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Dressing for Safety and Personal Protective Equipment

Introduction

Dress code is not just about appearance and professionalism – the safety of many workers may depend on what they choose to wear.  Springbrook’s employees work in a variety of settings and appropriate attire varies from job to job, but in each role safety is paramount.  This article will review some of Springbrook’s common-sense policies on dressing for safety, as well as provide information about personal protective equipment, or PPE, that may be worn by workers who are routinely exposed to hazards such as bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, and other physical, chemical, electrical and mechanical hazards.

What Not to Wear

For employees who work directly with the individuals we serve, it is advisable to avoid wearing scarves or jewelry, especially loose items like necklaces and earrings or other piercings that can be grasped or yanked.  Employees wearing a lanyard around the neck should wear a breakaway type that cannot be used to pull or choke.  An employee wearing items that present a safety risk to themselves, other workers or participants may be required by a manager to remove them.  As for clothing, it’s a good idea to wear garments that are comfortable for movement but not so loose that they can be grabbed or pulled.  With some exceptions, the wearing of hats in the workplace is permitted by Springbrook’s dress code.  When working with individuals who present a known risk for hair-pulling behaviors, employees are encouraged to wear the hats provided.  Shoes should be closed-toe if your job places you at risk of being stepped on or having heavy objects land on your feet.  Shoes should be comfortable and have a rubber sole if you’re at risk of having to move suddenly or run.  Shoes with slippery soles like flip flops are never appropriate, and especially not in work in environments that often have wet floors such as kitchens and bathrooms.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment, often referred to as “PPE,” is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with physical, chemical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment may include items such as gloves, Kevlar sleeves, safety glasses and goggles, shoes, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, and vests.

Springbrook workers who are responsible for facilities, whether that is grounds keeping, building updates and repairs, or other maintenance duties, have to dress accordingly for their worksite.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide the necessary PPE depending on the types of exposure employees may face.  Safety glasses, goggles or face shields are to be worn any time work operations can cause foreign objects to get in the eye.  OSHA recommends eye protection be routinely considered for use by carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and laborers.  Protecting employees from potential head injuries is a key element of any safety program. A head injury can impair an employee for life or it can be fatal. Wearing a safety helmet or hard hat is one of the easiest ways to protect an employee’s head from injury. Employers must ensure that their employees wear head protection if objects might fall from above and strike them on the head; if they might bump their heads against fixed objects, such as exposed pipes or beams; or if there is a possibility of accidental head contact with electrical hazards.

Dietary workers may also face special hazards, including hot surfaces, sharp objects, and faulty electrical equipment.  Employees are required to use appropriate protection when hands are exposed to hazards such as cuts, lacerations, and thermal burns.  Examples include the use of oven mitts when handling hot items, and steel mesh or Kevlar gloves when cutting.

One way the employer can protect workers against exposure to bloodborne pathogens, such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, is by providing and ensuring they use PPE. Wearing appropriate PPE can significantly reduce risk since it acts as a barrier against exposure. Employers are required to provide, clean, repair, and replace this equipment as needed, and at no cost to workers.  For employees who are at risk for exposure to bloodborne pathogens, effective PPE includes disposable gloves, and in some cases face masks and safety glasses.  Universal precautions include changing gloves often and immediately if you notice a hole or tear.  Never re-use disposable gloves.  Utility gloves can be decontaminated for reuse as long as they are intact and show no signs of deterioration. Keep in mind gloves are not sterile—they are there to create a barrier between you and another person’s bodily fluids.  Therefore you should wash hands immediately after removing gloves.

The wearing of PPE has also been associated with a decrease in many of the injuries that occur among workers who routinely experience workplace violence.  Occupational health researchers have classified workplace violence into four types.  Type two, which is “customer/client” violence, is the most common in healthcare and social service settings such as Springbrook.  There is an increasing awareness of the myriad, sometimes serious, injuries that direct support providers experience, and a corresponding movement to minimize risks by encouraging or requiring workers to wear PPE.  The aforementioned hats are a simple way to minimize the risk of a hair-pull, which may lead to more serious injuries including concussions and back injuries.  Kevlar sleeves (or long-sleeved tops made from strong material like denim) and fingerless gloves lessen the risks of injury and exposure from bites, scratches, and finger digging behaviors.  Employees have reported that gloves are not only effective for protecting hands and wrists from injury but also increase the ability to grip during SCIP-R maneuvers.

For more information about workplace dress at Springbrook please visit Dayforce Learning and look for the Personal Appearance/Dress Code policy in the Springbrook Employee Handbook.  To learn more about what PPE is available to you in the workplace, please speak with your supervisor or contact a member of the Safety Committee.  Finally, if you have suggestions regarding current PPE use or ideas on how safety can be improved, you are encouraged to tell your supervisor.  The Safety Committee also welcomes all suggestions.  Please send them to safetyideas@springbrookny.org.

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