What do you think of when you hear the phrase protective equipment? Many of you likely went right to clothing but protective equipment is anything used to protect the employee from injury. Clothing, hard hats, multi-meters, hand tools and insulating blankets are all equipment that provide protection for the employee. For each of these to achieve that goal they must be properly maintained. An employer is responsible for assuring that appropriate protective equipment is provided to the employee. It is relatively easy for the employer to purchase and verify that equipment is compliant and suitably rated. What happens after the equipment is issued for use is more difficult to track. However, all that equipment must be verified to provide the necessary protection whether the equipment was purchased yesterday or ten years ago.
An employer must have a well-documented policy for the handling of each piece of protective equipment. It is equally important to provide proper inspection training for employees using the equipment. How to inspect an arc-rated suit is entirely different from inspecting voltage rated gloves. Transportation, on-site conditions, and rugged use necessitate an inspection immediately prior to use. A general rule is that protective equipment be inspected before each use. Visual inspection often provides the first sign that protective equipment may not perform as necessary. If the equipment is defective or suspect in any way it must be brought back into compliance before use.
Equipment that is used infrequently must be maintained just as equipment that is used daily. Insulation properties can be effected by time, storage method or atmospheric conditions. Annual calibration of a multi-meter typically does not verify proper insulation. Some equipment may be kept in a common area for use by several employees, some may be issued to individual employees, some may be purchased by the employee, and some may be leased. All this equipment requires appropriate scheduling to be properly maintained in order to protect the employee. For the most part, proper maintenance is directed by the equipment manufacturer. Who performs the maintenance is often the choice of the purchaser. The selection is critical since an employee will be at risk of injury if the equipment is not properly maintained.
What about the protective clothing? More expensive gear like an arc-rated suit may be purchased and maintained by the employer. But every day arc-rated shirts and pants may be the employee’s responsibility to purchase as well as maintain. Rips and tears must be properly repaired. Contaminated gear may be prone to catastrophic failure. Laundering must be done in the correct cycle and temperature as well as with appropriate detergent. If anything is done incorrectly, the protection may not be there when needed. An employer is responsible for protecting an employee. This is true regardless of who is maintaining the protective gear. What is your company’s policy and procedure for the maintaining equipment used to protect you?
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Next time: NFPA 70E Second Draft.
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