How to Identify When to Replace or Update Safety Gear

Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a vital role in keeping workers safe on the job. However, PPE that is damaged, expired, or obsolete will not offer proper protection. It is important for both employers and workers to regularly inspect PPE and know when it is time to replace or update it. This article provides guidance on identifying when safety gear such as hard hats, safety glasses, respirators, and fall protection need to be swapped out for new equipment. 

Inspecting PPE for Damage

The first step is doing thorough inspections of all PPE on a regular basis. Check for any cracks, tears, dents, or other signs of damage. Even minor defects can compromise the integrity and protective abilities of safety gear. Damaged hard hats may have decreased impact resistance. Respirators with cracked seals or lenses will not filter air properly. Torn or frayed harnesses, lanyards, and ropes can fail when stopping a fall.

Look inside gloves and boots for holes, embedded objects, and deterioration. Seal rings, buckles, clips, hooks, and other fasteners on PPE should be secure with no malfunctions. Inspect the suspension systems on hard hats to make sure they are intact. Any defective PPE should be taken out of service and replaced immediately.

Watching for Expiration Dates

Most PPE is designed and tested to meet specific standards, with an estimated service life span. Manufacturers usually print expiration dates on equipment like respirators, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) tanks, safety harnesses, ropes, and rescue gear. Other PPE like hard hats and boots often have recommendations for when to retire them based on conditions of use.

Always follow manufacturer guidelines and replace PPE by the expiration date printed on it. Using expired equipment gives a false sense of security and puts workers at serious risk of injury or illness. Even if PPE appears undamaged, breaking down of components over time will reduce protective qualities. Proactively replacing expired safety gear ensures optimal protection.

Upgrading to Current Standards

Safety standards, equipment, and best practices evolve over the years. The HSE periodically updates its consensus standards for protective equipment. Employers should provide workers with PPE that meets or exceeds the latest certification standards. This may require phasing out old equipment and upgrading to new models as improved versions become available.

New materials, innovative designs, and added features on PPE can often provide better protection, comfort, and usability. For example, advances in hard hat suspension systems help absorb more force from blows or falling objects. Upgraded safety harnesses distribute fall forces better across the body. Respirators have better breathability and visibility. Do not rely on outdated or obsolete PPE when current standards and technologies can offer superior protection.

Providing Proper Gear

Not all PPE is suited for every work environment or hazard. Make sure the right equipment for the risks and conditions at hand is being used. Heat-resistant gloves, aprons, and other gear should be worn when handling hot materials. Waterproof boots and raincoats are needed in wet outdoor conditions. Intrinsically safe equipment is essential in flammable/explosive atmospheres.

Updated hazard assessments may identify new risks that require different PPE. Adequate head, face, eye, hand, foot, respiratory, hearing, fall, and other protection should be provided as dictated by the hazards. Comfort and usability are also important for encouraging compliance. Evaluate regularly if the PPE selected is optimal or needs updating.

Regular inspection, replacement of expired items, upgrading to meet current standards, and providing job-appropriate gear are all key aspects of an effective PPE programme. Employers must ensure equipment is maintained, swapped out, and improved as needed so it continues offering maximum protection. Workers also need to check their PPE and always notify their supervisor if replacements or upgrades are warranted.

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Ashton Woolner Written by: