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Construction Safety: A Closer Look at PPE

When you think of construction safety, does a yellow hard hat come to mind?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a standard in construction safety since the hard hat made its appearance a century ago. Frick & Frack recently shared some of the history and main points of PPE, and today we'll take a closer look at the impact of PPE on the lives and safety of those in the construction industry.

While the hard hat arrived on the scene in 1919, it wasn't until the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the mid-1930's when PPE was first required on a large-scale construction project. 

This change came in light of the industry norm at the time, which was that one man would die during construction for every million dollars spent.

the Golden Gate Bridge

To Joseph Strauss, the engineer for the $35 million Golden Gate Bridge project, the thought of 35 fatalities was unacceptable. In light of this, he implemented the use of sand-blast respirator outfits, glare-free goggles, and fall protection safety belts and lifelines. He took these new safety precautions so seriously that any worker not obeying the lifeline rule would be fired on the spot. 

How PPE History Applies to Construction and Manufacturing Today

Personal protective equipment has come a long way since the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, employers in all industries are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.

In fact, OSHA requires that employers protect their employees from any workplace hazard that could cause an injury, defining PPE as necessary when "engineering, work practice and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection." 

Steps to Identifying Hazards 

Prior to incorporating your PPE program, you must first identify physical and health hazards in your workplace. Examples of potential hazards include:

  • moving objects
  • fluctuating temperatures
  • intense lighting
  • rolling or pinching objects
  • electrical connections
  • sharp objects
  • harmful dust, chemicals, or radiation

Learn more about performing a hazard assessment and safety walkthrough survey from OSHA.

Once hazards have been identified, you can then determine the proper types of PPE required at the worksite. According to OSHA, it is a good idea to select PPE that will provide a level of protection greater than the minimum required to protect employees from hazards.

Don't forget to periodically assess your workplace for any changes in conditions, equipment, or procedures that may require corrective action or changes in PPE.

Let's take a look at specific PPE requirements for environments where concrete and glass are constructed or manufactured.

Concrete Safety

There are more than 250,000 people working in concrete manufacturing, and OSHA cites that more than 10% of those individuals experience a work-related injury per year.

Hazards can include cement dust that can cause irritation in the nose, throat, eyes, and upper respiratory system. It can also cause skin irritation/cracking. Silica exposure can lead to lung injuries including silicosis and lung cancer. Additionally, in wet concrete, exposure can lead to skin irritation or even first-, second-, or third- degree chemical burns.

In addition to control methods that avoid these hazards, PPE should be used as a secondary barrier. Workers should wear a P-, N- or R-95 respirator to minimize inhalation of cement dust, and wear alkali-resistant gloves, coveralls with long sleeves and full-length pants, waterproof boots, and eye protection.

Falling Objects

Concrete workers may be hit by falling objects from conveyor belt systems, elevators, or concrete block stacking equipment. To avoid these hazards, workers should not work beneath cuber elevators, conveyor belts, and stacker/destacker machinery. Additionally, wear eye protection when chipping and cleaning forms, products, or mixers.


When an employee is exposed to a given concentration of contaminants in the air, respirators must be used. It's important to note that dust masks are not considered respirators.

Wearing the appropriate respirator provides protection from particles that can provide lung damage, and it's important to make sure that you're wearing the correct respirator for the job. All respirators are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) and must be used according in compliance with their certification. 

Hearing Protection 

OSHA noise levels

When noise levels are above 85 decibels for 8 hours – or in accordance with the table to the right – hearing protection must be used. 

The industry rule of thumb is that if you must shout for someone to hear you three feet away, the environment is too loud, and hearing protection should be used. 

Like all PPE, employees using hearing protection must be trained in the proper selection, use, and care of the protectors. In addition, regular tests must be performed on employees to ensure that the hearing protection is effective.

Glass Safety

Glaziers – workers who install, repair, or replace glass in buildings or automobiles – work in a variety of settings and must be aware of the hazards that accompany glasswork. 

These potential hazards include injuries from working at heights and handling large pieces of glass, cuts or lacerations from glass, eye injuries or dust exposure from cutting or grinding glass, using hand or power tools, and more. 

PPE for glaziers includes eye protection when cutting or grinding and gloves and footwear when handling sheets of glass. Glaziers also must take other common preventative measures such as maintaining proper procedures when working at heights, applying safe lifting techniques, keeping tools and equipment in working order, and taking breaks to avoid fatigue.

Choosing the Right PPE For Your Workplace

Yellow work gloves

When selecting the PPE that's appropriate for your work environment, keep in mind that the clothing and equipment must be clean, well-fitting, and comfortable, which will encourage employee use.

Ill-fitting PPE doesn't just cause discomfort; it can be the difference between safe coverage or dangerous exposure. 

OSHA requires PPE to meet the following standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI):

  1. Eye and Face Protection (ANSI Z87.1-1989)
  2. Head Protection (ANSI Z89.1-1986)
  3. Foot Protection (ANSI Z41.1-1991)

In addition, OSHA recommends that hand protection be selected based upon the tasks performed or chemicals encountered.

Training Employees in the Proper Use of PPE

It is the responsibility of employers to train each employee on the proper use of PPE. All employees must know:

  • When PPE is necessary
  • What PPE is necessary
  • How to properly put on, remove, adjust, and wear the PPE
  • Limitations of the PPE
  • Proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of PPE

Make sure that each member of your team is able to demonstrate an understanding of your required PPE. If you believe that a previously trained employee isn't demonstrating proper use of PPE, it's best to have them do a retraining. 

Employers, remember that you must document the training of each employee required to use or wear PPE. This includes preparing a certificate with the name of the employee, date of training, and identification of the subject of the certification.

Be an Advocate for Construction Safety at Your Company

Safety starts with you. 

If you notice PPE carelessness in your work environment, you can lead by exampleThere are many ways to make construction safety a priority, and we cover them all with our extensive safety content

Make Construction Safety a Priority

Sources: OSHA, CCOHS


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