Hard hats, goggles, face shields, earplugs, steel-toed shoes, respirators. What do all these items have in common? They are all various forms of personal protective equipment. Important safety devices—and yet data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that most injured workers were not wearing appropriate protective equipment when they were injured.

Studies show that:

  • Less than one-fourth of the workers with foot injuries wore safety shoes or boots
  • Most of the workers with eye injuries wore no eye-protection equipment
  • A majority of these workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at regular worksites.


Cuts or bruises to the scalp and forehead occurred in 85% of head injury cases, and concussions in 26%. Over a third of the cases resulted from falling objects striking the head.

To work, protective hats must be able to withstand penetration and absorb the shock of a blow. In some cases, hats should also protect against electrical shock. Recognized standards for hats have been established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).


Sixty-six percent of workers with injured feet were wearing safety shoes, protective footwear, heavy-duty shoes or boots; 33% wore regular street shoes. Of those wearing safety shoes, 85% were injured because the object hit an unprotected part of the shoe or boot.

For protection against falling or rolling objects, sharp objects, molten metal, hot surfaces and wet, slippery surfaces, workers should use appropriate footguards, safety shoes or boots, and leggings. Safety shoes should be sturdy and have an impact-resistant toe. Shoes must meet ANSI standards.


Injured workers who were surveyed indicated that eye and face protection was not normally used or practiced in their work areas, or that it was not required for the type of work performed at the time of the accident. Almost one-third of face injuries were caused by metal objects, most often blunt and weighing one pound or more. Accidents resulted in cuts, lacerations, or punctures in 48% of the total, and fractures (including broken or lost teeth) in 27%.

Protection should be based on the kind and degree of hazard present and should:

  1. be reasonably comfortable
  2. fit properly
  3. be durable
  4. be cleanable
  5. be sanitary
  6. be in good condition

More information on eye protection can be found later in this article.


Exposure to loud noise can cause irreversible hearing loss or impairment. It can also create physical and psychological stress, to say nothing of making you nuts. Preformed or molded ear plugs should be individually fitted by a professional. Waxed cotton, foam, or Fiberglas wool earplugs are self-forming. Disposable earplugs should be used once and thrown away; non-disposable ones should be cleaned after each use or they’ll become what scientists call “very yucky.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has promulgated a final rule on requirements for a hearing conservation program. Information on the program is available from the closest OSHA office.


Burns, cuts, electrical shock, amputation, and absorption of chemicals are not fun. They are also examples of hazards associated with arm and hand injuries. A wide assortment of gloves, hand pads, sleeves, and wristlets is available for protection from these hazards.

The devices should be selected to fit the specific task. Rubber is considered the best material for insulating gloves and sleeves, and must conform to ANSI standards (copies of which are available from ANSI, 1430 Broadway, New York, NY 10018).


There’s no part of your anatomy you want to protect more than the torso, because without it, you’re nothing. Many hazards can threaten the torso: heat, splashes from hot metals and liquids, impacts, cuts, acids, and radiation. A variety of protective clothing is available: vests, jackets, aprons, coveralls, and full body suits.

Fire-retardant wool and specially treated cotton clothing items are comfortable, and they adapt well to a variety of workplace temperatures. Other types of protection include leather, rubberized fabrics, and disposable suits.


OSHA has requirements for respirators to control occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and vapors. Information is available under the title of Respirator Protection (29 CFR 1910.134). Proper selection of respirators should be made according to the guidance of ANSI Practices for Respiratory Protection.


Remember: Using personal protective equipment requires hazard awareness and training on the part of the user. Employees must be aware that the equipment alone does not eliminate the hazard. If the equipment fails, exposure will occur.

OSHA standards require employers to furnish and require employees to use suitable protective equipment where there is a “reasonable probability” that injury can be prevented by such equipment. The standards also set provisions for specific equipment.

While use of personal protective equipment is important, it is only a supplementary form of protection, necessary when not all hazards have been controlled through other means such as engineering controls. Engineering controls are especially important in hearing and respiratory protection, and specific standards call for employers to take all feasible steps to control the hazards.


Every day, an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces. The financial cost of these injuries is enormous—more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and Workers’ Compensation. No dollar figure can adequately reflect the personal toll these accidents take on the injured workers.

OSHA and the 25 states and territories operating their own job safety and health programs are determined to help reduce eye injuries. In concert with efforts by concerned voluntary groups, OSHA has begun a nationwide information campaign to improve workplace eye protection.

Take a moment to think about the possible eye hazards at your workplace. A 1980 survey by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of about 1,000 minor eye injuries reveals how and why many on-the-job accidents occur.

What contributes to eye injuries at work? Not wearing eye protection. BLS reports that nearly three out of every five workers injured were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. About 40 of the injured workers were wearing some form of eye protection when the accident occurred. These workers were most likely to be wearing eyeglasses with no side shields, though injuries among employees wearing full-cup or flat-fold side shields occurred as well.


