Back to Basics

It was a warm fall day, and the crew was light.  A laborer was building shelving in the storage box, and the foreman and I were out walking the site to discuss the work sequence.  The general contractor had a couple of workers setting up their trailer.  Other than that, those were the only ones on site; or so we thought.  It was a job site with the minimum personal protective equipment (PPE) of a hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, and high visibility vest.  With the lack of “real work” happening onsite, it was very tempting to discard some of the PPE; after all, we were only going for a walk through the building.  I’m glad I decided against that and wore all the required gear. 

As we walked through one of the overhead doors, we stopped to talk about the safety precautions we would take when the time came to take the door down.  We took a few more steps into the building.  I turned when I heard the foreman say my name.  As I looked at him, his eyes were looking up and were wide.  Just then, I felt a bang on my hard hat and felt something ricochet off my shoulder.  Clanging to the ground next to us was a speed square.  We looked up to see an aerial lift basket extended into the building through an opening around the corner—the worker apologizing for dropping his tool.  I picked up the steel speed square from the ground, took my hard hat off, and saw the crack that came from the impact.  My decision to wear all of the required site’s PPE may have saved my life that day.

As we move into Spring, we are finally coming out of the COVID restrictions that we have been dealing with for the past few years.  It feels that we are officially getting back to normal.  With all of the changes and sacrifices that have been made recently, it’s a good time to reset ourselves and get back to the basics—getting back to the basics for personal protective equipment in particular. 

A typical job site has a minimum required set of PPE needed to work onsite.  The PPE required usually includes; a hard hat, high-visibility vest/clothing, gloves, and safety glasses.

When we were forced to wear masks, many job sites and companies had to make concessions regarding safety glasses.  The safety glasses were fogging up with masks on.  Now that we are mask free, we need to get back to the habit of wearing safety glasses.  Safety glasses must be appropriately rated; you can’t just wear any old pair of sunglasses.  Check for the Z87 marking on the inside frame.

Gloves are often an overlooked requirement.  We have all heard of excuses on why someone can’t wear gloves.  However, a common first aid injury on job sites is cuts and scrapes on the hands and fingers.  It has been said that wearing proper gloves has helped reduce the relative risk of hand injury by as much as 60%.

Some job sites allow for any clothing to be worn so long as it’s high visibility in color; fluorescent yellow or orange.  There are times when wearing a reflective vest is required despite the job site minimum requirements.  Then some sites make the reflective vest part of their minimum requirements to simplify it for all working on site.  With struck-by incidents, a leading cause of injury and fatality in construction, going above and beyond the site minimum requirements might be a good idea.  Work zone “runovers: and “backovers” are the greatest hazard to construction workers.  By wearing a  reflective vest, you are doing your part in making yourself seen.

The hard hat is the last piece of the typical minimum required personal protective equipment.  That piece of equipment saved me that day.  I’ve heard the excuses, “there’s no overhead work happening, so why do I need to wear my hard hat?”  I was there.  I had that thought run through my mind.  The hard hat hasn’t changed all that much since it was first introduced; however, we have seen the introduction of the safety helmet in recent years.  I honestly feel that the hard hat will be obsolete within five years, and the safety helmet will be the norm.  Whatever you choose right now, the important thing is to wear it. 

I think back to that day when I decided to follow the site requirements and wear my hard hat on that walk around the site.  A lot has happened in my life since then, and if I had made a different decision, I might have missed out on it all.  So as we enter this spring and exit the restrictions of COVID, let’s take this opportunity to reset ourselves.  When you get yourself ready for the job site in the morning, get back to basics and wear what is required. 

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