The Protection Principle

July 1, 2002
When it comes to personal protective equipment, the rule is simple - the best safety equipment is the gear that's worn. Wearing safety gear is particularly

When it comes to personal protective equipment, the rule is simple - the best safety equipment is the gear that's worn. Wearing safety gear is particularly important in construction, in which changing work conditions make it difficult to anticipate hazards.

Yet many people fail to protect themselves. The National Society to Prevent Blindness reports that almost 400,000 eye injuries occur on the job every year. Most injuries are minor, but a little eye dust still equals time away from work.

Also, according to the Industrial Safety Equipment Association, only 34 percent of those in building construction, 16 percent in heavy construction and 33 percent in construction special trades wear nonprescription safety glasses.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health also found that of the more than 7 million construction workers, more than 420,000 were exposed to noise levels above 85 dB. The agency estimates that 15 percent of workers with daily exposure to noise levels of 85 dB and above will develop hearing impairments.

Such statistics prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to include in its five-year strategic plan a goal of reducing construction injuries and fatalities by 15 percent by 2002.

As a preventive measure, remind the contractors you work with about using proper personal protective equipment beyond a good pair of safety shoes and gloves. Make sure you also carry a comprehensive inventory of safety equipment to meet your customers' needs.

If you have questions about the selection and use of personal safety equipment, contact manufacturers and federal, state and local safety agencies and organizations.

Following are basic safety tips for head, eye and face, and hearing protection.

Keep your hat on The latest revision to the ANSI Z89 regulation groups hard hats into Type 1, which protects against falling objects, and Type 2, which protects against falling objects and vertical impact. Hard hats are further defined as classes G, E and C. A Class G head protector reduces the danger of exposure to low-voltage conductors, as well to the impact and penetration requirements of a Type 1 or Type 2. A Class E hard hat reduces the danger of contact exposure to high-voltage conductors. Class C hard hats provide no protection against contact with electrical conductors.

Hard hats meeting OSHA and other safety regulations must be stamped "Z89." Bump caps do not meet ANSI requirements and cannot be used in areas under OSHA regulation.

When wearing a welding helmet with a safety cap, the suspension should not be turned around and the shell worn backward. While regulations do not specifically address this issue, if a hard hat was not tested in this position, it does not meet the ANSI Z89 standard. Contact the manufacturer to determine the acceptable uses for a particular hard hat or head protector.

Holes should not be drilled in a hard hat's shell. This could nullify the hat's Class E or G rating and/or lessen its impact resistance.

Paint or adhesives should not be used on a hard hat. They could attack or damage the shell, reducing the level of protection.

Show off those specs Regular prescription glasses should not be used as safety spectacles. Those who wear prescription glasses should obtain safety spectacles that incorporate the prescription or use protective eye wear that comfortably fits over prescription eye wear. Safety spectacles should be worn underneath face shields, visors and welding helmets, which are not primary protection.

Safety spectacles of inferior optical quality can cause distorted or blurred vision and poor depth perception that could lead to headaches, nausea, fatigue and accidents. Make sure protective eye wear with plastic lenses meets high-mass and high-velocity impact and penetration criteria in accordance with the ANSI Z87.1 standards. Eye wear meeting these criteria is marked "Z87."

Take advantage of special lens options. Consider, for example, a fog-resistant lens coating for workplaces with high humidity, or an indoor-outdoor lens for those who frequently move from a warehouse to an outside stocking area and vice versa. An I/O-type lens protects against bright sunlight and harsh overhead lights. Make sure safety spectacles provide sufficient protection against ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

Ensure that tinted lenses do not affect color. This is particularly important for those who work with electrical wiring or encounter traffic signals. True gray lenses perform well under these conditions.

Shaded lenses should be used for welding, torch cutting or brazing. Shaded lenses are rated 1 to 12, the higher the number, the darker the lens and the greater its ability to protect against radiation. Nonabsorptive, tinted lenses are not meant for welding.

Keep safety spectacles and other protective eye wear clean. Use only mild soap or detergent. Do not use solvents. To avoid scratching plastic lenses, do not use paper towels or untreated paper to dry them. Use mild household bleach to disinfect protective eye wear.

Tone it down Do not overprotect. Choosing a hearing protection device (HPD) with the highest noise reduction rate might not be ideal. Warning signals, alarms and machinery noises must be heard. Also, consider the frequency of noise as this influences HPD choice.

Hearing loss is cumulative. Removing a hearing protection device for 15 minutes during an eight-hour shift can reduce the device's effectiveness significantly.

A wide variety of earplugs, semiaural protectors (canal caps, banded plugs and semi-inserts) and earmuffs is available. Comfortable ear protection will get worn.

Noise levels should be measured with a sound level meter or dosimeter. Experts recommend using the OSHA-specified NIOSH method 1, which relies on octave band data, to determine the proper HPD.

Breathe right To round off the safety look, remind your customers about respiratory protection. For example, advise contractors to wear a disposable dust mask while sanding. OSHA regulates the use of respirators in general industry and construction. Respiratory protection includes supplied air, reusable and disposable air purifying models in full-face and half-mask versions. Replaceable and/or disposable cartridges and filters offer protection against a variety of hazards and contaminants encountered by contractors.

SIDEBAR: A How-To on Safety

Creating a safe environment for your company is serious business, and making safety everyone's business is simple.

The first step is to develop a safety program and a user-friendly manual that is highly visible to your employees. At National Equipment Services, officials recognized that to foster a safe workplace, they needed a safety mission and an aggressive plan of action at each of their 185 branches.

NES officials asked each branch to submit its safety manual, which consisted of safety regulations and procedures. The best safety practices were evaluated and correlated into the NES Safety Resource Guide, which established minimum safety standards. The SRG is a working document and includes chapters on accident investigation, safety audits/inspections, driver safety rules, drug/alcohol policy and blood-borne pathogens.

NES also formed a committee to reiterate the goals of the SRG, which was to be a minimum safety standard for the branches. The committee agreed that by using the guide, processes would be streamlined, thereby preventing accidents and resulting in substantial cost savings. Newly acquired companies could use the SRG as a basis for drafting their safety manuals.

You too can create your own safety program and manual by considering the following guidelines:

* Safety education is an essential part of leasing, selling and working with construction/rental equipment. A commitment to safety can generate more customers and boost your employees' confidence.

* Pushing your employees to maintain up-to-date training and product knowledge can help build profits.

* Proactively sharing information promotes customer contact. Clients respond to new safety information and appreciate the extra effort taken to distribute it.

* Safe operating procedures prolong the life of rental equipment.

* Proper training allows customers to use equipment properly and get the most for their rental time. Additionally, customer orientation and training provides some protection against liability.

* Disciplinary procedures for noncompliance need to be appropriate, consistent and communicated across all levels. Accountability is the No. 1 factor in a safety program's success.

* Make complying with safety regulations simple.

* Recognize that injuries can be prevented if everyone makes safety his or her responsibility.

* Initiate weekly departmental meetings to address safety concerns. Show safety videos; check with your insurance carrier's video library for rentals.

* Involve all employees in making simple "cosmetic" changes, such as identifying and ordering safety signs and inspecting fire extinguishers.

* Encourage employee involvement. A results-oriented safety program can target specific departments and add incentives for employee buy-in.

* Certify/train all of your employees on every type of rental or resale equipment you have on site, because a more knowledgeable employee is an asset to the team.

* Keep the doors of two-way communication open. Empower your employees every step of the way. Encourage employees to take ownership of the safety program.

- MacKinnon is a safety director/special projects for Equipco Rentals and Sales, an NES Company