What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The PPE You’re Overlooking

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential in many workplace environments. But what body parts are you not covering—that you should—when preparing to handle glass?

“We use PPE for every single employee who handles glass,” says Nathaniel Winkelmann, a certified safety professional and corporate safety director for Hartung Glass in Tukwila, Wash. “Every employee who would step onto the production floor” wears a combination of eye and ear protection, aprons, hard hats, arm guards, gloves, leg chaps and more, depending on the level of protection required. Arm guards are worn by employees when handling glass so, if the glass breaks, it doesn’t “cut your arm off, essentially.”

According to data Winkelmann has gathered, the primary body parts that should be protected but aren’t are the lower legs. He explains that PPE aprons extend to just below the knees, but glass can cause lacerations to the shins. Employees must be taught to understand they should wear full-length aprons. “No employee is going to automatically grab them,” Winkelmann says.

Safety officers like Winkelmann are needed at companies to determine which PPE is necessary and in what circumstances. Hartung historically has required employees to wear a Kevlar-lined heavy-duty apron. Current safety requirements now include chaps that cover the front of the legs to prevent glass and other sharp objects from cutting through the aprons to the legs.

Winkelmann says cuts to the ears and face are not as common because wearing a hard hat creates a barrier for sharp objects. The most common injuries are to hands, forearms and shins.

“Probably the biggest issue is there’s no kind of standardized PPE that would work with a series of PPE,” he says, explaining that PPE regulations aren’t standard across the industry. Instead, each company creates its own rules based upon hazards in that company and that particular state. They also learn, as time passes, when regulations must be updated or changed. For example, regulations for heat and cold requirements vary by company and geographic location.

Winkelmann says handling low-E coated glass is another situation that requires unique PPE, because coating precludes employees from wearing traditional safety gloves. Employees should avoid wearing gloves not approved by the glass manufacturer because the gloves can leave a residue on the glass. “They need to make sure the gloves are compatible with the product,” says Winkelmann.

“PPE is job-specific for sure,” says Kim Wallace, supervisor of product group sales for doors and windows, for C.R. Laurence (CRL) based in Los Angeles. When it comes to any PPE, especially gloves and respirators, different degrees of PPE are required. Wallace says he makes sure customers are fully protected when they order equipment.

“Safety is at the top of our core values for our customers and our employees,” adds Barbara Haaksma, CRL’s senior vice president of marketing.

Get Covered

“We literally have PPE to cover you from head to toe,” says Brian O’Boyle, CRL’s sourcing officer. From a variety of hard hats with accessories to shin and feet leggings, CRL provides personal protection for every body part and job.

Eye protection includes anti-fog and anti-scratch material, wrap-around glasses, and UVA and UVB protection. “We never recommend anyone do any UV bonding without proper eyewear,” O’Boyle says, as well as anyone working with metal to avoid fragments getting into the eyes.

High-impact face shields protect employees from potential chemical spills. Full-body aprons and aprons from the waist down provide protection based on employee needs. “Not all PPE is safe in all situations,” O’Boyle says. Too much or too little PPE can create a dangerous situation for the employee given the job and jobsite.

Speaking of other concerns, O’Boyle adds that leg chaps “serve different purposes,” and “the type of job that you’ve got is important [for hand protection],” he says. Gloves, wrist protection, cut-resistant and puncture-resistant protection are options depending on the job. Protection is also available against knuckles being crushed on the jobsite.

Level of Protection

Magid, based in Romeoville, Ill., makes PPE products. Product manager Jen Walrich says most companies know what they need for basic protection. However, they may not understand what level of protection is necessary. For example, employees know to wear eye protection, but certain circumstances may require a higher degree of that protection. “We do a lot of safety assessments for companies,” Walrich says, adding that many companies don’t always know where to begin when it comes to PPE.

Magid’s director of marketing Jay Hubbard sees employees who are sometimes unaware they may need double gloves for specific jobs. For example, those who work with glass and window fabrication may have problems with their gloves sticking to butyl, which is used to seal gas in between lites of glass. To address this issue, they’ll wear a cut-resistant glove with another glove on top that will not stick to the butyl. However, the employee’s grip can be compromised and two gloves create more heat and less comfort.

Walrich says employees don’t know to ask, “do you have something [that does] what two gloves can do?” As a solution, Magid created a silicone glove that will not stick when installing glass and can do the job of two gloves.

She adds that some employees who have worked in the glass industry the longest are the ones least informed about protective equipment. “I didn’t realize how unprotected I was,” they will say when they learn about the products.

Employees are also unaware of options for lighter weight materials they can wear, so they don’t have to roll up their sleeves or take off a protective jacket when they get hot, Hubbard says. Removing such PPE, he says, creates a non-compliant safety situation.

When the Heat is On

Glass manufacturing and fabrication occur in hot work environments, and the facilities typically are not air-conditioned. Cooling towels, bandannas, neck gaiters/face coverings and skullcaps help in these situations. Magid’s cooling gear, for example, is chemical-free and keeps employees cool for up to two hours when wet. New employees in glass plants are acclimated during a specific time period to the heat in a facility by working shorter hours until they are more comfortable with the heat in the work environment.

Rebecca J. Barnabi is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine. Email her at rbarnabi@glass.com.

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