Q&A: Choosing the Right PPE

how to choose the right ppe

Matt Block, Director of Health and Safety Services at Magid, recently sat down to talk about the biggest safety concerns for personal protective equipment (PPE) across all industries. Block’s experience and knowledge in the world of PPE gives us some valuable insight into choosing the best PPE for each application. Block discusses how to find the right balance of safety and comfort when choosing PPE and which improvements and changes can make PPE more of a day-to-day focus.

Q: What is the number one thing employers look for in PPE?
A: If you look at studies on PPE, comfort is always at the top of the list for both employers and workers.

Q: I would think safety would be at the top of the list. Why do you think comfortable PPE is more important?
A: Safety, of course, is a top priority, but it actually makes sense that comfort would be a top concern given the statistics on injuries. In almost every category, the predominant cause for injuries was that the employee was not wearing PPE at the time of the incident. Here are some examples:
  • Hard hats were worn by only 16% of those workers who sustained head injuries
  • Only 1% of approximately 770 workers suffering face injuries were wearing face protection
  • Only 23% of the workers with foot injuries wore safety shoes or boots
  • Only 40% of the workers with eye injuries wore eye protection
  • 72% of subjects reported not wearing gloves at the time of their injury
Q: Those numbers put things into perspective. Do you think that if the PPE provided had been more comfortable, the workers would have worn it?
A: In many cases, workers are injured because they remove their gloves or other PPE to perform certain tasks. For gloves, comfort is one aspect but dexterity and tactile sensitivity is also critical for many of these applications. If the gloves don’t provide these things, the worker is more likely to remove them. Luckily, technology has advanced to the point that some of the highest performing products for cut and abrasion resistance are also some of the thinnest, most comfortable products available.

Q: Why do you think people on the job select one PPE product over another?  What do most workers look for in PPE?
A: I interview workers on a weekly basis and I often ask them this question. In most cases they tell me they use a particular device because “it offers the best protection for my job.” This might be true in some cases, but more often than not I find choice is actually based on the perception of which qualities make one item of PPE safer than another. Many workers feel that heavier or thicker PPE provides better protection. Although this can be true for some hazards like heat insulation or impact, it is often not the case when it comes to protecting workers from hazards like cuts and abrasions.

Q: How do these perceptions affect the PPE choices workers make?
A: Too often these choices lead to choosing PPE that prevents the wearer from being able to perform all aspects of their job and can lead to the statistics listed above.

Q: Can you give us some examples where less is more?
A: Absolutely! There are lots of examples, with more coming all the time. New technology in hand protection has reached the point that some of the highest performing cut resistant gloves are also some of the lightest weight products, offering a much higher level of dexterity compared to many heavier alternatives like leather gloves. This comparison can also be found in other PPE categories like head protection where some of the lightest weight hard hats also have the highest ANSI rating for electrical protection.  For flame resistant clothing, some of the most advanced fabrics available are also some of the most lightweight and comfortable.

Q: What should workers and employers be most aware of when choosing PPE for certain jobs?
A: It’s critical to know the hazards and to select PPE that is best suited for them. I would encourage employers to work with a knowledgeable provider who can help them through this process, offering guidance on selecting PPE that strikes the balance between protection, comfort and value.

Q: Mostly, employers are the ones making the PPE selections. How involved should workers be in this process?
A: Training workers on the selection and application of these products is not only necessary due to regulatory requirements, it is also imperative to maximize the benefits of technology.

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