What does compatible PPE actually mean? If I have two separate pieces of PPE and I wear both of them, then I’ll get the full protection from both, right? Unfortunately it is not this simple. When wearing more than one piece of protection the equipment needs to be compatible, otherwise it may reduce the level of protection from one, or all, items being worn.
This problem is not uncommon, in a lot of industries more than one type of PPE is required to be worn at any one time, for example construction. Construction workers are often required to wear a hard hat, ear muffs, a respirator and safety eyewear. Whilst all are CE marked individually it does not necessarily mean they will fit well together on the wearer. This is because these items are tested by themselves in isolation during their approval testing, not in interaction with other PPE.
Worrying about compatibility may seem rather over the top, and you may be thinking what can really be the harm? But having incompatible PPE poses a real risk to your workers’ safety and should not be taken lightly. A pair of spectacles that are sitting high on a wearer’s face due to a respirator being worn will not be as stable and secure meaning protection may be reduced.
As well as thinking purely about protection we need to remember that comfort plays a large role in PPE compliance. If a worker is wearing more than one piece of PPE and as it’s incompatible then they risk being more uncomfortable and therefore far more likely to be constantly readjusting their PPE or removing it all together. If wearers are constantly moving or adjusting their PPE to make it comfortable, this could cause a distraction on the task in hand potentially leading to accidents, or a less productive worker.
How can I achieve compatible PPE?
Having compatible PPE is very much down to the how the equipment fits on the individual and a mix of sizes or models may be necessary in order to find compatible PPE for all your workers. This is why it is recommended to involve your workforce in the selection process. This is what 3M are trying to promote through their ‘Workers’ Choice’ campaign. If the workers are involved in selecting equipment that is comfortable, functional and works well together they will be more likely to wear it and be safer in the workplace.
One way to gain compatibility is to use a system, such as a Powered and Supplied Air respirator, which can incorporate hearing, head, eye and respiratory protection in one unit.
As always, training is a key factor in achieving a safe working environment for your workers. Educating them on how to identify incompatible items of PPE and giving them enough product options to resolve incompatibility is key in helping you reach the point where your workers have equipment that is comfortable to wear and functions correctly together.
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