Tools of the Trade: PPE - Personal Protective Equipment

No matter what job you’re doing, the cliché “safety is job number one” always applies. Depending on the job though, the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed can vary widely. Some jobs need just basic PPE while others need highly specialized PPE and everything in between. In most home improvement and many construction jobs the basic PPE can be used to keep oneself safe from worksite hazards. A professional construction environment will obviously need more. Although PPE should always be worn as a precaution, removing or minimizing a specific hazard should happen first. Obviously, the safest situation is one where the hazard has been contained, but that isn’t always possible, so we need equipment that minimizes those un-removable dangers. So what are some of the basic PPE you should have and use?

safety glassesMy eighth grade shop teacher emphasized that the most important safety precaution to take is protecting your eyes. He was obsessed with it. EVERYONE had to wear safety goggles before working in his shop class, and this was the only thing he was really a stickler on. Probably to the chagrin of the kid who nipped his finger on the disc sander. He was right about the eye protection though. As of 2017, it’s said that there were 300,000 eye injuries in the workplace that required a visit to the ER, and 90% of these injuries could have been prevented had eye protection been worn. It’s definitely worth investing in good quality pair of safety eyeglasses or goggles. So get something comfortable. Not only are eye injuries generally preventable, they’re also painful (like that time I got ceiling tile in my eye) and many are likely permanent, so wear something for your eyes if nothing else. One close call is all it will take to make you appreciate that you wore safety glasses.

respiratorProbably the next most important piece of equipment to wear is a respirator. Mainly because if you can’t breathe, you can’t do much else, and breathing in dust and other workplace contaminants isn’t going to help you much in that regard. It’s said that about 15% of asthma in adults is attributable to work. Not hard to imagine when construction in the house is almost always dusty and cutting concrete in major construction creates large plumes of dust that it’s worrisome to even drive through much less stand and breathe in. Other vocations like coal mining often result in conditions like pneumoconiosis and don’t even think about asbestos without something to protect yourself. A good respirator suited for whatever work your doing will keep you breathing easy, every style of respirator should tell you on the package or sale listing what the respirator is rated for and designed to protect you from. The key to keeping healthy lungs is using the right respirator for the right job.

Klein hard hatArguably even more important than the first two pieces of PPE, is a hard hat. For good reason too. A head injury will put you out just as quickly as an eye injury and will leave you dead or brain damaged, and if it’s preventable, why not try to prevent it? In 2012, there were 65,000 cases involving lost days from work due to head injuries and supposedly in the same year 1,020 workers died due to head injuries. While it’s not guaranteed to protect you from super heavy or large objects, they will probably protect you from the occasional stray hammer, flying piece of metal, sharp objects, and random hazards. Hard hats should be worn always even when no obvious danger is noted. There are some survival stories about how hard hats have saved lives and drastically reduced the severity of an injury including:  steel plates hitting the hat, a 6 pound tool from high up falling, and one case of a worker surviving a 100 pound piece of steel to the head thanks to their hard hats. In short…always wear your hard hat.  

A few other pieces that can be helpful in certain situations, but not all, depend on what you’re doing. Gloves are going to be used in most trades to protect from splinters, cuts or fiberglass. They’re just a general “nice to have” in many situations. Hearing protection is also nice, especially when working with power tools. Steel toed shoes protect your feet at the construction site and in many other cases. When you’re up high, a safety harness will keep you from falling to your death. There are probably other pieces of PPE specifically designed for certain hazards, so consider those on a case by case basis.

At the end of the day, protecting your head, your eyes and your lungs are the most important when working construction at home or professionally. For a relatively low cost (compared to the alternative) you can buy hard hats, safety glasses, respirators and more that will not only potentially save your life, but will at least ensure that you maintain a good quality of life. Being able to think, see and breathe without problems caused by a work injury are priceless if you really think about it.

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