OHS Canada Magazine

Workplace Safety: Why PPE is the Last Line of Defense


Hand safety is often overlooked and injuries to hands and fingers continue to be common workplace occurrences across various industries. Every year, millions of workers get injured on the job, and a significant number of reported occupational injuries are hand related. Depending on the severity, not only do these injuries have a huge medical cost associated with them but are also expensive in terms of lost productivity and wages.

Believe it or not, reducing these incidences of hand injuries in a workplace does not start and end with wearing the right-hand protection—though it is one of the necessary tools to prevent such occurrences.

Where does hand safety stand in the hierarchy of controls?

The hierarchy of controls identifies the safety controls many industries use to protect workers by minimizing or eliminating exposure to hazards. They start from the most effective measures at the top, to the least effective at the bottom. These include elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE.

When viewed through the lens of the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment is the least effective safety measure.

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So, why is this the case? Aren’t gloves, sleeves, and other PPE important to protect workers from the risk of hazards? The answer is not a simple yes or no. This is because safety managers and workers often forget to consider the other important control measures in the hierarchy of controls when they rely solely on PPE. And while PPE, like gloves and sleeves, offer protection against cuts, burns, abrasion, chemical, impact, crush, vibration, or other hazards, they cannot protect workers from all workplace dangers. This includes risks of prolonged exposures to hazards, mishandling equipment due to lack of awareness, tripping, falling, and other risks that can be mitigated or eliminated using all the control measures. That said, if all other controls fail, PPE may be the very thing that saves a worker from serious injury.

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At the end of the day, it is important to follow the hierarchy in order, starting from the most effective, rather than choosing the easiest control measure. And while these controls can be implemented in phases over time, multiple levels of hierarchy can be adopted simultaneously, depending on the company’s logistical necessities—and no one step should be completely ignored to realize the true effects of this system.

If you want to learn more about all stages of the hierarchy of controls as well as other safe work practices that reduce the risk of hand injuries, get a free copy of the hand safety book, REThinking Hand Safety, by author and Vice President of Superior Glove, Joseph Geng. REThinking Hand Safety offers practical and effective techniques to improve your hand safety program—techniques that come with years of experience and expertise that can be applied immediately for results.

Request your free copy here. (https://go.superiorglove.com/l/886753/2022-05-18/mt7my)