Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Construction: What You Must Know.

The construction industry is a sector of a national economy concerned with the development of lands, buildings, infrastructures, and related activities from inception to their end of life. It takes about 7% of the global workforce which makes it one of the largest employers of labor. Conversely, the construction industry is regarded as a high hazard industry relative to other industries because it contributes to 30–40% of workplace fatalities. It is possible to flatten the construction industry work zone hazard curve by observing strict adherence to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as slated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after the implementation of the engineering and administrative controls at the work zones.
Personal Protective Equipment

Some of the Personal Protective Equipment used in the construction industry

What is a Personal Protective Equipment ?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are facilities used to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective in reducing these exposures to acceptable levels. PPE is required wherever and whenever environment hazards, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, mechanical irritants, hazards of processes are capable of causing injury by being absorbed, inhaled, or physically contacted.

Why is PPE Important ?

The construction industry is susceptible to work zone hazards. These hazards impact employees’ work performance and the company’s productivity because it results in the construction industry’s labor shortage. The use of PPE alleviates these problems and:
  1. Help save the financial cost on workers’ compensation benefits for workers that sustain an injury;
  2. It protects the construction workers from becoming disabled.

Who pays for PPE ?

According to OSHA, employers are required to pay for personal protective equipment used to comply with OSHA standards. Namely:
  • Metatarsal foot protection
  • Rubber boots with steel toes
  • Non-prescription eye protection
  • Prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for full face respirators
  • Goggles and face shields
  • Fire fighting PPE
  • Hard hats
  • Hearing protection
  • Welding PPE

Personal Protective Equipment for Construction

The various categories of PPE are:

A. The Face and Eye Protection

An estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces every day and the financial cost is enormous. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that about 3 out of every 5 workers were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. More than 20% of eye injuries occur in construction. To prevent eye injuries, always wear effective eye protection, get better training, and observe good maintenance culture with your eye protection device. Face and eye protection are of various types:
1. Safety eyeglasses – Safety eyeglasses are encountered in job tasks such as carpentry, woodworking, grinding, scaling, etc. They are also available in prescription form for those persons who need corrective lenses.
 
 
 

Safety Eyeglasses

2. Safety Goggles – Safety goggles may be worn in combination with corrective lenses to ensure protection along with proper vision; they protect the eye from sparking, scaling, or splashing metals and harmful light rays.

 

 

Safety Goggles

3. Face Shields – Face shields are used in operations where the entire face needs protection and should be worn to protect eyes and face against flying particles, metal sparks, and chemical or biological splash
 
 
 
 

Face Shield

4. Welding shields – Welding shields protect workers’ eyes from infrared or radiant light burns, flying sparks, metal spatter, and slag chips encountered during welding, soldering, or cutting operations.

 

 

 

Welding Shield

When the oxygen concentration in normal breathing air drops below 19.5% by volume, the air becomes oxygen deficient. Harmful effects include impaired thinking and coordination, unconsciousness, and death. Construction workplaces may contain one or more of the following hazards in the form of harmful dust, fumes, fogs, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, vapors which results in work-related respiratory diseases such as black lung, farmer’s lung, silicosis, asbestosis, etc.
A  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)- certified respirator must be provided for an oxygen-deficient environment, and it must be used exclusively for that purpose while the air-purifying respirators selected for protection against gases and vapors must be used to protect employees from poisonous gases.
respirator

Air-Purifying Respirator

When working in an environment with crystalline silica-containing materials (e.g., concrete, brick, tile, mortar) use respirators with N, R, or P95 filters. Higher levels of respiratory protection (N, R, or P100) may be needed for some operations such as cutting concrete, sandblasting, and mixing concrete. Filters with a charcoal layer may be used for odors.

Respirator with N95 Filter

C. Head Protection

When selecting head protection, it is important to understand the potential for injury to the head from falling objects and the potential for head contact with electrical hazards. When it is determined that these hazards exist, choice of the most appropriate helmet should be made from the categories listed below:
 
a) Impact Type Helmets
  1. Type I: the helmet is designed to protect only the top of the head, but not the sides 
  2. Type II: the helmet is designed to protect both sides and top impacts to the head
ppe hard hat

Hard Hat

b) Bump Caps
Bump caps (aka skull guards) are worn for protection against scalp lacerations from contact with a sharp object. However, they must not be worn as substitutes for safety caps because they do not protect from impact forces or penetration by falling objects.

