Personal Protective Equipment and Limitations
In our San Antonio safeland training we teach the utmost importance that all workers in the South Texas oilfields are wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times. At the same time workers must also recognize the limitations of that PPE whenever they use it. Sending South Texas oilfield workers to SafeLand training before starting work will is designed to familiarize them with the PPE they will be using in the field. PPE itself should only be thought of as the last line of defense before a worker encounters the hazard. The SafeLand training also makes workers aware of ways to avoid hazards before it contacts them. It is preferable for the worker to avoid the hazard because if the PPE is damaged or otherwise deficient then the worker will become exposed to the hazard at that point.
For each type of PPE there are specific limitations that we train for during PPE Training:
Few pieces of clothing can claim to take as much wear as the wear that work gloves take. Gloves are the fabric where the workers’ hands meet the work. The fabric can wear out and become effective so they must be inspected every time that they are used. Selecting the proper type of glove is also important because gloves that are too bulky or cumbersome can inhibit dexterity. We discuss during SafeLand training that some machinists have tried getting around clunky and ill-fitting gloves by cutting the fingers off to retain the dexterity, however, this also loses protection of the fingers and is a practice to be avoided.
Workers’ boots also take lots of wear as it is where their feet meet the ground every day. Steel toes should be used to protect from crushing hazards at all times. In some cases, where an object moves quickly, is exceedingly heavy, or is sharp enough to puncture, then the steel toes will fail to protect the top of the foot and a severe injury will occur.
The boot can also be mounted in the lace up or the pull up variety. Properly fitting lace ups tend to have better support and stability while workers across the oilfield typically favor pull ups because they are easier to put on and block moisture better. Some companies have required lace ups due to the reduction in stability injuries. In SafeLand orientation we train that when corrosive chemicals are present, chemical resistant rubber boots must be used. Workers on the completion and workover side need to watch out for brine puddles because these can shrink leather boots, especially if the brine contains calcium chloride.
We’ve written before about the limits of hearing protection, which can come in earplug and earmuff varieties. Each model will have a noise reduction rating, which measures the amount of decibels that the hearing protection blocks from entering the ears. A sufficient noise reduction rating must be selected for the noise level in the work environment.
Flame Resistant Clothing
When used properly, flame resistant clothing (FRCs), will block a flash fire from burning the protected skin but when misapplied and used improperly FRCs can wind up doing more harm than good. South Texas workers know that full coveralls can make them warmer in the summer and contribute to heat stress. Coveralls that are worn out with exposed holes will not protect the exposed skin. Openings in improperly worn coveralls can also let in and trap hot liquids, which wind up trapping the hot liquid against the skin creating a scalding hazard. Similarly, workers should not wear synthetic fibers such as polyester or polypropylene underneath the FRCs. During SafeLand training we show that synthetic fibers can melt when heated so natural fibers must be worn underneath the clothing.
FRC coveralls must be kept clean, especially if they are soaked in flammable oils, because this will obviously compromise the fire protection ability. Likewise, after too many washings the ability of the FRC to block a flame washes away. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding washing, use, and care to make sure that the FRCs still work properly when they are needed.
A hard hat should always be worn in the worksite to protect the head from falling objects. Protection is provided by the spacing between the hard at and the harness, so the harness should be checked for proper spacing at each wearing and nothing should ever be stored inside the hard hat. After a hard hat had been struck, invisible micro fractures can develop that weaken the hard hat and it should be replaced. Oils and solvents can also weaken the hard hat so the need to be cleaned off before they can weaken it. Most hard hats have a maximum lifespan of up to six years depending on the manufacturer as well so once they are expired it is time to replace them to restore protection. Even when worn correctly, if an object is heavy of falling fast from heights then it can still break through the hard hat or injure the worker’s neck, back, and shoulders.
In areas where breathing hazards exist at a level that is immediately dangerous to life and health, a supplied air respirator must be used. Due to the complex nature of respiratory protection we have written several posts about them. We also cover the different types of respiratory hazards during the SafeLand orientation. All workers using respirators must be fully trained and clean shaven. The respirator must also be tested, cleaned, and fit tested to the worker.
In South Texas, oilfield workers can be at the jobsite day and night. During the day, dark sunglass type safety glasses can prevent sun damage and keep the eyes comfortable. At night or in other low light conditions, however, these dark glasses are not acceptable. Lens colors such as clear, yellow, or light blue will let enough light in so that workers can see the worksite.
If the possibility for minor chemical exposure is involved, the glasses should have side shields or be of the wrap around variety. To ensure that proper impact protection is provided, safety glasses should have an ANSI Z87 rating as well. There was an incident where I was using the powered lawn edger at the house myself and a bark chip hit my safety glasses and would have hit my eye were I not wearing them.
If PPE is not worn it will not protect the worker. Good safe work habits can extend to the home so that they can protect themselves while doing hazardous chores around the house as well as at work. They should avoid taking work PPE home, however, because this can risk exposing their family to any chemicals that may be residual on the PPE. If any chemicals are on the PPE, it should be cleaned of to prevent spreading to other areas or wearing out the material.
Recommended Training: SafeLand
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