For some members of the construction industry, springtime has been especially weird this year. Some construction sites have stayed open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while some closed. Some sites are starting to open up again with more restrictive health and safety rules in place.
Either way, the normal hustle and bustle of the construction season in the spring has been replaced – much like everything else right now – with a new kind of “normal”.
As things start opening up again, it may mark the first time in a few weeks that many people have actually picked up their PPE. While PPE should always be checked and cleaned after each workday, springtime can often act as a reminder to do some cleaning and to get things organized.
Why Taking Care of Your PPE is Important
Wear and tear happen with anything. With PPE, however, wear and tear can mean the difference between something saving your life or not. Cleaning PPE can help it to function properly and daily inspections can allow you to identify any nicks or breaks before it’s too late.
Here are some tips and reminders of how you can take care of your PPE before heading back on site this season.
Work Boot Cleaning and Care
Work boots may not immediately come to mind when it comes to care and inspection. Proper work boots are a key part of footcare for on the job – something that is vital to safety on site. If work boots are put in the same category as other PPE, the perspective around them changes slightly.
How many times do you inspect your work boots? How many times a year do you clean them? The same care that you would put into your hardhat, gloves or harness should be applied to your boots.
What To Look For
When inspecting work boots, look for:
- Cracks in the soles
- Holes in the material
- A worn-down tread
- Separation between the sole and the boot itself.
If your boots were involved in a foot accident or close call, consider taking them in to be inspected. The steel toe may have been compromised without you knowing.
How to Clean Work Boots
Dust off dirt, mud and debris at the end of every shift. Allow mud to dry before knocking it off if it’s particularly dirty. Leather boots can be treated with a specific kind of wash to keep the material supple and crack-free. Material boots can be cleaned with some soap and water if need be.
Always air dry work boots. If they get wet, stuff the boots with newspaper to help pull out the moisture.
Earmuffs / Ear Protection Cleaning and Care
Drilling, moving equipment, sawing and machinery are all loud. Being around that noise all day every day can cause long term hearing loss or damage. Wearing PPE for hearing and ears is important. Since some forms of hearing protection like earplugs actually go into the ear, it’s important to make sure it’s clean.
One of the best ways to use ear protection properly is to only use it for what it’s made for. For example, single-use earplugs should not be used over and over again and multi-use plugs should still be regularly replaced.
What To Look For
Dirt, deformed foam, improper fit and hardness of the foam itself can indicate that the ear protection is at the end of its lifecycle. For earmuffs in particular, look for any tears, abrasions or mould in the foam itself.
How to Clean Ear Muffs / Ear Protection
Some ear protection types – like single-use plugs – should not be cleaned but tossed out and replaced. For longer-lasting plugs, mild soap and warm water should be used to clean the plug after every use. Earmuffs can be cleaned the same way but should not be immersed in water at any point.
All forms of ear protection should be air-dried or towel-dried.
Image borrowed from CDC.
Hard Hat Cleaning and Care
Probably the most well-known piece of PPE, hard hats are also one of the most important. The stories of tools being dropped, things falling from moving loads or debris reflecting off a hard hat are too common – hard hats save lives every day.
Hard hats have expiration dates. Depending on the type and model of hat, it could be anywhere from 2 – 5 years. Being dropped or involved in an accident can impact the effectiveness of a hat.
Hard hats are also not meant to be stored in direct sunlight or in a hot environment. While many contractors keep their hard hats in their trucks, it’s actually not the best place for it.
What to Look For
When inspecting your hard hat, look for visible damage on the hard shell. This can include
- Dullness on the surface
- Chalky residue
- Cracks, dents or bulges
- Any areas that “give” when pushed on
The interior suspension or webbing inside the helmet should be free of any frays, broken or loose straps, or any other damage. It’s especially important to check the interior webbing during the summer months. Access sweating can speed up the breakdown of these materials.
How To Clean A Hard Hat
Because the effectiveness of a hardhat relies totally on the makeup of the shell, it’s important to use a non-abrasive cleaner or mild soap when washing it. Hard hats should never be drawn on with markers or paint.
Take Care Of Your PPE Every Day
Inspections of PPE can be viewed the same way as a daily circle check on your equipment: Yes it can be time-consuming or a pain to do, but it could ultimately save money, time and even a life.
Take the time now to really inspect your equipment and remember to do an inspection at the beginning of every day. Taking care of PPE means taking care of yourself.