When it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE), safety should never be a priority. It should be a value, says Jeff Lambert, Knife River Corp. North Central Region safety chair. “Priorities change, values do not,” he says.
For example, if production needs to be ramped up, that becomes the priority. If safety is only a priority, it may be pushed back, Lambert points out. “But if safety is a value, then that drives everything that you do,” he says. “And if safety is a value, you’ll think about it not only at work, but at home and when you’re with your family. It becomes your lifestyle.”
Using PPE then becomes not just a rule that must be followed, but something that is engrained. Wearing a hard hat — gate-to-gate — to prevent head injuries may seem like common sense, but “common sense is a myth,” Lambert says. “I hear that all the time. It’s common sense. But it’s not just common sense. What might occur to one person may not occur to someone else. That’s why training and education are so critical.”
An incident at one of the MDU Resources Group, Inc. companies (parent company of Knife River Corp.) bears this out. Lambert remembers the story of an employee who drove off in his pickup truck and threw a rock across the parking lot, striking an employee walking across the parking lot in the head. The employee, thankfully, was wearing a hard hat, Lambert says.
“Some people say, ‘I don’t need a hard hat if I am in the yard at a ready-mix plant. It’s a wide-open area,” he says. But the pickup truck incident shows the flawed thinking of this way. “Rocks fly off of conveyor belts all the time,” Lambert says. “You always need to keep yourself safe.”
Lambert also recalls another incident involving the use of PPE and how it may have helped avoid serious injury. A supervisor standing on the platform around the jaw crusher looked down into the jaw when a rock shot up and struck him on the eye. If he hadn’t been wearing his protective eyewear, a serious injury could have occurred. According to safety tips provided by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), eye protection should be kept on your face at all times. They also should have side shields.
Fall protection and fall arrest are also a very important part of PPE. “A lot of people confuse the two,” Lambert points out. To clarify, he explains that a fall arrest system catches a person if he or she falls, but a fall restraint system actually protects a person from falling or reaching a fall point. “If your fall restraint system is not a standard guardrail, then you still want to use a harness and lanyard that will keep you from falling off an elevated working surface.
But PPE isn’t enough. Hazard awareness and training are critical, Lambert says. Although PPE helps protect workers, it doesn’t eliminate the hazards, and the equipment can fail. That is why operators should always look for ways to engineer out the hazards first. To reduce the chance of PPE failure, employees need to be trained on how to properly use equipment, keep it clean and in good condition, and make sure it fits properly. Most importantly, this all needs to be second nature — more than mere compliance.
“Compliance comes with slogans and phrases,” Lambert says, “but a value is part of something you just do without thinking about it. It’s part of you.” AM