PPE is the line of last defense

“PPE is a pain.”

“It gets in the way.”

“It interferes with me getting my job done.”

Have you heard these words before? Have you said, or thought these words before?

The answer to all of the above is, “True”.  Yes, PPE can be a pain. Yes, it does get in the way. And, of course it can interfere with getting the job done.

By definition, PPE is a barrier.  Barriers get in the way.

PPE is the line of last defense.  When we can’t engineer out any more risk; when our procedures and administrative controls can provide only so much protection; we rely on PPE to protect people when things break, don’t work, aren’t followed, or something otherwise goes wrong and a person is exposed to a hazard.

I once had a process that involved handling molten metal. No PPE could provide absolute protection. The efficacy of the PPE was measure by the seconds it took for the metal to burn through the PPE. In this case, a critical consideration was how quickly the PPE could be removed, since, if exposed, there were only seconds to get that outer layer of PPE with the molten material on it, off the person.

Ideally, the specified PPE will provide absolute protection, but all PPE has limits. It’s important to understand the limits of the PPE you are using, just as it’s important to know how to wear it properly, remove it properly, and maintain it properly.