How to Choose the Right Safety Gear
There is good reason to ensure you choose the right safety gear for your job or project. Using the wrong safety equipment can increase the risk of exposure to harmful noise, substances, chemicals, and pathogens. With exposure comes the chance of injury and adverse health conditions. Plus, wearing the wrong safety gear for the job at hand can put you or your workers at risk of illness or injury.
Injured or unhealthy workers cost you in more than one way: OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fines, lawsuits, employee medical bills, worker’s compensation, and lost time (if your workers are out sick, you are not getting the job done).
Noise exposure is a serious and often misunderstood safety concern partially due to the misconception that hearing loss is solely attributed to exceptionally loud, painful noise exposure. While this is true, exposure to elevated decibels can cause hearing loss, the greater concern for professionals is the exposure time and not just the exposure level. The noise level at which sustained exposure results in hearing loss is 80-90 dBA. To get a better understanding of the dBA scale, consider this: A whisper is about 25 dBA, city traffic is about 85 dBA, and a concrete grinder is about 97 dBA.
There are technical instruments that measure environmental noise levels called noise dosimeters, sound level meters (SLMs), and integrating sound level meters (ISLMs) used by industrial hygienists to determine noise exposures over eight hours (typical workday). The results of these samples assist in determining the type of hearing protection needed to meet OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 dBA for an eight-hour workday. As a good rule of thumb, if you must shout to be heard by a coworker, your noise exposure likely exceeds OSHA’s PEL.
Types of Hearing Protection
When choosing your hearing protection, you will have two main options: earmuffs or earplugs. Both have pros and cons as well as different noise reduction ratings (NRRs), which we will discuss next. Here is the rundown on earmuffs versus earplugs:
Earmuffs cover the entire ear while earplugs are inserted into the ear canal. Earmuffs are sometimes considered more comfortable than earplugs, as earplugs can create pressure in the ear when worn for long periods. On the other hand, earmuffs can get warm and might not be preferable if working in a hot environment.
Earplugs need to be properly inserted by twisting or “squishing” the earplug to condense it before insertion; this allows the plug to expand and fill the unique shape of the wearer’s ear canal. Earplugs come in a variety of shapes and materials that some wearers prefer over others for comfortability. The best way to determine which type of earplugs you like is to try them out.
How NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) Changes Decibel Exposure
NRR is measured in decibels (dB) but does not reduce noise levels by that number of decibels. For example, if the NRR for your hearing protection is 25 dB and you are exposed to noise levels of 100 dB, your noise exposure is not reduced to 75 dB. This is because noise exposure is measured in dBA, as previously discussed. The correct formula for determining your noise exposure is NRR (in dB) minus seven, then divided by two. Using our example, if you are wearing hearing protection with a 25 dB NRR, the reduction equation would be (25 - 7)/2 = 9. So, when exposed to 100 dB noise levels, your exposure is reduced by 9 dB. Your new level of exposure is 91 dB.
Earmuffs and earplugs can be worn together for added noise reduction. Again, you cannot simply add the two NRRs together. Instead, you would take the highest NRR of the two and add five decibels. For example, if you have earplugs (NRR 30 db) and earmuffs (NRR 23 dB), your new NRR would be 35 dB.
Gloves / Hand Protection
When it comes to disposable gloves, the three main material types you will choose from are vinyl, latex, and nitrile. Each glove type has different properties to consider and weigh against the hazards present in the task being performed including barrier protection, elasticity, puncture resistance, tensile strength, thickness, and finish.
Vinyl gloves are the most cost-effective material, making them a popular choice when gloves must be changed often. They are anti-static; however, they breathe less and can cause sweating of the hands. Vinyl has the lowest tactile sensitivity of the three glove material types, meaning, the wearer has less sensitivity to touch. They also fit more loosely than other glove materials which can result in decreased accuracy and hand fatigue for the wearer. Vinyl is not a good choice for highly infectious, contaminated, or chemical applications.
