When PPE Fails

The Serious Injuries & Multiple Claims Involved in Failed Personal Protective Equipment

Each year, more than 700,000 lost-work days could be avoided by the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Depending on your job and the different hazards that you handle, you may use a variety of PPE. PPE protects workers from injury or illness due to contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards (OSHA).

The use of PPE is considered a last line or last resort of protection. Its use indicates that current hazards cannot be controlled by administrative controls (e.g., shift rotation) or through engineering (e.g., design), industrial controls (e.g., site ventilation), or good housekeeping.

Common examples of PPE include:

  • Head protection
  • Eye and Face protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Respiratory protection
  • Arm and Hand protection
  • Foot and Leg protection
  • Protective clothing

OSHA does not require specific PPE for particular circumstances. Instead, it requires employers/contractors to identify current hazards that necessitate PPE, select the appropriate equipment, and train workers on when and how to use it properly. Employers are to use reasonable judgment about what PPE is needed, for which worker, and in what circumstance. Each current and present hazardous situation must be evaluated independently.

PPE failures often can be attributed to:

1. Inadequate Assessment by the Employer/Contractor. Failure to properly assess hazards and assign PPE can result in significant injuries, from chemical exposures to head trauma from falling objects.

2. Insufficient Training. PPE failure is often attributed to generic training. Detailed training should include: When to use PPE
Limitations of PPE
How to inspect PPE
How to put on and adjust PPE
How to safely remove, care for, and store the PPE safely
How to identify and replace worn or damaged PPE
Where to dispose of PPE that might be contaminated by hazardous substances.

3. Poorly Fitted PPE. If PPE does not fit correctly, it will not protect effectively. A good fit is always critical but is exceptionally vital when chemicals, heat, and respiratory irritants are involved.

4. Improper Usage. Gloves can limit dexterity, and eye protection can be aggravating. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) can be uncomfortable, interfere with communication and vision, limit your ability to have a beard, goatee, mustache, or even stubble. However, proper usage of PPE/RPE is essential to your health and well-being.

OSHA requires medical clearance for employees to use RPE on the job. RPE can trigger serious medical problems (e.g., respiratory distress, asthma, heart attacks) in workers with respiratory system or cardiovascular problems issues.

Sometimes, although rarely, PPE failure is the result of the actual PPE product or its design, making the PPE itself a dangerous product. If you have been injured on the job even though you are wearing the correct PPE, for which you have been well trained and correctly fitted, your PPE itself may have failed. Not only will you qualify for worker’s compensation, but you may also have a personal injury case against the manufacturer and/or distributor of the PPE. Do not return the defective equipment and call me immediately at (312) 357-8000 for an initial consultation on your options.

RPE failure–whether due to faulty equipment, the wrong type of RPE, or improper usage–allows the worker to inhale hazardous materials. Inhalation is one of the quickest, most efficient ways to introduce lethal levels of a contaminate into your body.

If you have experienced any injury at work, with or without the use of PPE, be sure to contact me immediately at (312) 357-8000 for a free initial consultation. I can help you understand your options and help you through the claims process.

Sources: Health & Safety Executive, OSHA, University of the Pacific

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