Five must-know tips when choosing personal protective equipment

Safety standards certifier SAI Global is urging business owners in the agriculture, construction, resources and manufacturing industries to evaluate the effectiveness of the personal protective equipment they are using to keep their employees safe in the workplace.

Safety standards certifier SAI Global is urging business owners in the agriculture, construction, resources and manufacturing industries to evaluate the effectiveness of the personal protective equipment they are using to keep their employees safe in the workplace.

SAI Global says some employers are still using personal protective equipment (PPE) that fails to meet rigorous Australian safety standards, with many presuming that all safety products such as hard hats, safety glasses, respirator masks, hearing protectors, fall arrestors and safety footwear meet mandatory requirements. 

“It’s a common misconception that all personal safety items are subject to and must meet mandatory standards,” Richard Donarski, Team Leader Health and Safety, Product Services at SAI Global, said. “The reality is, as many standards aren’t legislated, manufacturers choose not to apply standards to their processes. The consequence is that the very products designed to keep us safe may not necessarily do their jobs as expected. This is why it’s essential for employers, safety supervisors and managers to look for an approved symbol from a reputable certifier.” 

Research by Safe Work Australia shows that around 130,000 Australians per year make serious workers’ compensation claims due to work related illness or injury, at an estimated total to cost to employers of around $60.6 billion. To avoid such issues arising in your workplace, Donarski suggest following the below five tips when choosing PPE for your staff. 

1. Ask an expert: While all equipment looks the same, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it does the job. For example, a particular respirator mask may only be compatible with certain chemicals or materials. When unsure, ask the supplier and provide them with the exact details of what the equipment will be used for. If ordering online, call or submit an enquiry. Don’t take a gamble with your employees, especially when working with dangerous equipment or chemicals.

2. Purchase certified safety equipment only: This equipment will be branded with an appropriate certification mark, the Australian Standard reference, and should include the name of the organisation, the date it was certified and a Certification Licence number. Be aware that not all products that claim to be certified are to an Australian standard. To be safe, look out for the Five Ticks ‘Certified Product’ Standards Mark (pictured above) or enter the Certification Licence number online to source further details.

3. Be careful when buying second hand: Do you really know what that piece of equipment has been through? For example, a hard hat may look okay, but if it’s been left out in the sun every day, the chances are that its protection is nowhere near the level it should be due to strong UV rays weakening its shell. Additionally, second hand DIY equipment may come with zero instructions.

4. Double check all sizes: A hard hat or safety harness that’s a millimetre too small can be life threatening should an incident occur. Check all sizes with employees before placing orders for products and, once they arrive, test that these fit accordingly. Manufacturers can work to different sizes, so testing the product on an individual is essential to ensuring it fits appropriately.

5. Renew and evaluate equipment regularly: Setting a calendar reminder to evaluate and renew equipment every few months isn’t enough. Some tasks are larger than others and, if an employee has been working on an intense job, then their protective gear may become ineffective at a quicker rate due to wear and tear. Evaluate equipment prior to every job rather than per calendar month.

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