Let’s not forget that in the battle to keep our employees safe, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be considered the last line of defense. PPE is often inappropriately used as the first method of protection against serious safety hazards, but there are four other controls that should be implemented first to effectively make PPE the last line of defense. Elimination and substitution are the most effective ways to reduce hazards and protect employees, but these two control methods may also be the most difficult to implement. However, don’t assume they are the most expensive or complicated solutions before taking the time to do a risk analysis and hazard assessment.
If at all possible, remove the hazard from the workplace completely.
When elimination of the hazard is not possible, then replace the hazard with a less hazardous solution. A common example is to replace a toxic chemical with a less toxic one, like replacing paints containing lead with non-leaded paint. It is important to monitor any substitution to ensure that a new hazard isn’t unknowingly introduced, creating a more significant hazard.
When the hazard cannot be removed completely or substituted, then engineering controls are the next best control method. Engineering controls are used as a way to place a barrier between the user and the hazard.
As an additional measure, when hazards still exist, then procedures can be changed, training can be provided, signs can be added to the work environment, or actions can be taken to change the way people work.
Personal Protective Equipment(PPE)
As a control method, PPE is definitely less effective than all the other control methods, but when there are still potential hazards after implementing as many of the other control methods as possible, then PPE is essential. PPE requirements are different for every work environment, job task, and employee. After performing a hazard assessment in the workplace, using the hierarchy of controls chart(see above)to decide on the best control measures for the hazards found will go a long way to implementing safety measures that protect your workers.