Keeping your head, ears and eyes protected is essential when navigating hazardous environments. Here’s an overview on “above the shoulders” PPE.
Protective helmets are required when there is a risk of head injuries because of falling or fixed objects and electrical hazards. Head protection needs to resist object penetration, absorb the shock from a blow, resist water and be slow-burning.
The kinds of hazards that must be dealt with in the workplace will determine the type and class of head protection needed. The following classifications were developed by OSHA:
- Types of headwear
- Type 1: Helmets with a full brim surrounding the helmet, and the brim at least 1-1/4 inches wide.
- Type 2: Helmets with a peak extending forward from the crown, without a surrounding brim—like a baseball cap
- Classes of headwear
- Class A: Provides impact and penetration resistance from falling objects, along with insulation protection from electrical shock produced by voltages of up to 2,200 volts.
- Class B: In addition to impact and penetration resistance from falling objects, provides insulation protection from electrical shock produced by voltages of up to 20,000 volts. (Typically, workers in electrical and utility service segments wear Class B helmets.)
- Class C: Provides impact and penetration resistance only. Not designed to provide any protection from electrical shock.
In addition to OSHA’s classifications, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed the following categories:
- Types of impact and penetration protection
- Type I: Protects from blows to the top of the head.
- Type II: Protects from blows to the top and sides of the head.
- Classes of electrical protection
- Class E (electrical): Can withstand 20,000 volts.
- Class G (general): Tested at 2,200 volts.
- Class C (conductive): Does not provide electrical protection.
Safety helmets that meet ANSI standards also satisfy OSHA’s requirements for head protection in general industry.
To extend the usability of headwear, periodic cleaning and inspection are recommended. Head protection should be replaced if the brim or shell is perforated, cracking, deformed, or exposed to heat, chemicals, ultraviolet light or other radiation that causes the surface to become flaky or chalky.
Protection for ears is needed where there is excessive exposure to noise. A general rule of thumb—the louder the noise, the shorter the exposure time for hearing protection to be necessary. OSHA notes that employees may be exposed to a 90-dB noise level for eight hours a day before hearing protection is required. Alternatively, if the noise level reaches 115 dB, hearing protection is required for exposure lasting 15 minutes or more. OSHA offers the following chart as reference:
Permissible Noise Exposures
|Hours per day||Sound level in dB*|
|1/4 or less||115|
* When measured on the A scale of a standard sound level meter at slow response.
(More about permissible noise exposures from OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=9735)
Hearing protection includes:
- Single-use earplugs—are self-forming and can work as well as molded earplugs when inserted properly. Can be made of foam, silicone rubber, fiberglass wool or waxed cotton.
- Molded earplugs—are preformed and must be fitted by a professional. They can be single-use or reusable, however, reusable earplugs should be cleaned after each use.
- Earmuffs—make a perfect seal around the ear. Their protection can be diminished if the wearer has facial hair, glasses, long hair, or moves their face (from chewing and similar actions).
Protective eyewear is needed when individuals work with chemicals, acids, liquid and molten metals, lasers and radiant light, flying particles (such as dirt and wood chips), and other hazardous materials that could injure the eyes. To select the proper eyewear, evaluate the hazards that will be encountered at your worksite. In addition to withstanding your worksite’s particular hazards, protective eyewear should fit to the wearer’s face and be reasonably comfortable, provide unrestricted vision and movement, and allow other PPE to function without inhibition.
Some examples of eye protection include:
- Safety spectacles—have impact-resistant lenses and frames made of metal or plastic. Some models feature side shields.
- Goggles—tight-fitting eyewear completely covers the eyes, eye sockets and facial area surrounding the eyes to protect against dust, splashes and impacts. Some models will fit over corrective lenses.
- Welding shields—made of vulcanized fiber or fiberglass and fitted with a filtered lens to protect eyes from radiant light as well as from flying sparks, metal spatter and slag chips produced during welding, brazing, soldering and cutting. Filter lenses have a shade number specific to hazards of the work in order to protect against harmful light intensity.
- Laser safety goggles—protect against intense light produced by lasers.
- Face shields—transparent sheets of plastic that cover the entire width of the wearer’s head and from the eyebrows to below the chin. Face shields protect against dust, splashes and sprays of hazardous liquids. For protection against impacts, the wearer should use a face shield along with safety spectacles or goggles.
Everyday corrective lenses, such as prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses, will not provide the right amount of protection needed for a worksite. However, PPE will need to accommodate an individual’s prescription eyewear—either by incorporating the prescription into the design or by fitting the eye protection over the prescription lenses.
For more information
Learn more about head, hearing and vision protection in OSHA’s overview of personal protective equipment. (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3151.html)
Dr. Dimitri Pappas discusses the importance of safety at Texas Tech.
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This information is not exhaustive and should not be construed as containing all the necessary compliance, safety, or warning information available. Please make sure you consult with EH&S or appropriate supervisors for all safety information and procedures.