As the pandemic has ripped through our homes and businesses, the need for PPE (personal protective equipment) in the workplace has exploded.
Unfortunately, PPE can be expensive to acquire, manage and maintain. For example, an N95 mask may be relatively inexpensive for a single employee. However, as teams grow, the need for further PPE inevitably grows with it and can present an increased impost on the business.
Let’s explore some of the key elements of a protective equipment plan, and how it may benefit your business or organization.
Conduct a risk assessment – identify needs
Firstly, it’s imperative that you identify the equipment needs that are present in your organization. At an initial level, this may involve documenting and highlighting hazards present in the workplace, and then identifying what protective equipment may best suit their needs.
As an example, let’s consider a delicatessen, that serves a mix of hot and cold products. To handle this sort of use case, employees may need items such as:
– Slash-proof gloves, to protect from injury from knives.
– Hygienic gloves, creating a barrier between employees and product.
– Aprons, to protect from product splashback
It’s important that the correct risks are identified – if they’re not, they can pose a serious liability risk for your organization, particularly if an employee is injured on the job. Take, for example, the litany of serious laceration injuries that occur around Australia annually – with the successful implementation of risk assessments throughout the country, while the number of injuries seems high, many more may have been mitigated.
Design a PPE management plan
Secondly, design and develop a plan to manage PPE. It’s important to ensure that PPE is regularly replaced (if disposable), clean, and available for all employees. Again, keep in mind the risks that are present in the workplace – they don’t disappear if gloves and aprons are suddenly unavailable, they simply present more risk.
For larger businesses, the implementation of modern inventory control systems may be a beneficial addition to the workplace. These advanced inventory management systems can allow for management to track and maintain inventory, and in some cases, replenish it when it reaches critical levels. This can allow a hands-off or even hands-free approach to maintaining PPE inventory in the workplace.
Another way to manage PPE may include a manual log. However, this is not considered best practice in 2022, as digital solutions offer a more efficient way of managing PPE inventories.
Educate and train impacted employees
It’s important that employees are educated and trained in the use of personal protective equipment. Developing contextually appropriate training programs forms an essential part of effective PPE programs and equipment utilization.
Empowering employees to use PPE safely and effectively can have major benefits for an organization. Did you know that annually, more than 15,000 workers in Australia end up with a serious laceration injury at the workplace?
Let’s consider the case of the delicatessen. If no training is provided, an employee may think that it is safe and appropriate to handle raw meats without any prior handwashing or cleaning. This could result in product contamination, or serious injury if the staff member didn’t use PPE appropriately.
Review PPE needs periodically
It’s important that PPE needs are reviewed periodically. As business needs change within an organization and technologies improve, it may be beneficial to consider new PPE to update and enhance old systems.
An example of this in the workplace is the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Where previously, face masks were not considered essential in most environments, they quickly became one of the most sought-after pieces of PPE in the workplace. So much so, in fact, that there were supply shortages for a brief period.
By reviewing PPE needs, businesses can appropriately adapt to changing work environments in a way that’s beneficial for both managers, employees, and customers alike.
Ultimately, one size does not fit all workplace needs. The risks that may be present in say, a construction business may be different from a retail business like our delicatessen example. Hopefully, this best practice guide may allow you to get a kickstart in identifying risks, developing a plan, and implementing that in an appropriate manner for your business.