Latex gloves are probably best known for their potential to cause allergic reactions, although they are an excellent choice for barrier protection and fit, with the highest comfort and dexterity of the three glove material types. Latex has better puncture resistance than vinyl gloves and is a favorite of medical and janitorial professionals who encounter bloodborne pathogens and bodily fluids.
Nitrile gloves are the alternative for those with latex allergies but are the most expensive disposable glove material. Nitrile compares similarly to latex in that it provides suitable flexibility and tactility. Nitrile gloves stand up to tough jobs with their superior tear and puncture resistance. They are often the preferred glove for barrier protection from bodily fluids, chemicals, and microorganisms.
It is important to remember that all three glove materials are intentionally disposable. Their durability and impermeability will eventually degrade over time and with exposure to certain harsh chemicals. Thicker gloves will last longer and have a greater degree of puncture and tear resistance. As with any glove, the fit is a determining factor for the glove’s effectiveness as well as a contributing factor to the wearer’s comfort and ability to perform the task.
Coveralls / Protective Clothing
Coveralls and protective suits are designed to shield the wearer from chemicals, toxic- and non-toxic liquids, oils, as well as airborne particles such as mold and dust. As with disposable gloves, you want to consider barrier protection, thickness/resistance, material, environmental compatibility, and size when making your selection.
Certain protective suits and coveralls are more economical than others, but your choice will come down to the hazards you are protecting against. For instance, you may find it more cost-effective to purchase a reusable suit, but some dusts and chemicals are not safe for laundering or rinsing down drains. In these cases, you will need to go with the disposable designs and ensure you are following waste disposal regulations.
Protective suits add an extra layer of clothing and can increase the risk of overheating in warm, humid environments. Barrier protection must stand up to the task hazards and will be the ultimate deciding factor on your suit selection. More frequent breaks might be necessary to deal with unfavorable environmental conditions when a heavier duty, less porous suit must be worn.
Do not overlook size when selecting your protective clothing. Although you may not be worried about how fashionable your suit is, a too-large suit can get hung up on equipment and a too-small suit could tear or bust more easily.
Eyewear / Eye Protection
Eye and face protection is a highly customizable form of personal protective equipment (PPE). The wearer should have a thorough understanding of the task hazards such as exposure to dust and fine particles, chemical or liquid splash, projectiles, as well as light and ultraviolet radiation. Luckily, there is such a vast variety of safety glasses on the market, you will be able to select eyewear with features that protect against multiple hazards.
Your eyewear selection can be narrowed down to three types of devices: safety glasses, safety goggles, and face shields.
Safety glasses shield the eyes from impact hazards and some particles and must have side shields that wrap around the eye. Safety glasses fit the face like a normal pair of spectacles.
Safety goggles are intended for projectile impacts, dust, fine particles, or splash hazards. Goggles form a seal around the eye to protect the wearer from objects that enter from under or around the goggles. Ventilation can aid in the prevention of fog, but be certain this does not affect the splash rating.
Finally, face shields protect the entire face from the previously mentioned hazards; however, they typically need to be worn in conjunction with spectacles or goggles to ensure complete eye protection.
Before you start shopping, take into consideration all other types of PPE that need to be worn for the task; there should be no inhibition of the function of respirators, hearing protection, or head protection when worn with eyewear. Also, consider the environmental conditions of the work you are performing. Is it hot and humid? You will want anti-fog eyewear. Are you working outside? A UV tint might be helpful. Do you transition between inside and outside? Consider indoor/outdoor tinted lenses and avoid full-tint lenses. Do you require corrective prescription glasses? You will want prescription safety eyewear.
Jon-Don is a customer-centric supplier of equipment, parts, chemicals, and safety supplies to professional contractors across a variety of industries including disaster restoration, concrete surface prep and polishing, janitorial/building services, and professional carpet cleaning. We have real-world knowledge and expertise to help you tackle your toughest jobs. Our expert representatives are just a phone call away and are ready to assist you with the selection of the right safety gear. Jon-Don offers same-day shipping plus the nation’s largest 1- and 2-day shipping area, so you can get the job done and stay safe!