OSHA: Train employees on proper use of PPE

Directive highlights PPE requirements

Do all of your employees know which personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear — and when? A compliance directive from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration underscores the employer's responsibility to assess hazards and identify appropriate PPE and to train employees on each type of PPE.

"The [compliance officer] shall determine whether the employee knows when and what eye, face, head, foot and hand PPE is necessary, how to properly don, doff, adjust and wear the assigned PPE, the limitations on the assigned PPE, and the proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the assigned PPE. If each employee required to use the assigned PPE does not know all of the above, a citation shall be issued . . ." according to the OSHA directive.

In hospitals, this encompasses a wide range of PPE, from medical gloves, gowns and goggles to hard hats or welding gloves, notes Bruce Cunha, RN, MS, COHN-S, manager of employee health and safety at the Marshfield (WI) Clinic. "The list of PPE products that are being used in health care is probably higher than in most other industries," he says.

The OSHA directive primarily addresses the requirement for employers to pay for PPE. But it also addresses OSHA requirements for hazard assessment and training. Documenting the assessments and the training could be a significant task for health care employers, Cunha says.

Just providing the PPE isn't enough. According to the directive: "The employer must ensure that each affected employee uses protective eye and face wear that fits properly and protects against specific workplace hazards. In addition, the employer should ensure that the protective eye and face wear is reasonably comfortable, provides unrestricted vision and movement, is durable and clean, and provides unrestricted functioning of any other required PPE."

In February, OSHA cited Northeast Hospital Corp. after an inspection of its facility in Beverly, MA, alleging repeat and serious violations of electrical safety standards. The agency issued $63,000 in proposed fines. Among the citations, OSHA found that "the employees lacked or did not use personal protective equipment while working with energized electrical equipment."

[Editor's note: The directive, "Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry," is available at www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-01-050.pdf.]