  • Flying particles. BLS found that almost 70% of the accidents studied resulted from flying or falling objects or sparks striking the eye. Injured workers estimated that nearly three-fifths of the objects were smaller than a pin head. Most of the particles were said to be traveling faster than a hand-thrown object when the accident occurred.
  • Contact with chemicals. The survey showed that contact with chemicals caused one-fifth of the injuries.
  • Other accidents were caused by objects swinging from a fixed or attached position, such as tree limbs, ropes, chains, or tools which were pulled into the eye while the worker was using them.


During craft work and operation of industrial equipment. Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry, but BLS reported that more than 40% of injuries studied occurred among craft workers such as mechanics, repair persons, carpenters, and plumbers. Over a third of the injured workers were operatives, such as assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators.

Laborers suffered about one-fifth of the eye injuries. Almost half the injured workers were employed in manufacturing; slightly more than 20% were in construction.


Always wear effective eye protection. OSHA standards require employers to provide workers with suitable eye protection. To be effective, the eyewear must be of the appropriate type for the hazard encountered and properly fitted. For example, the BLS survey showed that 94% of the injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protector. Eye protective devices should allow for air to circulate between the eye and the lens. Only 13 workers injured while wearing eye protection reported breakage.

Nearly one-fifth of the injured workers with eye protection wore face shields or welding helmets. However, only six percent of the workers were injured while wearing eye protection wore goggles, which generally offer better protection for the eyes. The best protection is afforded when goggles are worn with face shields.

Better training and education. Workers injured while not wearing protective eyewear most often said they believed it was not required by the situation. Even though the vast majority of employers furnished eye protection at no cost to employees, about 40% of the workers received no information on where and what kind of eyewear should be used.

Maintenance. Eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, cause glare, and may contribute to accidents.


The National Society to Prevent Blindness, a voluntary health organization, is dedicated to preserving sight and has developed excellent information and training materials for preventing eye injuries at work. Its 26 affiliates nationwide may also provide consultation in developing effective eye safety programs. For more information and a publications catalog, write the National Society to Prevent Blindness, 79 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016-7896.


Sure, safety goggles are dumb looking, but they’re still the smart thing to wear. BLS reported that more than 50% of workers injured while wearing eye protection thought the eyewear had minimized their injuries. But nearly half the workers also felt that another type of protection could have better prevented or reduced the injuries they suffered. And of course, the best goggles in the world won’t save you from an eye injury if you leave them in your locker.

It is estimated that 90% of eye injuries can be prevented through the use of proper protective eyewear. By working together, OSHA, employers, workers, and health organizations can make it happen.


While we’re on the subject of workplace injuries, you should know that Workers’ Compensation costs are increasing. Today the average is $25,000 for every injury. This is triple the cost 10 years ago. Additionally, much of this increasing cost is going to the therapists, doctors, and lawyers rather than the workers. In some areas, more than half of the cases end up attached to a lawsuit. Rather than a mechanism to take care of injured workers, it has become a $70 billion-per-year problem for American businesses.


A proactive program should be set up to identify and correct hazards. Employees should be trained and encouraged to give suggestions. And follow up on all potential or actual safety problems. Taken together, these measures can reduce Workers’ Compensation costs.

Injured employees should be treated immediately, and a program of frequent, regular checkups and therapy should be designed and instituted. Daily contact should be maintained and employees returned to work as soon as possible. This may mean temporary reassignment to light-duty jobs.

Hazard communication is important in multi-employer workplaces. All workers need training and access to MSDSs.

Hazard training can be specific to materials (chemicals) or broken down into categories. Retraining is required when a new hazard is introduced into the workplace. If category training has been provided, retraining is not required when a new chemical is introduced. For example, if employees have been trained in flammable chemicals and a new flammable material is introduced, retraining is not required. But if a new chemical is a carcinogen and training in carcinogens has not been given, retraining is required. You can order a booklet from OSHA (OSHA 3222) called “Hazard Communication Guidelines for Compliance” by calling the OSHA publications office at (202) 219-4667.


In case of emergency, the first question is, “What should I do?” SIC’s 140-page EMERGENCY RESPONSE HANDBOOK answers that question and many more, so you don’t have to worry.

The Handbook indexes more than 2,000 hazardous materials and provides concise guides to isolation requirements, potential hazards (fire or explosion, health hazards), emergency action (fire or spills), and first aid. The contents include:

  • Emergency Action
  • Selecting the Best Response
  • First Aid Guides
  • ID Number Index
  • Emergency Guides
  • Chemical Names Index

Many organizations are placing a copy in every vehicle in their fleet, in all receiving and storage areas, and every place where hazardous materials may be found. If you need a copy, call the SIC at (310) 454-2100.