Cutting edge safety

From the February 2020 print edition

Employees require personal protective equipment (PPE) across many industries, whether manufacturing, distribution, healthcare or construction. And yet, for some workplaces, it’s an afterthought until an inspector visits a jobsite or, worse yet, when someone is injured. PPE is a key element to ensuring employee health and safety in addition to the overall organization’s sustainability and profile in the marketplace, both with customers and the community.

When an organization is found at fault, non-compliance to PPE requirements can be costly—fines, litigation, work stoppages or even closures can result. Depending on the industry and work task, PPE can either be a temporary measure to avoid workplace hazards until an effective hazard control method (either as an administrative control or engineering control) or a permanent solution is in place.

PPE requirements vary by province or territory and may differ based on the number of employees or industry type. Other factors that can impact PPE requirements locally include lone-worker situations (common in remote areas) and confined spaces. PPE can be especially critical in these workplaces due to their demanding nature and unique requirements. Check with local workplace safety ministries and associations to determine what’s required for your region.

Organizations can conduct workplace hazard assessments and risk assessments to identify hazards and risks that may be unique to their business. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS, at offers tools to learn about workplace safety, such as tips, training workshops and workplace safety signs. For regional or business specific assistance contact your local PPE supplier or industry association as they may offer workplace safety audits and assessments if you’re unsure where to start.

Types of PPE
PPE spans categories from head to toe, including most commonly used steel-toed boots and head protection such as hard hats and hand protection, like gloves. PPE is broken down into eight main types: head protection; face protection; hearing protection; hand and arm protection; respiratory protection; foot and leg protection; body protection and fall protection.

Head protection includes hard hats and bump caps used when there’s a risk of falling objects or the potential of head injury from working in small quarters, which risks the head coming in contact with surrounding objects—a common occurrence on construction sites. Replace head protection devices after impact, regardless of whether damage is visible.

Face protection includes face shields and safety goggles used during activities involving risk to the eye due to contact with foreign objects like metal chips or splashes from chemicals or biological matters—commonplace in manufacturing and healthcare. Safety checks on eye protection include looking for cracks in the lenses and ensuring straps are not loose and still provides a proper seal.

Hearing protection includes PPE such as ear plugs and earmuffs. Hearing injuries are often overlooked as a workplace safety hazard since the impacts are not instantly perceivable. Hearing loss occurs over time due to repetitive, unprotected exposure to excessive and loud noises. Replace hearing protection when cracks or splits appear or when there is no longer a good fit in the ear canal or there is a poor seal for earmuffs.

Hand and arm protection includes gloves, hand and finger guards, finger cots, finger wrapping tape and protective sleeves used in tasks that expose the worker to chemicals, biological hazards, abrasions or heating, as well as cutting or sewing hazards. Replace hand and arm PPE that has cuts and tears or has signs of contamination like residue from chemical spills or handling.

Respiratory protection includes respirators, masks, air hoods and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA). These are used when a worker is exposed to harmful gases or fumes and in dusty conditions. Safety checks on respiratory PPE include looking for cracks on the devices and ensuring straps still provide a proper seal around the user’s mouth, nose and the face, if applicable.

For foot and leg protection, think steel-toed boots, knee pads, chest waders, leg guards, overboots and overshoes, traction aids or speciality devices such as dielectric boots, footwear sanitizers and anti-fatigue soles. Foot and leg PPE is used in workplaces to avoid injuries due to exposure to slippery floors, electrical hazards, falling objects or chemical splashes. Replace foot and leg protection once there are holes and tears or they have signs of soles wearing out.

Body protection includes arc flash clothing, flame resistant clothing and safety vests. These are used for protecting the body from tasks that can cause injuries from flames and sparks, extreme temperatures, chemical or biological spills and when visibility is needed in low light conditions. Replace body PPE when there are signs of wear and tear such as holes, burns or punctures and when there’s no longer a good fit.
Fall protection includes lanyards and harnesses which protect wearers from falling when working at heights. Safety checks on fall protection include ensuring the webbing or surface is free from tears or burns, there are no loose buckles or grommets and there are no cracked components. Dispose of any fall protection device that has been in a fall.

PPE has advanced greatly with improved materials that offer better comfort. Natural rather than man-made materials reduce the risk of allergic reactions. Lightweight materials such as carbon fibre reduce fatigue and the incorporation of ergonomic functions reduce repetitive strain injuries and improve comfort. Aligning the level of protection to the task boosts employee compliance. For example, if full hand protection is not required finger cots may be suitable, as they offer some protection and provide improved dexterity, breathability and comfort as compared to a glove.

The PPE market is evolving to incorporate technology into products while becoming more sustainable. The creation of “smart PPE” has advanced, such as with the introduction of “smart hard hats” and “smart safety vests” and even “smart ear protection”. The high-tech company Daqri, for example, incorporates augmented reality into the clear visor of its hard hat, allowing users to see 3D modeling of the jobsite in real time (similar to Google Glasses). This not only reduces the amount of equipment the employee must carry but also downtime by having hands-free access to drawings and renderings, all while staying safe.

Elokon has taken hi-vis safety vests further by introducing safety monitoring in its “smart vest” which monitor’s a wearer’s activity to determine if an accident has occurred and advising a supervisor via text. It also has a built-in gas detection sensor to warn the user of toxic gases. To avoid injury, the vest integrates with forklifts to slow down the equipment when a worker wearing the vest is nearby.

PlugFones’ line of “smart ear protection” combines the safety of foam and silicone ear plugs with the added benefit of wireless Bluetooth capability for the user to connect to Bluetooth-enabled smart devices up to 33 feet away. The PlugFones keep the worker protected like traditional ear plugs but also keep them connected. That way, in an emergency they can contact help.

Lastly, awareness of the need for sustainability and to reduce an organization’s carbon footprint is at the forefront of operations. Disposable gloves are an option in hand protection. These tend to be single use and generate a lot of garbage due to their limited, short lifespan. Watson Gloves has made an environmentally friendlier hand protection option with its Green Monkey landfill biodegradable nitrile gloves, which fully degrade in 10 years in moderate landfill conditions, as compared to 200 years for regular disposable gloves.

Employee safety is paramount to an organization’s long-term success. Personal protective equipment plays a big part in an organization’s workplace safety plan. PPE is critical in all industries to maintain employee safety from workplace hazards and to avoid injuries. The extensive range of PPE leaves nothing to chance, regardless of which employee task or industry a business operates in. Each organization is accountable for ensuring workplace safety, from the correct PPE being available, to proper training in its function and, finally, to employee compliance in consistent usage. PPE continues to evolve to better adapt to employee needs by becoming more environmentally friendly and incorporating technology to maximize safety.


Mariete F. Pacheco, MBA, PMP is managing director, FRW Services Ltd.