Workplace hazards come in various forms. It can be a sharp object like a nail, flying sparks, falling objects, rolling machinery, excessive noise, dangerous chemicals, and various other risky situations. Controlling these hazards at their source is normally the most effective means of protecting employees. And this is where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA comes in. It’s specifically mandated to deal with such situations. OSHA has put in place various measures and guidelines that all employers must follow, to eliminate or manage various workplace hazards in the best way possible. Some of the main OSHA standards for employers include:
Undertake a Hazard Assessment
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to undertake a comprehensive hazard assessment at your workplace. This assessment is designed to identify any risks that your workers might face and then come up with the most appropriate safety measures. Some of the physical hazards that might be present at a job site include pinching or rolling objects, high-intensity lighting, electrical connections, as well as sharp objects. Various workplaces also various types of health hazards like overexposure to harmful chemicals, radiation or dust. At the end of that assessment, you need to create a list of all the potential hazards and then list them into the following categories:
- Harmful dust
- Heat and cold
- Optical radiation
During the assessment, employers also need to look for sources of electricity, sources of high temperatures that can cause burns and eye injuries, sources of harmful dusts, types of chemicals being used, sources of light radiation like brazing, cutting, welding, and high-intensity lights, source of motion at the job site or processes that may lead to impact between equipment and personnel, potential of dropping or falling objects, sharp objects that might stab, puncture, cut or poke the workers as well as biologic hazards that might lead to infections or illnesses. Once the assessment is complete, employers should then analyze that information and then come up with the most appropriate PPE that will be required at the workplace.
Also, every workplace should be regularly reassessed to determine whether there are any changes in equipment, conditions, as well as operating procedures, which might necessitate a change in safety mechanisms applied. As an employer, you also need to document the entire assessment process, making sure that you include details like the name of the workplace assessed, the person who conducted the assessment, the date when the assessment was done as well as a certifying document that shows completion of the assessment.
Avail the Required Safety Equipment
Apart from conducting a hazard assessment at the workplace, you also need to provide the required safety gear to all your workers. Personal protective equipment or PPE falls under the following categories:
- Head protection: Head protection equipment includes things like hard hats, helmets, guards, bump caps, and hairnets, among others. Some of the areas where head protection might be required include building repair, construction, working in tunnels or excavations, as well as work that involves bolt driving tools. Head PPE is designed to protect the head against impact with fixed objects, falling objects, lacerations and entanglement, and scalping.
- Eye and face protection: For eye protection, employers should provide things like face and eye shields, safety goggles and glasses, and eyewear accessories. Tasks that might require eye protection include welding operations, handling hazardous materials that pose the risk of splashes, working with lasers and using vapor or gas under high pressure.
- Respiratory protection: Respiratory protective equipment is designed to protect workers from various types of hazardous materials that they might encounter at their workplaces. It covers equipment like breathing apparatus, protective hoods, positive pressure powered respirators, full-face respirators, half-mask respirators, as well as disposable masks, among others.
- Hearing protection: There are 3 main types of hearing protection – earplugs, earmuffs, and semi inserts. Individuals working in areas with high sound levels should always wear hearing protection equipment. The equipment provided should not only provide hearing protection but it should also be comfortable and hygienic to the users. It’s advisable to provide workers with various types of protectors and then give them the freedom to choose the gear that suits them best.
- Hand and arm protection: Arms, fingers, and hands are the most commonly injured body parts in most workplaces. Therefore, OSHA requires all employers to provide appropriate and adequate hand and arm protection equipment. This equipment is designed to provide protection against cold, heat, burns, vibrations, lacerations, chemical contamination, and bacteriological hazards.
- Foot and leg protection: Employers must also provide foot and leg protection, to protect workers against hazards like crushing, piercing, slipping and cutting. Leg and foot PPE is also needed in workplaces that have hazards like electricity and extreme temperatures. Foot and leg PPE includes things like safety work boots and work shoes, designed to provide varying levels of protection.
Employers might also be required to PPE for the body, for workers who are exposed to extreme temperatures and chemical contamination. Personal protective equipment for the body also ensures high visibility for the workers, especially those working in areas with motor cars, bikes, and pedestrian traffic.
Provide Training Employees
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also requires employers to train every employee who will be using PPE. The employees should receive training on why PPE is necessary, the equipment needed based on the workplace hazards, when it should be worn, how to put it on properly, proper care and maintenance of PPE, useful life of this equipment, when it should be replaced and how to discard used or contaminated PPE properly. Any training that employers provide should be comprehensible to all the workers receiving it. It needs to take into account language barriers and literacy levels of the recipients. At the end of that training session, employees should demonstrate adequate comprehension of the issues covered, including proper use of PPE.
Pay for Personal Protective Equipment
Unless stated otherwise, all employers must pay for personal protective equipment or PPE for their employees. Some of the equipment that employers must pay for include metatarsal and foot protection, non-prescription eye protection, face shields and goggles, prescription eyewear lenses or inserts for full-face respirators, safety boots with steel toes, welding PPE, hearing protection, hard hats as well as firefighting PPE, which includes things like proximity suits, helmet, gloves, and full gear. As an employee, it’s also important to note that if you get workers or employees from an employment agency, an employee leasing firm or a temporary staffing firm, and they are now working under you, it’s your duty to provide them with personal protective equipment. In short, you will apply the same terms as if they were your workers.
However, employers are under no obligation to pay for PPE equipment if it’s everyday clothing like long pants, long-sleeve shirts, street shoes as well as normal work boots. Also, as an employer, you are not required to pay for PPE equipment for ordinary clothing like jackets, winter coats, parkas, fashion gloves, hats, raincoats, sunscreen, and ordinary sunglasses. Furthermore, if you have already provided the required PPE and an employee prefers using something else, then you don’t have to pay for the equipment they have chosen, especially if it costs more than what you had already provided. If you give your employees an allowance to buy PPE and someone opts to buy something more expensive, then they will have to incur the additional costs. If an employee loses or damages PPE equipment intentionally, then it’s not the duty of the employer to replace it. Instead, the employee will have to replace such damaged equipment at their own costs.
It’s the responsibility of every employer to undertake thorough hazard assessment, identify the personal protective equipment needed, buy that equipment for their workers and provide the necessary training on proper use and maintenance of PPE. While it’s almost impossible to prevent all workplace accidents, the above PPE standards will help to minimize them.