Play it safe

Buying the right PPE means safer workers, legal compliance and even a more profitable business

May 1, 2015
by Michael Power

safety gear

From the April 2015 print edition

Procurement is—at least in part—all about learning and discovery. Before signing any contract, purchasers must research to understand the product, or at least advise those who do. Before buying expense management software, for example, it pays to understand what your organization’s needs are, as well as product options.

These considerations are crucial when buying safety and personal protection equipment (PPE). Worker safety rests on getting the right gear and organizations, when buying such equipment, must also ensure that they comply with provincial and federal legislation. Below, we take a look at some of the factors involved in buying safety equipment, along with some advice on how to make the right choice.

It’s the law
All Canadian jurisdictions have legislation specific to occupational health, says Thushara Jayasooriya, technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). From that perspective, purchasing PPE shows that an organization has done its due diligence to ensure that its workers are protected on the job, Jayasooriya notes. Having appropriate protective equipment available at the workplace also helps keep workers safe if they’re exposed to specific hazards.

When sourcing PPE, look at both the legislative requirements specific to the particular province or jurisdiction, along with any standards that apply to that particular gear. Each province has its own health and safety legislation or an occupational health and safety code, she notes. As well, all health and safety legislation requires the employer to select the correct type of PPE, and each piece of equipment can have a different standard.

“There are standards for safety bells, lanyards, full body harnesses—there are different types of standards available for different types of protection,” she says.

The next step, she says, is to choose the right kind of PPE. “There are so many models and different types available in the market,” she says. “For example, if it’s for hearing protection, there are earplugs, ear muffs, foam plugs—there are different types,” she says. “You should know which ones would be suitable for the risks that your workers are going to be exposed to.”

A further consideration is to look at what level of protection users of the equipment need, Jayasooriya says. Again, with hearing protection as an example, products like earplugs have a noise reduction rating designed to ensure the proper level of protection. The CCOHS website has plenty of free resources and information through its OHS Answers section, she notes.

Buyers should look for equipment that’s the right size, Jayasooriya advises, since there’s a tendency for end users to avoid wearing equipment that doesn’t fit properly, she says. Equipment end users should be involved in selecting the right kind of PPE and it’s wise to consult them before a purchase. “Physically, [workers are] different so you have to get the right size,” she says. “It’s better if you can introduce them to different models and styles and see if they really fit. That’s a great approach to getting acceptance from the workers. At the end of the day, after you buy it, they can’t say OK, this isn’t going to fit me so I’m not going to wear it.”

End users aren’t the only ones to consult before purchasing safety equipment and PPE, Jayasooriya says. If your company has one, speak with the health and safety committee. Also, consult the supervisors, since they’re the ones monitoring employees to ensure they’re wearing or using the equipment. Some equipment requires professional involvement, she notes—for example, prescription safety eyeglasses require consultation from an optometrist.

Jayasooriya recommends speaking with several vendors before deciding to purchase equipment. Provide vendors with information gathered from the workplace, she says. As well, check product claims, client reviews and test data so that you can get the right equipment for the situation. The two most common standards to watch for are from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and from the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ). “Mainly, those products should comply with those certified standards,” she says. “That’s one of the main points. You don’t want to go to a company and they say no, this is not CSA certified.”

Standards based in the US are also considered, such as the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). “These standards have guidelines for manufacturers for designing and testing data,” she says. “But those would be really good guidelines for buyers to look for when they want to see the right specifications, whether they have the correct requirements that they’re looking for.”

Safety and profit
Manish Gupta, market manager, national accounts manager, Draeger Safety Canada Ltd., notes that the long-term risks of exposure to contaminants are often unknown, and safety equipment can protect workers from both immediate dangers and possible long-term effects. Draeger provides gas detection products—both fixed and personal—which are used to protect workers from the unseen dangers of gas contaminants. The company also offers respiratory protection used by firefighters and mine rescue teams, as well as air purifying respirators.

But those aren’t the only reasons to protect workers—safety and profits aren’t mutually exclusive, Gupta notes. Improved safety means greater worker satisfaction, which can mean higher productivity, reduced sick leave and other indirect benefits.

Support from the vendor is one of the most important features to look for in safety equipment, Gupta says. While there are many brands of safety equipment on the market, buyers should look for those that provide support when issues arise. For example, can the manufacturer—or their approved distributor—provide employee equipment training? Some safety equipment, such as portable gas monitors, needs daily testing and frequent calibrations. The equipment supplier should be able to provide this training, along with troubleshooting, so issues can be addressed without downtime or having to wait for the supplier to respond.

“Similarly, respiratory equipment requires fit checks every single time equipment is donned and annual or biannual fit testing which can be addressed by the equipment supplier,” Gupta says. “In the event of an accident or injury, an inspector would not only look to see that employees were supplied with safety equipment but also that they’re trained and competent with this equipment.”

Most manufacturers use a network of distributors to represent and sell their products, Gupta notes. Buyers should ask about whether the distributor can support the product and, specifically, what’s included with that support. For example, will they have stock on the shelf in case the company needs products urgently? Can they provide training on their products? Do they provide afterhours support?

What questions to ask regarding safety equipment depends on the needs of the purchaser as well as the buyer’s location, says Munawar Quraishi, national director, facility solutions, Staples Advantage. For example, some provinces require a type-two hardhat (featuring additional foam protection) while others don’t. As well, some equipment—fire retardant wear, for example—has extremely specific requirements. “They want it to meet very, very specific standards that it needs to be for their specific requirements,” Quaraishi says.

Staples Advantage looks to its array of vendors for much of the detail surrounding such products, he adds. For example, 3M Canada, one of the company’s vendors, has a mobile app that helps narrow down product choices based on a buyer’s specific requirements. “For example, with eyewear, are they looking for it to be tinted? What colour do they want it tinted? What kind of arms do they want? That kind of thing,” he says. “The app helps narrow it down to the two, three or one product that they might sell that’s specific to [a company’s requirements.] It’s actually a pretty amazing product—as simple as eyewear is to as complicated as respirators get—it narrows down what the customer is looking for and we’re able to provide the customer instant information.”

Ultimately, due diligence, research and familiarity with provincial and federal legislation will help purchasers make the right decisions when buyer safety equipment and PPE.