Growing Significance of PPE for Employee Well-being and Workplace Safety
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not a new term in many industries with high risk of hazards. In fact, OSHA has codified the standards for PPE in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1910 Subpart I, as part of the General Industry Standards and 29 CFR 1926.95-106 for the construction industry. Post-pandemic, restart of businesses has added yet another reason for employers to provide PPE to their employees to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 infection.
Restart of On-site Operations has Boosted Up Demand for PPE
As per the OSHA guidance, PPE is only the last line of defense in case of most engineering and hazard-based needs. Businesses need to assess the hazard to determine if PPE is required at all and provide only appropriate PPE materials for the job.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new need due to its virulent nature. There was a surge in demand for PPE not just among healthcare workers, who needed it the most, but even among the general public and industries that were restarting operations and needed to ensure the safety of their people. Employee well-being was at the front and center of getting back to work.
A Research Dive analysis assesses the global personal protective equipment market size to grow by 10% between 2020 and 2026 to touch $93.5 billion due to this sudden increase in demand.
By March 2020, WHO had shipped nearly half a million sets of PPE to 47 countries and had an estimated demand of 89 million medical masks every month adding up to 76 million by year-end.
As a Frost and Sullivan report points out, the demand shot up for PPE products such as face masks, gloves, gowns, coveralls, goggles, and face shields and production could not keep pace due to 60-70% of production being outsourced to Asia.
Additionally, as shopfloor operators do not have the luxury of working from home, ensuring their safety is of prime concern and this has necessitated providing PPE even for non-hazardous workplaces.
An article in McKinsey Quarterly titled “managing a manufacturing plant through the coronavirus crisis” – points out some of the focus areas in the new normal:
- Protecting the workforce by establishing and standardizing operating procedures, processes, and tools. This includes improved hygiene measures and providing more numbers of PPE in addition to ensuring physical distancing and modifications to existing governance and behaviors
- Managing risks to ensure business continuity by anticipating changes and responding in a timely way
- Driving productivity from a distance
Overall, the key point to note here is this. Enterprises in most sectors that need on-site operations must have a PPE Management plan in place. This includes a PPE inventory strategy, SOPs to wear PPE, and plans in place to ensure PPE suppliers deliver products as per specification.
Why PPE for COVID-19?
The virus causing COVID-19 infects the sputum and upper airway secretions and is believed to spread mainly through larger respiratory particles contained in droplets of more than 5 µm diameter that have a transmission range of one meter. While a 2-meter distance is recommended to reduce the risk of infection, the virus tends to remain on the surface and is potentially infectious for a few hours or even days. Anybody touching the surface can become infected and, possibly, spread it to others.
To prevent the droplets from falling on any surface, surgical face masks are recommended and can be of three types: FFP2, FFP3, and N95. Since even asymptomatic carriers can cause the vulnerable to become infected by the Coronavirus, it is important to ensure the protection of employees and follow the stipulated norms of social distancing and sufficient protection to prevent being contaminated and infected. Gloves and full-body suits were two other products that were in great demand.
A PPE kit must also contain safety glasses, shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, and vests, which are normally in use in industries dealing with hazardous materials.
OSHA provides guidelines on how to wear PPE, take it off, and maintain it. It lays stress on the training of employees and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.
Be it to protect employees against COVID-19 infection or other industry-related injuries and illnesses, it is critical for employers to ensure their employees are sufficiently trained in safety practices and follow the rules diligently. The correct use of PPE is one integral part of it being effective as a preventive measure. By ensuring sufficient safety measures at the workplace and providing the right gear, businesses can minimize the spread of the disease in their workplace and thereby improve productivity and profitability.
In addition to COVID-19 infection, some of the other reasons workers need protection include contact with physical, chemical, electrical, mechanical, radiological, or other hazards. By providing a barrier between the hazards and the employee, PPE reduces the chances of injuries and illnesses.
PPE Management Plan
PPE is not a magic bullet, and as OSHA stresses, it is the last line of defense. Therefore, businesses have to first understand risks and implement a health and safety strategy to ensure the correct use of PPE in the right circumstances as well as ensure a steady supply of the required number of PPE items at any point in time.
WorkSafeBC recommends the development of a COVID-19 safety plan with policies, guidelines, and procedures to reduce the risk of transmission at the workplace. It has identified five steps here the top management must work closely with frontline workers, joint health and safety committees, and supervisors to identify and establish workplace protocols:
1. Risk assessment based on where people congregate, such as break rooms, production lines, or meeting rooms; the tasks that require workers to work closely with each other or visitors; the tools, machinery, and equipment that workers come in contact; and the surfaces that are frequently touched such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, light switches, equipment, and shared tools.
2. Risk mitigation through appropriate preventative measures to reduce the risk of transmission by maintaining a distance, using partitions or plexiglass barriers where they cannot maintain a distance, and the use of PPE such as masks, gloves, and full body suits. Hygiene and sanitation would be crucial to support these efforts.
3. Policies to manage the workplace, the employees who need to be on the shop floor, incident reporting, and managing illnesses are essential.
4. Communication strategies along with proper training, signage, and reminders will reinforce the need for the policies to be followed.
5. Monitoring your workplace and revision of plans based on specific needs are just as important to reassure employees of their safety and well-being.
PPE Management with ComplianceQuest
Manual management of safety and health, especially in these times of COVID-19, can be very challenging. Having visibility into all areas of operations (and locations) becomes essential to ensure the safety of your employees regardless of where they are located.
In fact, here’s what a COVID-19 response demo would look like with our next-gen QHSE solution,
ComplianceQuest COVID-19 Response Tool Kit – YouTube
Any event – be it infection or injury – and near misses need to be reported for prevention and taking corrective action to prevent their recurrence, as the case may be. Training and communication across all units also need to be managed efficiently.
Handling all these tasks and ensuring enough supply of PPE can prove to be overwhelming for the health and safety team. Tracking their obsolescence date is important and can vary for each item in the PPE kit, adding to the complexity.
A cloud-based, mobile-ready, flexible and scalable solution such as the one from ComplianceQuest, can help automate workflows, keep track of PPE stock, and trigger ordering when needed. In addition, root cause analysis, CAPA, and automatic reporting to regulatory authorities in case of an incident also become easy with an automated system.
To know more about how ComplianceQuest’s Health and Safety Solution, visit: https://www.compliancequest.com/lp/ehs/