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Why Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gives workers a false sense of security.

Posted by Ian Good on 13 April 2021

The over reliance on PPE and the assumption that it completely protects the wearer from harm is an ongoing issue in workplaces.

When working with organic vapours, it is important to ensure the filter is designed to the Australain Standard or equivalent.  Filters  should not be used where the manufacturer and / or design standard  cannot be be established , i.e. markings are in another language. Furthermore, where harmful particulate materials may be present as well as volatile vapours, particulate filters should also be attached.

Similarly, the design of respirators should be confirmed to meet Australian standards. A half face with integrated goggles is not the same as a full-face respirator. The latter provides greater respiratory protection, whereas the former addresses the potential interference of the eye protection with the seal, but it is not a full-face respirator.

The Standard, AS/NZS 1715 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory equipment states that various combinations of respirators and filters may afford a protection factor of between 10 and >100.  A protection factor is a calculation of the likely atmospheric contaminant to which a person may be exposed divided by the desired quality of filtered air. The filtered air is expected to be well below the workplace exposure standard for the substance. Where full face or powered air purifying respirators are used, a fit test, using a quantitative system, i.e. Portacount, should be used to verify that the respirator fits the person's face comfortably and will achieve the required protection when work is performed. This is especially relevant when workers may be exposed to environments 100 times the workplace exposure standard.

What employers and workers need to consider before using any PPE is:

  • Conduct personal monitoring to establish to what levels of airborne contaminant a person may be exposed.
  • Understand the hazards and align the controls specifically to nature of the hazard.
  • Explore whether other control measures can be employed to reduce exposure.
  • Ensure workers are trained and understand how to select, wear, and maintain their PPE?
  • Select PPE that has identifiable standards to which it is designed and fabricated.

Given PPE is the lowest level of control and the least reliable, it is also most likely that it will be inconsistently employed. This is especially true where there is no acute exposure response that could affect or alert the wearer. The "No harm, No foul" concept.  Once employers have completed the above, they should regularly check that PPE is consistently used by workers. Where there are deviations, employers should remind workers why they need to wear the PPE via pre-start or Toolbox meetings.

Author:Ian Good
Tags:Ian Good


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