In a month-by-month countdown to OSHA’s announced November rollout of its new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard, the LHSFNA has published a series of PPE reviews. Hard Hats, Hearing and Vision and Protective Clothing were covered in previous articles.

Safety has always been an important issue in construction. Let’s face it; construction is not an office job. The more prepared Laborers are, the less chance for accidents and injuries. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the focus of this series, is a key part of that preparation.

Employers are required, whenever possible, to reduce/eliminate exposure to hazards through engineering or administrative controls before resorting to personal protection. When such controls are practically or economically infeasible, PPE must be issued.

Hand injuries

The hands are an extremely important part of the body and can be damaged in a matter of seconds, leaving a Laborer permanently disabled.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Laborers suffer over 8,600 disabling hand injuries each year, accounting for roughly 18 percent of all disabling injuries.

The most common dangers include:

  • Pinch or crush points
  • Hot surfaces
  • Rotating devices
  • Chemicals
  • Machinery not properly locked out

Hand protection

Besides using safe techniques and best practices, Laborers should wear PPE to help prevent hand injuries caused by exposure to harmful substances through skin absorption, severe cuts or lacerations, severe abrasions, chemical burns, thermal burns and harmful temperature extremes.

Many types of gloves are available (see chart), and increasing attention is being paid to design issues so that gloves will be both more comfortable and better-suited to protect against particular hazards. For instance, some new gloves are designed to limit the impact of ergonomic, repetitive motion and vibration injuries, serious problems for Laborers.

Gloves should be selected on the basis of the material being handled, the particular hazards involved and the gloves’ suitability for the planned operation. They not only must meet performance criteria but also must fit well and provide sufficient levels of comfort so workers will make a conscious choice to wear them.

Caution must be exercised when choosing gloves for work with chemicals. Chemicals will sometimes break down or penetrate glove materials, allowing the toxic substance to contact the skin. It is important to know the gloves’ characteristics (i.e., thickness and permeation rate), as well as the anticipated time of exposure, to know if particular gloves will provide adequate protection.

Gloves which become overtly contaminated should be carefully removed, rinsed and disposed of, if necessary. Refer to table at bottom.

Foot injuries

One’s feet provide support and movement. Yet, the 26 bones in the human foot can be easily damaged.  According to the BLS, 40 laborers suffer disabling injuries to their feet and toes every day. These injuries account for 8.5 percent of all lost-time injuries in the construction industry.

Sharp or heavy falling objects are the primary source of foot injury.

Other hazards include:

  • Compression – when foot or toe is squeezed between two objects
  • Puncture – when sharp object like nail, penetrates the shoe
  • Slipping – loss of traction due to oil, water or chemicals
  • Chemicals/Solvents – may penetrate ordinary safety shoes and can harm feet
  • Temperature extremes – insulated boots may be necessary, depending on climate
  • Wetness – extended exposure to water may result in discomfort and possible infection
  • Electricity – a danger when using power tools or electric equipment

Protective foot wear

According to OSHA (CFR 1926.95(a)), employees must wear protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injury due to falling or rolling objects, chemical hazards, objects piercing the sole or electrical hazards.

Protective footwear must comply with the American National Standards Institute’s standard, (ANSI) Z41.1. Footwear can come in all shapes and sizes and still maintain its durability, as long as it is built with quality materials and innovative technology. Every year, safety footwear manufacturers find new ways to make their products lighter and more comfortable to combat foot fatigue and improve work performance. p>With new technologies coming to the market every year, the number of choices and applications for safety footwear is growing. When making selections, consider performance, stability, comfort and the tasks at hand.

  • Safety boots offer toe protection and limited protection from penetration of the sole of the shoe.
  • Rubber/plastic safety boots offer protection against oil, water, acids, corrosives and other industrial chemicals.
  • Non-conductive shoes are used in areas where laborers work on live or potentially live electrical circuits.
  • Protective guards – such as shoe-caps and metatarsal guards – are designed to slip over street shoes. They are not intended to replace steel-toed safety shoes or boots. There are no approved ANSI standards for protective guards.
  • Sole protection – Outsole technology provides designs for specific work environments. Oil resistant soles are needed indoors or on slippery surfaces, and traction soles are best in rugged, outdoor environments.

All footwear should be routinely inspected for cuts, holes, tears, cracks, worn soles and other damage that could compromise its protective quality.

Series closing

This four-part series on PPE was intended to review workplace hazards for which PPE is commonly needed.  Particularly in construction with its ever-changing work environment, it is critical that Laborers be aware of their immediate surroundings and be properly outfitted for any assigned tasks.

The LHSFNA publishes a wide variety of materials that detail occupational hazards and recommend remedies, including PPE protection. A full list is available through our online publications catalogue. For further information on PPE or related topics, please contact LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

[Mark Dempsey]