, though, a lot of the responsibility falls on the individual. Take a moment before beginning any job and consider what’s the worst that could happen. Then take the proper precautions to ensure the worst doesn’t happen. A lot of times that is as simple as wearing the proper PPE.