Providing Personal Protection Equipment to Contingent Workers | DCR Workforce Blog

Providing Personal Protection Equipment to Contingent Workers

As discussed in many earlier posts, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies to extend their safety programs to contingent workers on assignment at their facilities as well as to their permanent employees. They face substantial liability in cases of safety-related incidents when failing to provide a safe working place to all workers. To ensure that workers have a safe workplace, OSHA encourages workers to confidentially notify the government agency of unsafe workplace conditions. At the same time, OSHA also assists employers, big and small, with free and confidential advice on dealing with hazards at the workplace.

Merely establishing a training program to help workers stay safe and injury-free may not be sufficient. For many jobs, companies must provide the personal protection equipment needed to protect against safety threats to the workers’ different body parts.

Types of Hazards:

All workplaces do not pose a threat to the safety of workers, and those that do may have different kinds of dangers, which could result in an injury. Safety incidents most frequently reported to OSHA include:

  • Sharp edges that could poke, cut, stab or puncture
  • Unprotected access to electrical sources, resulting in electrocution
  • Machines or processes where movement could result in an impact between personnel and equipment
  • Uneven or obstructed walk surfaces
  • High temperature sources that could result in burns
  • Bio-hazards like blood or other potentially infected material
  • Falling objects
  • Flying sparks from sources such as welding, brazing, cutting, furnaces, and heat treating
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Eye injuries resulting from sources of light radiation or high intensity lights
  • High levels of noise
  • Others

Businesses can eliminate these threats by addressing the hazards through a foolproof safety protocol and by providing them the necessary protective equipment. could be anything from gloves, foot and eye protection to protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs), hard hats, respirators and full body suits. The equipment will need maintenance, periodic evaluation and regular updates. It also requires proper use by the workers and care from the employer.

  • Special industrial equipment protects against impact, penetration, compression, chemical, heat/cold, harmful dust, light (optical) radiation, and biologic hazards.
  • The periodic review of the equipment must also look into the injury and illness records to ascertain its effectiveness, identifying processes which may call for improvement. It may also assess the condition of the equipment and required repairs if any.
  • All the protective gear should be certified as a safe design (to meet the standards set by ANSI or the American National Standards Institute), maintained well, offer a good fit in size and be compatible with each other.
  • Employees must be trained to know when to wear protective gear, decide what gear is necessary and how to put it on, take it off and adjust it to their needs. They must also know the limitations of the gear, much like a space suit – as the one worn by Mark Watney on his Mars mission which would make survival impossible after 60 seconds, if pierced.

Here is an illustrative list of specific protections and the workplace conditions which call for them.

Eye and Face Protection: Hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, potentially infected material or potentially harmful light radiation. Avoid using improper or poorly fitting eye protection. When an employee uses prescription corrective lenses or contact, they cannot be assumed to protect the eyes sufficiently. Moreover, the corrective glasses will have to be included with the protective eye wear, such that the employee’s vision will not be inhibited.

Some job titles which call for eye protection are carpenters, electricians, machinists, mechanics, millwrights, plumbers and pipefitters, sheet metal workers and tinsmiths, assemblers, sanders, grinding machine operators, sawyers, welders, laborers, chemical process operators and handlers, and timber cutting and logging workers.

Head Protection: Adjustable safety helmets or hard hats offer an easy way to protect an employee’s head from impact and penetration hazards as well as from electrical shock and burn hazards. Offer it in all cases where objects may fall from above, heads may be bumped by fixed objects, or heads may come in accidental contact with electrical hazards. Head gear needs to fit well, be heat resistant, and have a hard outer shell and a shock-absorbing lining.

Job titles requiring head protection include construction workers, carpenters, electricians, linemen, plumbers and pipefitters, timber and log cutters, welders, among many others.

Foot and Leg Protection: Sometimes, workers may need protection from possible foot or leg injuries from falling or rolling objects or from crushing or penetrating materials. Work which involves exposure to hot substances or corrosive or poisonous materials requires protective gear to cover exposed body parts, including legs and feet. When an employee’s feet may be exposed to electrical hazards, non-conductive footwear should be worn. But workplace exposure to static electricity may require the use of conductive footwear.  Specialized footwear is also needed when working on wet surfaces.

Working with sharp objects such as nails or spikes that could pierce the soles or uppers of ordinary shoes; or exposure to molten metal that might splash on feet or legs; working on or around hot, wet or slippery surfaces; and working when electrical hazards are present also requires the use of safety footwear.

Hand and Arm Protection: Potential hazards include skin absorption of harmful substances, chemical or thermal burns, electrical dangers, bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, fractures and amputations. Protective equipment includes gloves, finger guards and arm coverings or elbow-length gloves. Sturdy gloves, made from metal mesh, leather or canvas provide protection against cuts and burns. Leather or canvass gloves also protect against sustained heat. Protective gloves should be inspected for punctures before each use by filling the gloves with water and tightly rolling the cuff towards the fingers to reveal any pinhole leaks.

Body Protection: Injury to the body from temperature extremes, hot splashes from molten metals and other hot liquids; impact from tools, machinery and materials; and hazardous chemicals. Examples of body protection include laboratory coats, coveralls, vests, jackets, aprons, surgical gowns and full body suits. Protection from exposure to toxic materials requires ongoing maintenance and inspection of the protective gear before every use.

Hearing protection: The need for such protection depends on the level of noise in decibels as well as the duration of exposure. Hearing protectors like earplugs and ear muffs can attenuate the amount of noise that gets through to the ears.

Companies vary in their approach to providing safety equipment. Some purchase the equipment and provision it to workers. Others require the worker to purchase the equipment. The worker may or may not be able to be reimbursed for the equipment. Collective bargaining agreements may specify equipment that must be provided, and by whom. To offer equal protection to contingent workers, staffing agencies should work with their clients to understand all requirements for safety equipment. Contractual agreements should specify how the equipment will be sourced, and who will pay for it. When recruiting workers for a client engagement, the staffing agency must inform the worker of all safety equipment requirements, indicating what – if anything – must be provided by the worker. The staffing agency must also ensure that at the start of each assignment the worker undergoes an extensive safety orientation that includes the proper use and maintenance of this equipment.

Do you implement any additional safeguards for your contingent workers? Please share with us, if so.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.