Choosing the right PPE for mechanics

John G Smith

Trucking-related safety discussions often look to address on-road dangers, but there are plenty of threats closer to home. Look no further than service bays for proof of that.

The hoses and cords? Tripping hazards. A spinning grinder? Watch out for the airborne debris. Handling a grease-coated part? Watch you grip. Working on trailer marker lights? It’s a long way down, isn’t it?

There are plenty of risks around the service bay. Do your mechanics have the required PPE to protect themselves? (Photo: istock)

“Most of the types of injuries we see in shops are things like slips, trips and falls, and then the musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive motion – and that’s very relative to the type of work that they’re doing in the shop,” says Budd Phillips, prevention field services manager at Worksafe BC.

“What are we seeking to try to control and mitigate? Let’s define them and understand where they may occur and what may generate them.”

The “relative” nature of the work is an important factor to consider, especially when it comes to protecting technicians from the related safety risks.

“It’s about finding the right PPE (personal protective equipment) for the task,” says Monica Thomsen, executive director of the Nova Scotia Trucking Safety Association. “What are my injuries? Are they musculoskeletal? Then what am I not doing for my employees to stop these strains?”

With a seemingly endless catalogue of products that can protect personnel, choosing the best options can seem like a daunting task, and an expensive one at that. But Thomsen stresses that the choices should focus on the shop’s specific experience.

“Look at your trending and your risk,” she says. “What injuries are they having? What’s going on in the shop? If it’s hands, you focus on hands and what’s causing it.”

It’s even possible to ensure employees are not helping themselves to more of the supplies than they need.

“You can put control measures in place. You can put limits on the vending machines,” Thomson says.

Besides, the price of the appropriate PPE will always be cheaper than the consequences of dealing with an injury.

Mechanics need gloves that strike a balance between protection and dexterity. (Photo: istock)

Work gloves

Something as seemingly simple as work gloves can be appropriate for one job, but fall short when it comes to the needs for the next. When working in one large shop, for example, Thomsen noticed workers were using disposable nitrile gloves. The problem was, purchasing teams had selected shiny options which lack the grip mechanics need.

“Dexterity is a key thing in a mechanic, anyone that’s handling (parts), they need to the dexterity to still do their job and not have the bulk.”

The same consideration applied when choosing cut gloves, and she tracked down options that were less cumbersome for users.

“They wore them all day,” she said, referring to the benefits that come with comfortable PPE.

Protective eyewear options can effectively block debris while also preventing fogging. (Photo: istock)

Safety glasses

The dust and debris that falls from equipment surfaces presents a threat of its own, and drives much of the demand for protective eye wear. But there is a clear difference between the various choices.

“You don’t just buy the box of safety glasses,” Thomsen says. “Fogging up is one of the issues.”

Here, she recommends looking for options that incorporate foam to stop dust particles from getting under the frame, but also features that will keep the safety glasses from fogging.

Phillips is seeing much more examples of eyewear incorporating an edge to help offer a protective seal when grinding.

Protective footwear can play a key role in preventing slips and falls in the shop, but the wrong treads can create their own hazard. (Photo: istock)

Protective footwear

Most shops require employees to wear some type of protective footwear, but the best choices look beyond steel toes.

In one location, for example, Phillips discovered that boots were actually creating a hazard of their own. Deeply lugged treads were catching on the steel grating in a stairway.

“Do we actually give a recommendation, or do we even in some cases set requirements?” he asks, referring to guidance that should come along with footwear allowances.

Ear plugs will help to protect hearing, but not all choices are equal. (Photo: istock)

Hearing protection

Threats are not always limited to the naked eye.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in hearing loss,” Phillips explains. “Have you done a noise survey, and if so, what are you doing that you’re trying to mitigate it? … You really don’t appreciate the impact of it until you lose your hearing.”

The large box of foam ear plugs may not be the answer, though.

“People complain about irritation, and their hands may be dirty,” he says. In contrast, custom-molded versions can be vented and make it easier to hear coworkers. “They fit your ears, and I’m much more likely to wear them all day. It’s silicon and it fits in my ear canal.”

Respirators

When risks involves fumes and vapor, it’s a matter of choosing an appropriate respirator, complete with the fit tests to ensure an appropriate seal.

“One of our challenges is getting them to wear it. It’s uncomfortable,” Phillips says. But here he’s seen employers shifting to PAPR systems that use a blower to draw air through a filter rather than lung power.

It costs more upfront, but the savings come through the added protection.

“Are you providing something that people will wear and use?” Phillips asks.

Lifting devices

The risk of falling debris isn’t limited to small particles, of course. Heavy equipment parts can lead to crushing injuries and muscle strain alike.

While hoists, dollies and carts will help lift components in place, they can represent unexpected risks if damaged. It’s why Thomsen recommends scheduling regular inspections and maintenance for such equipment.

So, too, should employees be encouraged to ask for a helping hand.

Younger workers might overlook the related safety practices because have plenty of strength and still feel invincible, Phillips says.

“If you need help, ask for it. There’s no shame in getting assistance when you’re dealing with tasks that are more strenuous.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced new PPE considerations. (Photo: istock)

Covid-19

Few issues have highlighted the need for personal protective equipment more than Covid-19. The masks worn from retail stores to workplaces offer an example of that.

Thomsen discusses a series of steps that should coincide with the related PPE. There’s hand sanitizing, eliminating shared water fountains in favor of bottled water, and floor markings to encourage social distancing.

Just like when working at heights, barriers can make a difference when protecting technicians from Covid-19.

“How can I facilitate my customer service remotely as much as possible?” Phillips asks, referring to steps that can be taken to reduce contact with customers. “If we’re willing to protect each other, that goes a long way.”

A protective harness may not be the only option for preventing falls. (Photo: istock)

Fall protection

As important as harnesses will be, there might also be a better way to prevent falls.

“One of the things that we often find is there’s a jump right to putting people into a harness and a lanyard,” Phillips says of the work that occurs 10 feet above grade. But guardrails and handrails might deliver an added sense of security.

There’s even another question to consider: “Do I need to be at heights to do that work? … Is there a way that you can do that work without being up there?”

Some facilities have found the best answers in customized solutions. Thomsen, for example, refers to Irving shops that include platforms and mid rails, supporting those who need to access the tops of trailers. Phillips points to maintenance teams who worked on coal haulers, and created a ladder system that formed an A-frame, ensuring access between a platform and the box 12 feet below.

A good housekeeping reminder

Eliminating a potential risk will be one of the most helpful safety solutions of all. And many slips, trips and falls can be prevented by simply looking across the shop floor.

“I’m not really finished the job until I cleaned up, ‘til I remove those things,” Phillips says, referring to tripping hazards ranging from air hoses to extension cords. The broad use of hose reels can help to make a difference here.

“Making it easy to clean up and do those things goes a long way.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • The issue of working on garbage trucks and refuse haulers with maggots falling all over you should be addressed also. try to get a service manager at a dealer to allow you the time to clean it off before you work on it