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Personal protective equipment, often known as PPE, is a category that includes all of those items that can be worn to minimize exposure to various hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to conduct inspections of all workplaces to determine the need for PPE and to choose the proper PPE for every job task.  

These requirements do not change during an emergency response scenario. OSHA requires employers to complete the PPE hazard assessment, which lists the findings of the inspection and hazard assessment for specific PPE. Completing the assessment requires employers to consider specific job duties, including those emergency responses that workers may experience. Employers need to consider this requirement during emergency action planning.   

In the aftermath of a storm, a city or town may face hazardous conditions. For example, rising waters can carry chemicals, snakes, ants and even waste from a wastewater treatment plant. Fallen trees or debris may create roadblocks that require removal. Employees who will be involved in emergency cleanup should receive training and PPE for these hazards in addition to hazards assessed in their daily job duties.  

Some common PPE to consider for emergencies includes  

  • hard hats,  
  • safety glasses,  
  • steel-toed boots,  
  • chainsaw helmets,  
  • chaps,  
  • hearing protection,  
  • respirators,  
  • chemical-resistant gloves,  
  • protective suits, and  
  • high-visibility vests, if working near vehicular traffic during an emergency.  

All PPE and clothing should be of safe design and construction for the work to be performed. Employees should maintain the equipment in a clean and reliable condition.  

Employers should allow only properly trained employees with previous training on appropriate PPE to work in dangerous locations, and only under the direct supervision of an emergency response coordinator. An employee should never enter a dangerous location without appropriate PPE. If proper PPE is not available, the employee should wait until it can be obtained and worn properly before conducting the hazardous operations. When an emergency requires chainsaw work, only those employees trained on how to safely use a chainsaw and trained on what PPE to wear should operate one. 

PPE exists to protect the employees from the risk of injury by creating a barrier against workplace hazards. Training for its use should cover 

  • when PPE is needed,  
  • what PPE is necessary,  
  • how to properly put on, take off, adjust and wear the PPE,  
  • the limitations of the PPE, and 
  • the proper care maintenance and useful life of PPE.  

If there is a shortage of PPE, OSHA issues a Temporary Enforcement Guidance document. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA issued such guidance for annual fit-testing of N95 filtering facepieces

The Municipal Association of SC Risk Management Services recently created sample public works policies that include hazard assessment certification, hazard identification, and selection of PPE. The guidance material also includes a safety inspection checklist to help ensure that employers reduce the exposures that employees experience during their workday. SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members can find these policies online.

For assistance locating these sample policies or completing the PPE hazard assessment, contact John Ciesielski, loss control consultant, at jciesielski@masc.sc or 803.354.4752.