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I chose the topic of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Specifically the advancements of PPE over time and the way it is enforced. I chose this topic because I am hoping to learn about what it took for these rules and regulations of PPE to go into effect. For example, why a certain piece of PPE was made and the injuries that occured before it was made and how often it happened before the law and how often those same injuries occurred after the creation of the equipment or mandate of a person to wear the PPE while doing a certain task.
I would also like to understand what went in to establishing these policies and how the workers contributed to getting these policies put in place. The consequences for not following these laws and regulations also interest me and how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces these rules and regulations, like what happens to employers who do not enforce these laws and let the workers not follow these rules made for their safety and the repercussions the worker receives from neglecting to care about their own safety.
I will also be going over the OSHA Fact Sheet for Personal Protective Equipment. This is a general explanation of how to select the right PPE for the task at hand, exceptions for not wearing PPE, and a general idea of what to do with PPE when leaving the workspace. OSHA QuickCard™ is another key factor in PPE. For example the Respirators QuickCard™ shows all the different types of respiratory protection equipment and when each type is used.
Personal Protective Equipment has come a long way since it was first created and saved many lives as well as prevented many injuries.PPE is worn in many lines of work all with the same goal, to prevent fatalities and injuries. The equipment is worn by firefighters, police officers, factory workers, people who work in labs, and many other professionals who rely on these to protect them from dangers and even become their last line of defense from those dangers when all else fails. From hardhats that to steel-toe boots, PPE can protect you from head to toe. Not only can it protect from external harm but also internal harm with different types of respirators to protect the lungs from inhaling dust particles or hazardous gases or toxic fumes. Before OSHA, on average in the U.S. 38 people died per day. In 2016 the average has dropped to 14 deaths per day (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, n.d.). Fatalities are not the only thing that PPE protects workers from. It also protects them from injuries from as small as a tiny cut to broken bones, severe gashes, and serious burns whether those be from chemicals or fire/hot surfaces. Examples would be like steel toe boots, face shields, clothing made from a specific material and an array of different types of gloves.
The average death per day and injuries sustained from the workplace did not just drop that much overnight though. PPE is constantly improving. From when OSHA was instituted in 1970 many advancements have taken place with a lot of the PPE. Improvements in the materials used to the creation of better and safer equipment for the job have contributed greatly to the safer work environment for workers. A good example of this is steel toe boots. Although they are great protection from objects falling on toes there have been circumstances where a heavy enough object has fallen on them and severed toes off. The solution to that is a strong composite replacing the steel in the boots which still protect the toes from falling objects. But say if a very heavy object falls on the boots, the composite, instead of bending like steel, will take the force from the falling object and fracture instead. This dampens the blow while eliminating the hazard of the steel severing the toes or foot. Composite toe boots are also lighter and have better electrical resistance (Work Boot Critic, n.d.).
Those advancements have made the workplace safer for all workers. That being said they were made because of many past experiences of workers who had the misfortune to endure serious enough injuries and even death to start working on those improvements. Fall protection has become very strict over the years due to deaths from falls. One example occurred in 2007 when a worker was was welding on top of a ladder and slipped and fell 20 feet to his death (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, n.d.). Personal Protective Equipment like harnesses were made to prevent that exact scenario from happening. He should have been wearing some type of fall protection and if that worker had been following OSHA standards then he would not have fallen to his unfortunate death. Not all workers wear fall protection when they should. Another accident took place when a worker was fixing a radio tower only using a positioning belt with nylon strap to hold him in place with no fall arrest being used. He was arc welding and it came in contact and melted through the nylon strap (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, n.d.). He was hospitalized for fractures from falling off and hitting multiple objects on the way down. So no matter how advanced PPE gets, it will only work if it is actually used.
These accidents should not have happened because employers are supposed to enforce these safe practices. OSHA sends out inspectors (also referred to as compliance safety and health officers) out to work sites to make sure workplaces are in compliance with OSHA requirements (OSHA, n.d.). This is to make sure everything is being done to prevent injuries and deaths in the workplace. OSHA usually does not give any notification to the employer in advance when these inspections will happen but the employer has the right to request the inspectors to obtain an inspection warrant before coming on to inspect the workplace. Under “rare and extraordinary circumstances” workers can decide not to wear their PPE if deemed necessary but it is expected to be highly unlikely by OSHA (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, n.d.). If an inspector finds a violation of OSHA regulations they can issue fines and citations for that offense. They can also put a date on when the violation needs to be fixed by (OSHA, n.d.). Fines for violations can become very expensive, for example a willful violation can induce a penalty of $5,000 to $70,000 per violation (‘Types of OSHA Citations and How Much They Cost’, 2016). The most common violation in 2017 was “employers failing to protect their workers from dangerous or deadly falls” (Mann, 2017). I did not find anything about penalties for the workers who choose not to follow OSHA standards but if they choose to not follow their regulations, the risk of losing their life or being serious injured is a penalty in itself.
I can conclude that there are many things that go into the development and enforcement of Personal Protective Equipment. The importance of PPE can not be stressed enough and has saved so many lives over the years. I understand how crucial it is to use PPE and the necessity of constant improvement. There is no such thing as being too safe in the workplace and there will always be something that can go wrong during which a person could get hurt. Accidents will always happen in certain industries. This is why PPE is such a beneficial and necessary thing, because it reduces things that can go wrong and also helps make accidents less severe if and when they do occur.
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