Skull Cap

c) Electrical Classes of Helmet
  1. Class G Helmet (General): it reduces the danger of contact exposure to low voltage conductors (2200 volts)
  2. Class E Helmet (Electrical): it reduces the danger of exposure to high voltage conductors (20,000 volts)
  3. Class C Helmet (Conductive): These helmets are not intended to provide safety against contact electrical conductors

Hard hat color code

Different Colors of Hard Hat

The safety helmets (aka Hard hats) worn at the construction sites are of different colors and they have their respective meaning:
  1. White Hard hats – White hard hats are worn by experienced personnel at a construction site e.g. site managers, foremen, engineers or supervisors
  2. Yellow Hard hats – Yellow helmets are worn by general laborers and earth moving operators at a construction site
  3. Blue Hard hats – Blue hard hats are worn by carpenters and other technical operators at a construction site
  4. Green Hard hats – Green hard hats are worn by safety inspector, new workers at a construction site
  5. Orange Hard hats – Orange Hard hats are worn by lifting operatives, signalers, crane operators at a construction site
  6. Red Hard hats – Red Hard hats are worn by Fire marshals in the construction industry
  7. Brown Hard hats – Brown hard hats are worn by welders in the construction industry
  8. Grey Hard hats – Grey hard hats are worn by site visitors at a construction site
OSHA provides the standard for the use of hard hats; nonetheless, you should contact the manufacturer for how often you should replace your hat.
Every individual in a construction workplace must use protective footwear to protect themselves from encountering workplace hazards due to:
  • Falling objects or rolling objects
  • Objects piercing the sole
  • Where the feet are exposed to electrical hazards.
Safety footwear (or work boots) are designed to provide both impact and compression protection. They also protect the feet from common machinery hazards, insulate the foot against temperature extremes, and guard the wearer against slips, chemicals, or electrical hazards.
work boots

Protective Footwear

Activities in the construction industry involve material handling, which could expose employees’ hands to hazards. These hazards include cuts, abrasions, punctures, thermal burns, chemical burns, and harmful temperature extremes. The performance characteristics of the hand protection and the work activities of the employee should be studied when making a selection for hand protection. The type of gloves to be used include leather gloves, welder’s gloves, aluminum-backed gloves, and other types of insulated glove materials. 
Gloves should be replaced periodically, depending on the frequency of use and permeability to the substance handled.
 
Safety gloves

Different Types of Safety Gloves

F. Hearing Protection

The damage to hearing caused by excessive noise at work zones among other places, may not be apparent for years. Hearing loss can’t be treated/cured but it can be prevented with hearing protection. The workplace must have a hearing-conservation program when employees are exposed to noise levels greater than or equals to 85 decibels, averaged over eight hours. Use of PPE is one of the methods of controlling noise hazards and there are four types of hearing protectors:

 

  1. Molded earplugs
  2. Custom-molded earplugs
  3. Self-molded earplugs
  4. Earmuffs
PPE ear muffs

Different Types of Hearing Protection

G. Fall Protection

Construction is a high hazard industry for the construction workers, with falls at the top of the hazards list. Even experienced workers working at heights can loose balance, grip, trip, or slip at any time and fall. However, its related injuries and fatalities are avoidable and can be addressed by
  1. Fall prevention by using engineering controls
  2. Fall arrest/rescue by using personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) or safety nets and having an effective rescue plan in place
A fall protection system is designed to prevent or arrest falls; and they are of different types.
I. Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS) – PFAS consists of an anchorage, connectors, and a full body harness that work together to stop a fall and to minimize the arrest force. The following are types of PFAS.

Components of Personal Fall Arrest Systems

  1. Body Harness – Body harness are designed to minimize stress forces on an employee’s body in the event of a fall while providing sufficient freedom of movement to allow work to be performed
  2. Body Belts – Body belts may only be used as part of a positioning system because they impose a danger of internal injuries when stopping a fall
  3. The Anchorage – The Anchorage is a secure point of attachment for lifelines, lanyards, or deceleration devices. An anchorage for a PFAS must support at least 5,000 pounds (2268 Kg).
  4. Lanyards – Lanyards is a specially designed flexible line with a snap hook at each end. Lanyards must have a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds (2268 Kg).
  5. Deceleration devices – Deceleration devices protect workers from the impact of a fall and include shock-absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lifelines or lanyards, and rope grabs.
  6. Shock-absorbing Lanyard – Shock-absorbing Lanyard reduces the impact of a worker during fall arrest by extending up to 3.5 feet to absorb the arrest force by up to 900 pounds (408 Kg).
  7. Rope Grab – Rope grab allows a worker to move up a vertical lifeline but automatically engages and locks on the lifeline if the worker falls
  8. Lifeline – Lifeline is a cable that connects a body harness, lanyard, or deceleration device and at least one anchorage. There are two types of lifelines, namely, horizontal and vertical.
II. Personal fall-restraint systems prevent a fall from occurring. The anchorage must support at least 3,000 pounds (1361 Kg) and they are of different types:
  1. Positioning-device system – The Positioning-device system positions a worker and limits a fall to 2 feet. It makes it easier to work with both hands, free on a vertical surface such as a concrete wall. It comprises of anchorage, connectors and body support
  2. Guardrail system – The Guardrail system prevents a fall. It consists of a top rail, mid-rail, and intermediate vertical member. It can also be combined with toeboards that prevent materials from rolling off the working/walking surface
  3. Safety-net systems -The Safety-net systems arrest a fall. It must be installed as close as practicable under the surface on which employees are working, but not more than 30 feet below. The safety must extend outward from the outermost projection of the work surface and the potential fall area must be unobstructed.
  4. Warning-line system – The Warning-line system for roofing work warns a worker of a fall hazard. It can only be used for roofing works on roofs that have slopes of 2:12 or less, vertical to horizontal. The purpose of the line is to warn roofers that they are near an unprotected edge. It consists of ropes, wires, or chains and supporting stanchions.
  5. Slide-guard system – The Slide-guard system prevents a worker from sliding down a sloped roof. The system consists of a slide guard (2 by 6-inches lumber) and at least two roof brackets and must be installed under the supervision of a competent person

