You’re Doing it Wrong: Common Mistakes When it Comes to Personal Safety Equipment

Staying safe on the job is essential in all industries. It’s particularly important for those working with glass to take care and caution—in the plant and on the jobsite. Personal protective equipment (PPE) designed specifically for those working with glass is available, but mistakes in its use still happen. Sometimes workers wear the gear the wrong way. Other times, they don’t wear it at all. It’s critical to stress the importance of jobsite and
workplace safety to help avoid potential accidents, injuries and even fatalities.

Take Precaution

Greg Laska is vice president of operations for Graboyes in Bristol, Pa. His company provides PPE to its employees, but it’s still a challenge sometimes to make sure the employees wear it—and wear it correctly. One problem area he’s seen lately is employees wearing hardhats backward.

“Generally speaking, hardhats are not designed or tested to be worn backward with a few exceptions. There is a brim for a reason,” he says, “and when worn correctly the hardhat fits to the contour of the head and has less chance of falling off.”

He adds, “Another item we use is a tool lanyard. It attaches to the screw gun [or another tool] and then back to the belt. There have been times when someone might lose their grip on the tool. Now, it only falls a few feet and not to the ground. That’s standard for us when working on heights or protecting people below.”

Jim Rathbone, senior vice president with Kensington Glass Arts in Frederick, Md., says the most common issue he sees is people not using cut-resistant gloves for activities they’re too comfortable with. This could be, for example, moving a lite of glass from one area to another. “Then they get cut … they get lax about using the gloves,” he says. “Eyeglasses are another common mistake. Employees don’t always use them in certain activities.”

Jennifer Walrich, safety expert and manager of growth strategy at PPE manufacturer Magid in Romeoville, Ill., sees several concerns about wearing PPE properly. Critical coverage areas include the neck, abdominals, forearms, under the arm and inner thigh.

“What we sometimes see, because of what they’re wearing, like the old Kevlar gear, they roll down the neck or unzip the garment rather than finding a solution that [keeps them protected and comfortable],” she says. “They push up the sleeves; they don’t buckle leg straps on the chaps. For hand protection, they double glove, but that becomes tight and can cause hand fatigue and is not comfortable.”

Walrich adds that high visibility (often yellow or orange) clothing is also important.

“We have seen fatalities that occurred because of struck-by hazards where workers were not seen or noticed,” she says. “So high visibility clothing is really important.”

Laska says minimal safety standards on a jobsite include a hardhat, eye protection and high visibility shirt or vest. “That’s the bare minimum, but in glazing, we go beyond the minimum in order to work as safely as possible,” he says. “We often work from heights, and within the industry the number one accident is falls.” He says Graboyes’ employees working from heights must wear a harness per OSHA regulations, which the company provides.

“It’s the installer’s responsibility to inspect [their equipment] every day for damages. It will save your life in the case of a fall.”

Still, the harness has a useful life that’s only so long, and that varies by manufacturer.

“Even if it looks good, if it’s past its useful life you have to get rid of it. Some companies might not always require this because harnesses can be costly, but once they are past their life, they might not perform to the level of safety that’s required,” he says. “If you’re inspecting the harness and think something is questionable, you need to go right to the foreman to get another, tag the old one and take it out of commission to make sure it stays out of circulation.”

With so much turnover lately in terms of labor, Rathbone says it’s good to have a way to mark someone new to construction as a rookie.

“You need awareness that this person is new because they’re the ones that are the biggest threat to getting hurt.”

Stay Safe

As with everything else, communication is essential. “We conduct monthly foreman meetings,” Laska says. “This is the chance for them to meet with project managers and me, so we keep an open discussion. I want all their critical feedback and to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to be safe. We don’t rush anything. It has to be safe. If it’s not safe, we don’t want to be doing it.”

Also, remember that construction isn’t an individual job.

“In the field, there’s a lot more risk of other trades around you,” says Rathbone. “You must be aware of what’s going on around you.”

Laska agrees.

“You’re relying on the people around you. You may do everything right, but if the person beside you is unsafe, then you’re unsafe.”

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