Fit to Task AND Fit to Worker
Personal Protective Equipment or PPE is any item of clothing or equipment that workers wear in order to protect themselves against specific hazards in the workplace. There are many different types of PPE depending on the industry or the type of task. Common categories include:
- Eye Protection: safety glasses, goggles, visors
- Footwear: safety boots, metatarsal guards to protect the top of the foot from heavy weights, traction aids for slippery surfaces
- Head Protection: hard hats, sun visors or hats, toque
- High-visibility clothing: anything with a reflective element
- Fall Protection: harnesses, lanyards, retractable lifelines
- Hearing Protection: earmuffs, sound-canceling ear coverings, foam or custom earplugs
- Respiratory Protection: self-contained breathing apparatus, mask and hood respirators
Who provides PPE?
In Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, employers are required to provide approved PPE to workers and ensure PPE is at the work site before starting the task.
Workers also have responsibilities. When provided with PPE to use, workers need to take steps to keep the PPE clean and prevent damage. If equipment is damaged, they need to give it to their supervisor and let them know why the PPE is not fit for use.
Selecting the right PPE for your task
The past year has made many people more aware of the exposure control planning process, as it helped to protect us from COVID-19. The same step-by-step process is useful for all types of workplace safety planning. Often called the “hierarchy of controls,” the steps seen below reflect the process for finding the correct equipment and keep workers safe at work. Here are your 3 basic steps towards working safely:
- Spot the hazards.
- Find solutions.
- Put your plans into action.
Step 1: Spot the Hazards - There are many hazards in every workplace, but it is essential that supervisors and workers identify them and troubleshoot BEFORE an accident happens. Hazards might look like:
- A cold day – a risk of cold exposure for your workers, which could result in frostbite or frostnip, hypothermia, or other injury resulting from slowed reaction times or mental alertness.
- Working on a roof – a risk of falling from heights, handling materials, sun exposure on a hot day, or a risk of dropping the tools or equipment used to do the task (nail gun, shovel, etc.) injuring another worker or the public.
- A patch of ice – a risk of slipping and falling, and one of the most common forms of injury in the north.
Hazards exist in the world we live and work in, but the important thing is that we notice them and put safety practices in place to lessen the risk of injury.
Step 2: Find Solutions – This is when we start to think about practical ways to protect ourselves from the hazards that exist. Review your hierarchy of controls and see what is possible. Elimination is ALWAYS going to be the safest control, followed in order by the other levels listed. PPE is our last line of defense, but is often a very important piece of the puzzle. In this step, you are asking yourself “what type of PPE do workers need to stay safe?” Take the examples listed above; here are types of PPE that would be considered for these types of hazards:
- A cold day – use of layers, coats, hats, gloves, boots and other gear for the temperature condition that the worker is working in.
- Don’t forget the other controls you need, like giving workers regular breaks from the temperature, encouraging them to drink warm liquids, and ensuring that someone is monitoring conditions, the buddy system and a clear limit for when it is too cold and when work needs to stop (a working in cold weather safe work procedure will help supervisors and workers make this decision). Refer to WSCC Code of Practice on Thermal Conditions for further information.
- Working on a roof – you will need fall protection, guardrails, harness, lifeline, safety boots, appropriate clothing for working in the conditions, and depending on the work that is being done, workers might need gloves, eye protection, or hard hats
- Don’t forget the other controls, which need to include fall protection plan, drinking water, clear guidelines for how long workers can stay in direct sunlight (breaks are important), good communication with ground crew, and equipment like ladders that are in good working condition.
- A patch of ice – workers will need to wear appropriate footwear and traction aids for the weather they are in.
- Don’t forget the other controls you need, which include keeping the ground clear of ice whenever possible, putting down salt or gravel to prevent slipping, procedure and safety topics as a reminder system to inform workers they need to pay attention to their body posture and slow down when walking.
The correct PPE can be life saving. It is important to take the time to really consider the safety practices, equipment, and apparel that will work towards keeping your workers safe.
Step 3: Implementing your plan – The final step in preparing your workplace to be safe. Here is where practical solutions become life saving realities. When you are looking at PPE in this step, you are asking “does this PPE fit THIS worker?” There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to PPE. Here are some factors to consider:
- What is the stature of the worker? Workers may require a variety of sizes of PPE. Find adjustable PPE that can be made to fit a wide variety of workers.
- Remember that PPE has historically been designed for a typically male physique. If a worker doesn’t fit into that category, you need to source alternate PPE styles to fit their needs.
- All respirators (such as a N95) require an individual worker fit testing and scheduled re-fits to ensure proper protection. In these cases, it is also important that the worker stays clean-shaven to protect the seal around the mask.
- Does your worker require eye glasses? Do their safety glasses fit over their eye glasses for protection? They may need prescription safety glasses.
PPE must be fit to task AND fit to the worker. Poor fitting PPE can create additional hazards for workers, so it is important that everything is well maintained, has a proper safety rating, and is fit to the worker using it.
Effective implementation also has another important component: make sure the PPE is accessible. If PPE is readily available whenever a worker needs it, they will be more likely to remember it when they start a task. Consider the layout of your workspace. Is the PPE available where and when workers need it? If not, perhaps it is time to consider new storage solutions for your workplace.
The WSCC has resources to help ensure the proper PPE is being used for the work your business is doing. Check out the available resources today:
- Video: Selecting Personal Protective Equipment
- Codes of Practice: These documents break down legislation into employer, supervisor, and worker duties. We have an entire category of Codes of Practice on PPE alone!
- Safety Bulletins: From fitting ear plugs to fall protection, the WSCC has many safety bulletins that can be shared with your workers, or posted on your safety board.
- Toolbox Safety Talks: Have a discussion with you staff on PPE usage with these guided safety talks.
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) resources:
- When and how to wear a mask – a guide to the different types of facial protective gear.
If you want to see the legislation directly, refer to Part 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHS Regulations) (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories). If you have any questions about what PPE should be used on your work site(s), contact the WSCC today in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.