H. Protective clothing

Transportation accidents are one of the greatest threats faced by pedestrian construction workers. The use of High Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear will enhance pedestrian worker visibility under a variety of work and traffic conditions. ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 specifies four performance classes of apparel/headwear, namely:
  • Class E Garments – These are pants and shorts that have retro-reflective and background materials, but may not meet minimum area or placement requirements outlined in the standard. Class E garments are not intended to be worn without a class 2 or 3 garments.
  • Class 1 Garments – They provide the minimum amount of required material needed to tell the pedestrian worker apart from the environment. Especially in situations where vehicles and equipment are traveling at speeds less than 25 mph.
PPE Vest

Classes of Hearing Protective Clothing

  • Class 2 Garments – They are appropriate for most hurricane response and recovery work because of the complex work backgrounds. They provide better visibility than class 1 garments by providing additional coverage of the torso.
  • Class 3 Garments – They offer the greatest level of visibility in both complex work backgrounds and through a full range of body motion. Especially in situations where a pedestrian worker will be exposed to the higher vehicle speed.
Barriers are another kind of PPE that is usually made from posts and wire or boards, it keeps people away from hazards such as wells, pits, and shafts.
PPE Barrier

Protective Barrier

Other personal protective equipment include Protective ointments, Shields, and Restraints

Maintenance and Repair of PPE

PPE must be properly cleaned and disinfected to retain its original effectiveness. The manufacturer’s guides for cleaning and maintaining PPE must be strictly adhered to.
Every employer must organize a program for maintenance of personal protective equipment and the program must include:
  1. Inspection of PPE for defects (including a leak check);
  2. cleaning and disinfecting;
  3. repair; and
  4. storage

The construction industry’s clothing requirements

In the construction industry, employees are expected to wear only clothing that conforms to the work conditions at the workplace –wear clothing that is neither loose nor too tight. Loose clothing will catch on corners and rough surfaces while tight clothing is uncomfortable to work with.
  1. All forms of jewelry should not be worn to enhance work safety
  2. Back belts are not PPE even though they physically protect you from back injuries
  3. Clothing that is stained/impregnated with toxic substances should not be worn unless they are properly cleaned.

The Impact of the coronavirus on construction workers’ PPE

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that broke out in late 2019 and became globally famous in early 2020. It is a killer disease that has affected every industry globally, including the construction industry. The coronavirus illness lives among us today; and it is in light of this that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a guideline to help construction workers protect themselves from contracting the virus as they conduct their day-to-day activities. The guidelines slated for construction workers at the workplace are as follows:

A Sample of Cloth Face Covering

  • Wear cloth face coverings at work when other CDC-measures are difficult to be met.
  • Maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet with others
  • Limit tool sharing
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces e.g. shared equipment, portable toilets, etc.
  • Practice proper hand hygiene
  • Use tissues when you cough, sneeze, or touch your face.
  • Notify your supervisor and stay home if you have symptoms.

N.B. Cloth face coverings are different from respiratory protectors, and should not be used as an alternative where respirators are required.

Additional PPE for coronavirus in the construction industry

  1. Cloth face coverings
  2. Hand Sanitizer containing 60% alcohol
  3. Tissue
Click here to learn more about the guidelines to protect construction workers from contracting the coronavirus illness. 

Final Thoughts

  • In construction, the use of PPE is of utmost importance and one size does not fit all. For every hazard in the construction industry, there is a PPE exclusively designed for it (a body harness will not protect an employee from poisonous gases). Every employee must be given a PPE that is comfortable to wear for the employee and fit perfectly for the job.
  • OSHA requires PPE to meet the ANSI standards or be based upon the tasks to be performed and the performance and characteristics of the PPE in question.
  • Defective and damaged PPE is no PPE and hence, PPEs should be inspected regularly and replaced immediately it is found not capable of adequately protecting an employee.
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