5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Choosing PPE For Your Workforce

The right PPE program will not only reduce workplace safety incidents but can lead to a happier, more intentional crew. Image courtesy of Westex: A Milliken Brand.

It’s important to directly address safety hazards, outside factors and employee requests.

By Jeff DuLong, Contributor

People who work in the electrical industry face a wide range of safety hazards and considerations that make choosing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) incredibly important. The right PPE, from both a standards requirement and comfort perspective, can help you minimize safety incidents and contribute to a more productive workforce. However, selecting the right PPE can be a daunting task. To help streamline your selection process, start by asking yourself these five questions:

1. WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORKDAY LOOK LIKE FOR MY EMPLOYEES?

Before jumping into specific safety considerations and safety product selections, take a few minutes to think about a typical day-on-the-job. A good exercise is to ask a few of your employees to keep a journal of their day, or if possible, take one week to do a ride along with a handful of employees. This inside look at their workday will help you pick up on opportunities to go above and beyond to keep them safe.

It’s important to consider the work environment when selecting FR/AR garments, and to consider if your team needs lightweight, waterproof or breathable materials. Image courtesy of Westex: A Milliken Brand.

2. WHAT HAZARDS WILL MY WORKERS FACE?

The first step when putting together or revamping a PPE program is to conduct a safety audit. A proper audit will help you identify potential risks in a workplace. When thinking about workers in an electrical work setting, an audit will offer you an opportunity to inspect all electrical equipment (if applicable), your training programs and provide a 360-degree view of the potential opportunities for injury. This perspective will help you feel confident that your PPE selections are addressing all potentials concerns.

3. WHAT STANDARDS DOES THEIR PPE NEED TO MEET?

Once you’ve finalized your safety audit and have a clear picture of the hazards your workers could encounter on the job, it’s time to align those to the standards developed to address each one. In the United States, the four standards that flame resistant, arc rated (FR/AR) garments might need to meet include NFPA®2112, NFPA®70E, ANSI 107 and NESC.

Each of these standards is designed to address a specific hazard or safety consideration. For example, ANSI 107 is used as a guide for the design, performance specifications and use of high-visibility and reflective apparel. If your workers operate at night or in high-traffic areas that require the use of a hi-vis vest or everyday garment, you will need to confirm it’s ANSI 107-certified.

4. WHAT OUTSIDE FACTORS DO WE NEED TO CONSIDER?

While hazards and standards are priority number one, you can’t deny there’s more that goes on during the day that can impact PPE needs. For one, consider the climate. Do you live and work in an area with a high heat index that might require more breathable fabrics in FR/AR garments? Or perhaps you live in an area with higher-than-average rainfall, making lightweight, waterproof materials more important.

Another outside factor to consider is how your workers will use their safety products in certain situations. For example, will your workers be more likely to skip the step of putting on task-based PPE if they think it will save them time or effort? If that’s the case, consider a daily wear program.

5. WHAT DOES MY TEAM WANT?

Last but certainly not least, talk to your team. Understanding their needs and desires will help you make the best decision and lead you to creating a program that your team will be more likely to use as designed. Without two-way communication, you might not be able to gain valuable insights into the performance or comfort of the PPE chosen for your program. Be sure to ask them about fit, feel and function when discussing their FR/AR garments as well as how they plan to maintain their workwear. Continued conversations, at least once a quarter, will help negate any potential complacency in use or missed opportunities.

The responsibility of selecting PPE for an entire workforce shouldn’t be taken lightly. The right selections deserve careful consideration and to be studied at all angles. When moving into product selection, be sure to work closely with both the PPE companies as well as their suppliers in order to make choices that directly address the hazards, outside factors and employee requests. The right PPE program will not only reduce workplace safety incidents but can lead to a happier, more intentional crew. ESW

Jeff DuLong is a senior sales manager, end users and strategic accounts for Westex: A Milliken Brand. With more than 25 years of experience in the protective apparel space, Jeff has worked with companies of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 to independent owners in the chemical/petrochemical, electrical and gas utility industries. He audits FR/AR fabric requirements and develops new programs for arc flash, flash fire and combustible dust exposures. Jeff has presented to hundreds of companies and their workforce of end users, overviewing industry standards, specifying FR/AR fabrics based on company exposures and providing consultative information to keep workers safe. Jeff lives in Portland and graduated from the University of Oregon. Learn more at https://www.westex.com.

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