Eliminating gaps in PPE
Don’t compromise safety for productivity
Approximately 100,000 Americans suffer serious head injuries on the job each year, and nearly 1,000 American workers suffer job-related eye injuries each day. A common challenge when it comes to PPE compliance for the head, face, and eyes is to ensure health and safety are not sacrificed for efficiency and productivity, or vice versa. Increasingly higher noncompliance rates with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to your overall health and safety. Whether due to economic conditions, flawed safety programs, or attitudes that result in at-risk behaviors, these safety gaps must be addressed.
A survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) about worksite accidents revealed that 84 percent of all workers who reportedly suffered head injuries were not wearing head protection at the time of the injury, even though head protection may have been provided. The majority of these workers were injured while performing normal job functions at their usual worksites.
To put it more bluntly, approximately 100,000 Americans suffer serious head injuries on the job each year, and nearly 1,000 American workers suffer job-related eye injuries each day. Many of these injuries result in permanent disabilities, blindness, or even death. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) estimates that a single concussion injury can cost an employer over $143,000 in direct and indirect costs. The average metal manufacturing company would need to sell an additional $2.9 million in products to make up this cost.
These statistics hit especially close to home for welders given the various primary and ancillary processes they are involved in, such as grinding and cutting. You, the welder, are often put in a position where you need to replace a hard hat with a welding helmet or to add a face shield as you shift between different work tasks. In an effort to simplify the inefficiency of switching between hard hats, welding hoods, and face shields, job shops are having to piece together personal protective equipment (PPE) in a way that not only creates gaps in safety but also compliance issues.
Increasingly higher noncompliance rates with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to your overall health and safety. Whether due to economic conditions, a flawed approach to safety programs, or attitudes that result in at-risk behaviors, these safety gaps must be addressed.
While metal manufacturers can eliminate physical hazards through safety engineering or administrative controls, PPE compliance and safe work behaviors are the last line of defense for face and head injuries. Unfortunately, data shows that many of the welders who sustain eye, face, and head injuries were not wearing the PPE that was issued to protect them. Those injuries could have been minimized or avoided altogether had they been wearing proper PPE and following safe work practices.
Merging Safety With Productivity
A common challenge when it comes to PPE compliance for the head, face, and eyes is to ensure health and safety are not sacrificed for efficiency and productivity, or vice versa. For example, how often do you wear a hard hat while you’re welding? For most welders the answer is never, and by doing so they increase their risk to suffer a head injury during welding. At the other end of the spectrum, some welders are outfitted with a multitude of PPE to protect against all ancillary processes. This, however, creates excessive inventory at the workspace and leads to a lot of downtime due to constantly switching between the various PPE.
Too many hazards exist for you to find protection with just one piece of PPE. Electrical hazards, impact hazards, crush hazards, burn hazards, Ir/UV hazards, respiratory hazards—it’s a dangerous job. The bottom line is you risk
suffering a head injury anytime you don’t wear a hard hat. However, factor in the amount of time it takes to change out various inconsistent or nonstandardized PPE, and it’s easy to see the difficulty of maintaining both safety and productivity.
To resolve this problem, some job shops have begun issuing three different hard hats:
- A basic hard hat
- A hard hat with a face shield
- A hard hat with a welding helmet
While this seems like a logical solution, it also creates new challenges. Storing up to three different helmets in an often confined workspace can create a cluttered environment. Helmets that are not stored properly can collect dust and debris that can cause injury.
One solution is a hard hat system that allows for the quick insertion or release of a welding helmet or face shield. This allows welders to keep their eyes, face, and head protected because they no longer need to remove their hard hat.
By attempting to ensure worker health and safety through the use of multiple helmets, manufacturers are dealing with cost and production inefficiencies because of wasted inventory and wasted motion. This approach is not complementary to lean manufacturing processes, does not help to reduce waste or lost time, and creates noncompliance issues.
Updated in 2010, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) 87.1 standard outlines the established performance criteria and testing requirements for devices used to protect the eyes, face, and head from injuries caused by impact, nonionizing radiation, and chemical exposure in workplaces. The standard covers all types of protection configurations, including goggles, face shields, welding helmets, and full-facepiece respirators. Most notably, the standard requires manufacturers to ensure that if workers are using a combination of PPE together, then that equipment must be tested together to ensure safety compliance. In most cases, this is not occurring.
For this reason, safety and production managers have a strong desire for standardized PPE to improve welder safety and productivity, not to mention compliance.
Moving Toward Standardized PPE
Through worker education and training programs about PPE compliance and other face and head injury risk-mitigation strategies, safety and production managers can collaboratively change embedded attitudes and behaviors in their workforce that lead to potential injuries. This requires a two-pronged approach that involves employee-focused education and standardized PPE integration, both of which can be implemented in lock-step.
The first approach is to increase awareness about the dangers of not using PPE or using noncompliant PPE. In truth, site managers must connect with the hearts and minds of their employees, strengthening each site’s safety culture and building a sense of shared accountability among all employees to identify hazards and at-risk behaviors before an incident occurs.
To improve productivity and compliance and reduce injury, PPE also must be standardized, constant, and appropriate to the tasks performed. Eye, face, and head protection measures also must be consistent and systematic to minimize safety gaps.
Safety needs to be prioritized above all else, but that does not have to come at the expense of productivity. In essence, there does not need to be a compromise between safety and productivity.
Practical Welding Today
Practical Welding Today was created to fill a void in the industry for hands-on information, real-world applications, and down-to-earth advice for welders. No other welding magazine fills the need for this kind of practical information.