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Consider fit and comfort when selecting PPE

Posted April 20, 2016

You know you have to assess workplace hazards to identify the need for personal protective equipment (PPE), and you review various makes and models to select PPE that gives your employees the right type of protection for the job. However there’s another aspect to PPE selection that can be overlooked: proper fit and adequate comfort.

Out of all the OSHA PPE standards, only the respiratory protection standard mentions comfort. Mandatory Appendix A to § 1910.134: Fit Testing Procedures includes the following:
“6. Assessment of comfort shall include a review of the following points with the test subject and allowing the test subject adequate time to determine the comfort of the respirator:
“(a) Position of the mask on the nose,
“(b) Room for eye protection,
“(c) Room to talk,
“(d) Position of mask on face and cheeks.”

In fact, after performing the fit test exercises, “the test subject shall be questioned by the test conductor regarding the comfort of the respirator upon completion of the protocol. If it has become unacceptable, another model of respirator shall be tried.”

The other PPE standards do not use the word “comfort”; however, Appendix B to Subpart I: Non-Mandatory Compliance Guidelines for Hazard Assessment and Personal Protective Equipment Selection, states:
“5. Fitting the device. Careful consideration must be given to comfort and fit. PPE that fits poorly will not afford the necessary protection. Continued wearing of the device is more likely if it fits the wearer comfortably. Protective devices are generally available in a variety of sizes. Care should be taken to ensure that the right size is selected.
“6. Devices with adjustable features. Adjustments should be made on an individual basis for a comfortable fit that will maintain the protective device in the proper position. Particular care should be taken in fitting devices for eye protection against dust and chemical splash to ensure that the devices are sealed to the face. In addition, proper fitting of helmets is important to ensure that they will not fall off during work operations. ... Where manufacturer’s instructions are available, they should be followed carefully. ...”

To sum it up, other OSHA guidance says:

“All PPE clothing and equipment should be of safe design and construction, and should be maintained in a clean and reliable fashion. Employers should take the fit and comfort of PPE into consideration when selecting appropriate items for their workplace. PPE that fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employee use of PPE. Most protective devices are available in multiple sizes and care should be taken to select the proper size for each employee. If several different types of PPE are worn together, make sure they are compatible. If PPE does not fit properly, it can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed. It may not provide the level of protection desired and may discourage employee use.”

It may take a little extra time to make sure the PPE you give a worker fits right and is comfortable, but if it hurts to wear a piece of equipment or it it’s too loose or too tight, the employee may not wear it as intended. After engineering and administrative controls, PPE is the last line of defense to keep people from getting injured or overexposed. The effort you put into making sure everyone is suited up with PPE they can comfortably wear will pay off in improved morale, acceptance of the equipment, and fewer medical bills.

PPEJ. J. Keller offers personal protective equipment in a variety of sizes, styles and materials to help protect your employees.


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