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The Value of Personal Protective Equipment

Earlier this year I transitioned from an IBEW bargaining unit line foreman to a division maintenance manager. The transition is somewhat hard to fathom because it seems like it was just yesterday that I started my career in the electric utility industry. I can still visualize the day I started as an overhead distribution helper. I reported to the superintendent of the maintenance facility on a Monday morning and received the standard welcome aboard speech. When finished, he walked me out of his office and handed me off to an overhead distribution line crew foreman. The foreman looked at me, grunted, and told me to keep my mouth shut, keep my hands at my side, and have wire cutters and a roll of electrical tape in my pocket at all times.

Shortly thereafter he introduced me to the two journeyman linemen who were part of his crew. They, too, welcomed me with open arms by declaring me lower than whale dung and telling me I was to keep my mouth shut, keep my hands at my side, and have wire cutters and a roll of electrical tape in my pocket at all times. After the introductions, I was told to follow one of the linemen to the warehouse. It was at the warehouse where I was handed off and introduced to Pops. Pops ran the warehouse and treated me kindly so I instantly liked him. After issuing me personal protective equipment, wire cutters and a roll of tape, Pops told me to come into his office and have a seat. He spent the next hour or so explaining the company policy for wearing PPE. I then had to demonstrate an understanding of the training and the ability to properly use the PPE I was issued before I was cut loose. After demonstrating what I had been taught, Pops stated he was satisfied with my knowledge and then added, “Have a good day. Your PPE will help keep you safe.” Without hesitation, I asked Pops, “Safe from what?” Pops slowly stood up from behind his desk, walked out of his office and left me sitting there.

Clear Memories
The remainder of that first day of work as a distribution helper is now a blur in my memory. However, the days, weeks, months and years that followed are very clear. I learned the value of PPE through daily precept and example. It has kept me safe. When addressing the need for PPE, most companies use engineering and management controls to the maximum extent possible to eliminate occupational hazards. However, PPE must be used when such controls are not feasible. It should always be in good condition and capable of providing the proper protection required, and always stored in a clean and sanitary manner.

All employees who are required to use PPE must be trained. You will need to know when and what type of PPE is necessary; how to properly wear and adjust it; its limitations; and proper care, maintenance, life and disposal of PPE. An employee must then demonstrate an understanding of the training and the ability to properly use the required PPE before he or she is placed in a work situation. On occasion, updated training might be necessary if initial training is rendered obsolete by changes in the workplace or types of PPE. Also, if an employee displays a lack of knowledge when using PPE, that employee shall be retrained.

Commonly Used PPE
It’s not an exhaustive list, but following are examples of just some of the PPE commonly used by workers in the electric utility industry:

Head protection: ANSI Z89.1-compliant Class E hard hats rated to 20 kV are required when workers are exposed to electrical hazards in construction or maintenance activities or at locations where such activities are in progress.

Eye protection: Spectacle-type prescription or industrial safety glasses that meet the requirements of ANSI Z87.1 or the latest standard are worn when working in or passing through areas where eye hazards exist. Some exposures may require safety glasses and face shields.

Foot protection: Depending on company policy, foot protection should be worn by employees relative to the hazards in the workplace.

Hand protection: Various types of gloves such as welding gloves, leather palm gloves, cut-resistant gloves or electrical rubber gloves are required relative to task hazards.

Hearing protection: Employees exposed to noise hazards shall be provided with hearing protection selected by a qualified person relative to the time-weighted level of noise exposure. Protection may include earplugs, earmuffs or both.

My advice to my peers is to don, doff, adjust and wear your PPE when required. I can still hear Pops say, “Have a good day. Your PPE will help keep you safe.”

About the Author: Will Schnyer is a division maintenance manager for the Rocky Mountain Region of Western Area Power Administration, a power marketing agency within the Department of Energy. He is a Certified Utility Safety Professional and has more than 27 years of experience working in the electric distribution and transmission field.

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