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OSHA Guidelines for Personal Protective Equipment: Are Your Employees Wearing The Right Stuff?
Work Safely: Personal protective equipment is required for many functions in pallet and lumber operations. What you don’t know could cost you big time in terms of lost production or fines. Use these tips to ensure compliance and improve safety conditions at your facility.

By Joshua Hughes
Date Posted: 10/1/2007

   A decade ago, you could have walked into many pallet and lumber operations and not seen any employees wearing ear, eye, hand or foot protection. But that is all starting to change as companies realize the value in safety and are actively requiring personnel in the plant to wear the right stuff.

   If you think personal protective equipment (PPE) is something you wear in a sporting competition, this article is for you. PPE has become the first line of defense against many potential injuries. In the pallet and lumber industries, there are lots of opportunities for injuries from falls to cuts to long-term exposure issues.

   Even if an employee doesn’t think PPE will help, that is not a reason for them not to wear required equipment. Companies must require it to comply with the law and keep workers safe. Getting employees to wear PPE can be difficult because it may seem awkward at first. The degree to which management monitors it and rewards compliance will impact how workers adapt to it.

   Figuring out what type of PPE is needed for your plant starts with a hazard assessment. When assessing a facility there are certain things that must be looked for that fall into these different categories which include: sources of electricity, sources of motion (such as machines or processes where movement may exist that could result in an impact between personnel and equipment), sources of high temperature (which may result in burns, eye injuries or fire), types of chemicals used in the workplace, sources of harmful dusts, sources of light radiation, excessive noise or vibrations, potential for falling or dropping objects, any sharp objects that could poke, cut, stab or puncture.

   Management should take steps to reduce these hazards as much as possible. PPE is to be considered just another level of safety. It should not be viewed as a substitute for good engineering, work practice and administrative controls.

   Common PPE would include: gloves, foot and eye protection, protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs), hard hats, respirators, back belts, aprons and full body suits. Respiratory protection can be a big issue in sawmills and other facilities that produce large amounts of dust and matter in the air.

   Wood dust and chemicals used for finishing products may cause skin and respiratory diseases. One device that can help take care of respiratory issues very easily would be a mouth guard that goes over the mouth and nose to keep saw dust and other unhealthy matter in the air from being breathed in.

   Employers are responsible for paying for PPE and, for example, distributing hearing protection to all general industry employees who are exposed to an 8-hour TWA of 85 decibels. There is no cost to employees. This is in accordance with the Occupational Noise Exposure Standard 29 CFR (1910.95). Employees are given the choice of ear plugs or ear muffs from a variety of designated producers, or at least the option of one model of each of the two suited for proper ear protection.

   When ear protection or other PPE wears out, it must be replaced by the employer unless otherwise it was not taken care of or abused by the employee, and in that case the employee is required to replace it.

   PPE should be used as situations demand it, in other words you wouldn’t need ear plugs when there wasn’t any noise, but you might need another type of PPE in that same situation.

   Employers and employees alike should understand the different types of PPE and employers should know how to conduct a basic hazard assessment of a work place.

   Just because you comply with OSHA standards may not be enough; state and local laws can vary. Twenty-four states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island have adopted their own standards. For the most part, these states have adopted requirements that are identical to federal OSHA standards. However, there are some variances in requirements or enforcement policies. As a result, it always pays to check with state labor officials. OSHA offers voluntary assistance programs and free consultations to help businesses learn state and federal laws on these and other issues. You can find out more by visiting www.osha.gov. 


Here are some tips to consider for proper use of PPE.

   • Select PPE which ensures a level of protection greater than the minimum required to protect employees from a specific hazard.

   • PPE that is comfortable and fits well will encourage employee use, but PPE that does not fit correctly can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed.

   • PPE should be in good repair, correctly size for the worker and appropriate for the task.

   • PPE should only be worn when required. Eyewear or other PPE should be worn only when required, because if worn when not truly necessary PPE may confuse vision or work and do more harm than good. But if situations arise where there is dust, metal fragments, wood shavings, or other materials flying in the air, PPE should be worn. If corrosive materials are used in a work site, this would call for PPE as well.

   • Hearing and eye protection are at the top of the list for anyone handling powered tools that have the potential to spark off and/or shoot pieces of metal in random directions.

   • Helmets should be worn anywhere the possibility for head injury may occur, whether from a falling beam or ricocheted nail.

   • Protective foot wear is important to protect feet and toes for employees cutting wood, sorting pallets or carrying large heavy material from one place to another. Sneakers and open-toe shoes are not sufficient protection for most functions within a pallet or lumber plant. Check the label inside the safety shoes and boots to see exactly what level of protection it provides. For example, some shoes or boots provide impact protection while other varieties protect against punctures resulting from stepping on a sharp object.

   • Not only is wearing the right equipment important, but using it properly should always be a top priority. Management should provide instruction about how to use PPE and not assume that workers instinctively know how to use it properly. 

   • Employees performing sorting operations where they could be injured should wear gloves.

   • Safety glasses provide more protection than regular glasses because their lenses are impact resistant and frames are generally stronger.

   • The major type of ear protection devices include: expandable foam plugs, pre-molded/reusable plugs, canal caps and earmuffs. Check the following database to find out what might work best for you application: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/hpcomp.html.

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