As every occupational health and safety officer knows, it is not just about providing personal protective equipment (PPE). Businesses need to invest in the correct PPE. MARISKA MORRIS reports on what the experts have to say

Ill-fitting or inappropriate PPE can be as ineffective in ensuring the safety of employees as wearing no protective garments. In some cases, it can even cause harm. It is therefore vital for safety officers to purchase PPE that will fit the individual, the application and the environment. It all starts with ensuring safety is a priority.

“There are always three things that play a role when implementing a successful PPE programme. This first is culture, the second is the process of selecting and implementing PPE, and, finally, realising that the process is a living one,” explained Christo Nel, director of sales and market in Middle East, Africa and India at Uvex South Africa, during his presentation at the 2019 Saiosh Conference.

Without the correct culture, adequate processes and continued review of current PPE, companies will fail to ensure employees have the correct PPE. Essential to the process of selecting and implementing PPE is good communication between the supplier and the safety officers.

Nel noted: “The safety officers don’t know the correct questions to ask, and the PPE suppliers don’t always assist.” There are, for example, many PPE suppliers that will make recommendations over the phone, or without visiting the site. Companies then invest in the incorrect PPE, which puts employees in danger.

Assisting the supplier

Instead, Nel advised safety officers to provide a qualified and certified risk-analysis report to help guide the supplier. He warned against manufacturers that claim to be able to provide these reports.

“Don’t be fooled by PPE suppliers that say they can do the risk analysis. They are not the experts. Companies need to bring in the correct people,” said Nel. In addition to providing a report, the supplier should also undertake a site visit to see first hand the potential hazards in the workplace. Only after this has been completed should a recommendation be made.

Importance of site visits

“Guided by the risk analysis, the PPE supplier needs to analyse everything on site. This is not an overnight process,” Nel explained. For each individual garment, there are a number of factors to consider. Eye wear, for example, will require the PPE supplier to look at the exposure to ultra-violet and infrared light, dust, liquids and chemicals, among other things.

If a site visit does not take place, Nel warned that the PPE supplier might simply be making recommendations based on the products it has in stock, or is trying to sell. While it might seem easier to order PPE with a simple phone call, this will most likely cost the company more in the long run, as the PPE could potential break, fail to protect the employee, or even cause an accident.

Other considerations

In addition to ensuring a thorough investigation into the garments required, and which would be best suited to the application and environment, Nel recommended that safety officers also look at the standards, directive and regulations. While businesses should purchase PPE that complies, these standards and regulations can also assist in choosing PPE that will protect employees.

Companies should also consider whether the products recommended by the supplier are sustainable, free of harmful materials and offer other value-added features that might be important to the business.

While the cost of PPE is important, Nel pointed out that the overall long-term cost is more important than the upfront cost. Businesses should, for example, consider the lifespan of the product and whether it will adequately prevent injuries. The cost of an accident or injury in terms of medical expenses and downtime is often a lot more than investing in quality PPE.

Review and repeat

When the correct PPE is purchased, it is also important to continuously review the equipment. Products are constantly being improved. New products can sometimes provide better protection, improved productivity, or an increase in general efficiency. It is also important to renew the various garments on a regular basis.

The review process can also assist in establishing whether the PPE is being used correctly by the employees. This is where a culture of safety in the workplace is essential. “If the culture does not support the process, a successful PPE programme will never be implemented,” Nel noted.

While PPE alone cannot prevent an accident, it can be an important first line of defence against an injury. Investing in the correct PPE is essential, but will require commitment and time from businesses.

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