Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for any worksite where hazards are a risk. It’s never the only step in compliance to safety regulations and best practices (the SWMS that you’ll fill out ahead of a project will highlight the full suite of risk mitigation plans), but it’s a critical one.
Employers are obliged to provide their employees with this equipment. It is never incumbent on the employee to provide their safety gear. What’s more, the employer is responsible for educating the employee on how to best use the equipment, and making sure that all equipment is maintained.
According to Safe Work, PPE needs to be:
• Suitable for the nature of the work
• A proper size and fit for the person
• Properly stored and maintained
Critically, it also needs to be replaced, and more frequently than you might think.
How quickly does PPE degrade?
A small tear of frayed edge on normal clothing doesn’t mean much – in fact there’s an entire fashion trend where you deliberately “distress” (tear and wear down) your clothes! Things are a little different with PPE, where the slightest flaw in the equipment could leave someone exposed.
Take, for example, an arc flash suit. It only takes the smallest gap in the clothing for chemicals or fire to break the barrier, and once inside the material, cause great harm on the person wearing it.
While there’s no set rate in which you will need to replace PPE – that would depend on how often it’s worn and how frequently it is exposed to hazardous conditions – a good rule of thumb is to expect equipment to need to be replaced every six months under normal conditions.
What should I be looking for?
It’s important to maintain a schedule for inspecting all PPE equipment, throughout its lifespan, to identify when a piece of equipment might need to be replaced sooner. Here are some of the things that inspectors should be looking for, as indicators that the equipment may have worn beyond use:
• Any discoloration or material degradation – faded or thin material suggests fragile and prone to failure.
• Rips, tears, holes, cracks, indentions, or visible damage – this is an instant red flag that the equipment will no longer function as needed.
• The age of the gear compared to the manufacturer’s expiration date – the closer to expiration the more carefully it needs to be checked.
• How many owners the gear has had – multiple owners will wear gear differently, which can accelerate degradation.
• Failing straps, locks, adapters, or security devices
A useful trick
One useful thing that we’ve seen a lot of our customers use when they’ve got heavy PPE needs is to develop a simple grading system for equipment. They might label equipment that is new and flawless as “Grade A”, more closely inspect and monitor “Grade B” gear, temporary remove “Grade C” equipment when it needs to be repaired, and dispose of “Grade D” gear as it is no longer usable or reparable.
There’s no mandate to come up with a grading system, and it won’t be regulated, however, it is a way of ensuring that you’ve got an at-a-glance understanding of the state of your business’ PPE equipment and when you might need to start putting orders in for more.
NECA Trade Services carries all the PPE equipment and clothing you might need. It’s rated to maximum durability and we’d be more than happy to chat with you about what you can do to properly maintain and manage your entire PPE investment. Contact us today!