Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): De-constructing the last line of defence
A common non-conformity observed during various ship surveys and office audits performed by Skuld as well as during behaviour-based safety reporting, is the unsafe practice found on ships where the crew were found to not be wearing proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
This unsafe practice happens despite ample safety procedures and routine training that emphasizes the importance of using PPE for various types of work carried out onboard.
PPE are equipment that are designed to protect the crew against any health or safety risks at work.
PPE are also the last line of defence to protect the crew when other safety barriers in the hierarchy of risk controls, such as Elimination, Substitution, Engineering and Administrative Controls, are breached.
In accordance with the Code of Safe Working Practices (COSWP), the PPE are broadly divided into the following categories, based on the type of protection offered by the equipment:
Unfortunately, the habit of not donning proper and adequate PPE continues in the industry.
Any incident arising out of such risky behaviour will only stand to increase the crew and members’ exposure to medical evacuation, deviation, medical care, repatriation, injury and death compensation.
However, when delving deeper to find the underlying causes of this issue, the following main attributing reasons were reported by crew:
• The design is uncomfortable and restricts work
• The PPE are sometimes found in a deteriorated or poorly maintained condition
• Male-centric design (unfit for female crew)
Ergonomic relates to the design of an equipment which makes it comfortable and effective for people who use it. In other words, that the design fits the crew, the work scope and the work environment.
An ergonomically designed PPE is very useful since it facilitates comfort, efficiency, focus, protection and safe working.
Men vs. Women
The maritime and offshore industry is traditionally male dominated and typically PPEs are largely manufactured to suit men. However, with the growing numbers of women now working onboard ships and rigs, PPE designed specifically for women must also be taken into consideration and provided for, but this is not always the case.
More awareness needs to be fostered among the key stakeholders on this issue.
Quality, maintenance and lifespan
The quality of the PPE must conform to international safety and technical standards and regulatory requirements.
A robust routine inspection and maintenance schedule as per manufacturer’s recommendations must be implemented to maintain the PPE’s reliability.
For those PPEs that require regular shore-based servicing in addition to onboard maintenance, members are to ensure that competent and approved contractors are engaged.
All PPEs have a varying degree of lifespan according to their design and use including exposure to various types of work, environment, dusts, chemicals etc.
It is important to check the manufacturer’s instruction manual and/or prints on the PPE itself, regarding the expiry date or other applicable precautions.
If the PPEs supplied onboard do not have such information, members are strongly advised to contact the relevant manufacturers or suppliers.
The COSWP cautions that the use of PPE may in itself cause a hazard e.g., through reduced field of vision, loss of dexterity or agility.
As highlighted in this article, to avoid such hazards and constraints, it is worth ensuring that the PPEs are of an approved type, ergonomically designed, gender-specific where necessary, and suitable for the assigned work as well as kept well maintained.
In addition to the above, the crew must understand how to use the PPE correctly and safely, including its capabilities and limitations.