Personal Protective Equipment

One of the most controversial questions in the prevention of MSDs is whether the use of personal equipment worn or used by the employee is effective. In the field of occupational safety and health, PPE generally provides a barrier between the worker and the hazard source. Respirators, ear plugs, safety goggles, chemical aprons, safety shoes, and protective helmets are all examples of PPE.

Whether braces, wrist splints, back belts, and similar devices can be regarded as offering personal protection against ergonomic hazards remains open to question. Although these devices may, in some situations, reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure, evidence of their effectiveness in injury reduction is inconclusive. In some instances they may decrease one exposure but increase another because the worker has to "fight" the device to perform his or her work such as the use of wrist splints while engaged in work that requires wrist bending.

According to many ergonomists and safety and health professionals, PPE is placed last in the hierarchy of risk factor controls because:

  • Its effectiveness depends on human behavior (the manager's, supervisor's and worker's);

  • Studies have shown that the effectiveness of PPE is highly variable and inconsistent from one worker to the next;

  • The protection provided cannot be measured reliably;

  • PPE must be maintained and replaced frequently to maintain its effectiveness;

  • It is burdensome for employees to wear, because it decreases mobility and is often uncomfortable; and

  • It may pose hazards of its own (e.g., the use of vibration-reduction gloves may also force workers to increase their grip strength).

Ergonomics-related PPE may include palm pads and knee pads to reduce contact stress, vibration-attenuation gloves, and gloves worn to protect against cold temperatures.

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