“Get us a bucket truck, a rock and a hard hat. The rest of the class and I will meet you outside in 10 minutes.” Those were my instructions to a participant who, during a recent Frontline program session, challenged me as I was teaching the hierarchy of controls and explaining why PPE should be considered the last line of defense.
The participant was adamant that he had always been trained that PPE is your primary protection and that if you are wearing it, you are protected and can work as you want. The rest of the group validated that was how they understood their training. This put us at an impasse because I firmly believe safety boils down to your ability to identify and control hazards, and I am extremely passionate about using the hierarchy of controls as a decision-making tool to control hazards to the fullest extent possible. I also believe overreliance on PPE is a serious and growing problem, and that far too often, hazards are identified but tolerated or not properly controlled.
After about 10 minutes of failed examples and discussion with this Frontline group, I decided to go another route and requested the bucket truck, rock and hard hat. The participant who had challenged me gave me a quizzical look and replied, “What?” I told him that per his understanding of PPE, if there was a hazard that involved me dropping a rock from a bucket raised 30 feet in the air, he was OK standing underneath the bucket as long as he was wearing his hard hat. I then gave him three choices: eliminate the hazard (I don’t drop the rock); eliminate the risk (he doesn’t stand underneath the bucket); or I drop the rock and he relies on his hard hat for protection.
Suddenly it became obvious to the class why elimination is the first choice in hazard control and PPE is the last line of defense. We then had an amazing and exciting discussion about the hierarchy of controls and how the group was going to change their training. More importantly, the class talked about how they were going to approach hazard mitigation in the future.