Helping Protect Employees

Construction jobsites can be dangerous places to work. There often are many activities going on at the same time, with various trades working side by side. Work can be done below-grade in excavations, above-grade on scaffolding and in scissor lifts and on the ground with forklifts and other heavy equipment.

All of the activity above, below and on the ground at a construction worksite can create hazards for your employees and for contractor employees. One way to protect your employees is by providing appropriate personal protective equipment ( PPE ).

The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act indicates that the employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Safety equipment is the last line of defense, used when administrative controls (like scheduling work so that trades people are not in the same area at the same time) and engineering controls (such as designing the jobsite so that hazards are far enough away from employees so there is no exposure) have been exhausted and hazards remain.

The use of safety PPE sometimes can create or contribute to hazards for the worker, such as heat stress; physical and psychological stress; and impaired vision, mobility and communication. These issues must be addressed as part of the training.

In general, the greater the level of PPE protection, the greater the associated risks. For any given situation, equipment and clothing should be selected to provide an adequate level of protection, but should not over protect the worker. Over-protection, just like under-protection, often can be hazardous and should be avoided. By its very nature, a good deal of construction work takes place outdoors or in buildings that are not properly heated or cooled. With that in mind, you have to prepare for the changing temperatures.

Throughout the summer months, you have been providing PPE that fits the climate and temperatures in which your employees work. As mentioned earlier, heat stress can be a serious hazard related to using PPE in the summer months. In certain parts of the country temperatures may start to cool off soon; in other areas, that will not happen for several months. Either way, you will want to plan for anticipated changes in the kinds of PPE you issue.

Respirators are devices that prevent the entry of harmful substances into the lungs. The two basic types of respirators are: Air purifying: these remove hazardous substances from the breathing air, and Atmosphere supplying: these deliver safe breathing air from an outside source.

Respirator selection must be based on the respiratory hazard, and also must consider applicable workplace and user factors that may affect performance and reliability. Respirators must be NIOSH-certified.

The danger on construction jobsites is real. The proper PPE and training can provide a measure of protection for your employees so they can go home safe and sound at the end of their work day.