In this article, certified industrial hygienist, Ron Schaible, CIH, discusses Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the workplace, with an emphasis on the importance of establishing and complying with appropriate PPE protocols.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to protect workers from serious workplace injuries or illnesses resulting from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Besides face shields, safety glasses, hard hats, and safety shoes, protective equipment includes a variety of devices and garments such as goggles, coveralls, gloves, vests, earplugs, and respirators.

PPE requirements vary by industry and according to materials handled. Employers and employees bear responsibility to ensure the proper usage of adequate PPE in the workplace. Employers must detect workplace hazards and make efforts to mitigate them. Employees must comply with workplace policies concerning PPE and report problems with the equipment to the employer. Surveys of safety professionals consistently indicate failures to wear proper safety equipment while on the job. Given this, it is not surprising that compliance with PPE protocols is a significant concern in injury prevention programs.

Importance of Proper Selection

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSHA) general PPE requirements mandate that employers conduct a hazard assessment to determine hazards that are present, what PPE is proper for those hazards, and train and require workers to wear and maintain it in a sanitary and reliable condition. While PPE is important to workplace safety, its use is subordinate to the implementation of feasible engineering controls and administrative controls to eliminate or minimize the hazard. Requiring the use of PPE alone may expose workers to the unmitigated hazard. Injury may occur if the PPE is not selected, worn or maintained properly, or if the PPE fails.

Standards of Care

In addition to OSHA’s PPE requirements, numerous other standards of care exist. The American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI), ASTM International (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), among others, publish standards for the manufacture, testing and use of PPE.


A mistake, such as dropped tools, equipment and material from an elevated location can produce fatal results for those working below! Consider the following:

  1. Falling objects accelerate at the rate of ~32 feet per second per second.
  2. A falling object hits with an impact equal to its weight times the falling distance.
  3. Example: Suppose a construction worker drops a tool from a platform 50 feet up. Below him, several other men are working. One employee glances up, sees the falling object—the wrench—and gives a warning yell. By the time it registers on his vision, its only 3 to 4 feet above his head…and, it’s traveling about 48 feet per second. NO ONE can move fast enough to escape a situation like this. A stronger lesson in the value of a hard hat could hardly be found.

Estimated Force of Dropped Objects


Featured Expert

Ronald D. Schaible, CIH, CSP, CPE

Ron is Certified in the Comprehensive Practice of Industrial Hygiene (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with diverse career experience. He provides technical investigations, analysis, reports, and testimony toward the resolution of injuries and claims related to workplace and environmental health and safety.

Ron has over 35 years of experience in commercial insurance loss control and private industry. He has been responsible for global health and safety for a major electrical/electronics industry manufacturer. The scope of his work included all aspects of workplace safety such as developing and assessing the effectiveness of machine guarding, suitability of PPE, ergonomic interventions, evaluating industrial hygiene exposures, and product stewardship responsibilities (preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and product labels).

Ron is a graduate of Drexel University, and West Chester University where he holds a M.S. in Environmental Health. He is a member of numerous professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).