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Selecting PPE for a Final Line of Defense

Feb. 24, 2012
Determining the types of personel protection equipment your employees need can be difficult: start by conducting a needs assessment

When it comes to workplace safety the first line of defense against injury is a well-crafted safety program, however when the program measures fail it is vital your employees are equipped with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent or minimize injury. Determining the types of PPE your employees will need can be difficult, but the first step is to conduct a needs assessment: walk through your workplace, talk to the employees, and note the hazards. When noting these hazards include the locations and the causes, so you can set PPE usage requirements.

Once the hazards are defined it is time to select the PPE you will use to protect employees. There are two types of PPE used in foundry operations — primary and secondary.

Primary PPE is the gear worn over secondary PPE when there is a significant risk of exposure to heat, molten metal, and other dangers. This sort of PPE is typically worn only when dealing with the specific heightened hazard. Examples of primary PPE include safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, hearing protection, aprons, jackets, gloves or aluminized body coverings.

Secondary PPE is worn in areas where there is less of a hazard and its main purpose is to prevent ordinary clothing from igniting and burning. This type of equipment is typically worn for the entire shift. Perhaps the most common types of secondary PPE used in foundry operations are flame-resistant coveralls. Here are some recommendations on PPE used to protect foundry employees, according to the body part/hazard.

Head — Hazards that cause head injuries include falling objects, moving equipment and/or overhead obstructions, as well as burns from physical contact with molten metal splash, sparks, flames and/or hot surfaces. To prevent these types of injuries use hard hats that meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z89.1 standards.

Face — Molten metal splashes, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation from high-temperature surfaces or electric arc all present potential for facial injuries. To protect employees from these hazards use tinted acrylic or #40 wire mesh face shields and wear safety glasses with side shields, along with facial protection.

Eye — To prevent injuries caused by foreign bodies, burns, and/or infrared and ultraviolet radiation from high-temperature surfaces or electric arc, refer to the eye-protection specification in ANSI Z87.1 (Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection), use minimum-protection safety glasses with side shields and darker glasses for intense radiant energy.

Hearing — OSHA requires workplaces that have noise levels in excess of 85 dB over eight hours to use hearing protection. This protection must effectively cancel out the noise or reduce it to an acceptable volume level. In foundry operations, be aware foam earplugs or urethane materials may be combustible.

Hand — To prevent burns from physical contact with molten- metal splash, sparks, flames and/or hot surfaces, as well as scrapes, cuts and abrasions from handling charge materials, it is important for your employees to wear gloves. When selecting these gloves it is important to consider the need for dexterity and grip security when operating equipment. If there is no chance of metal being spilled into the glove, consider the gauntlet-type glove. Recommended materials include leather, cotton, wool, Kevlar, wool-lined Kevlar and other heat-resistant materials. Do not use Nomex or phosphorous-treated (flame-retardant) cotton gloves, as molten metal tends to stick to the fabric.

Foot — To prevent injuries from falling or rolling objects, molten metal spill, or burns from hot surfaces, select foot protection that meets ANSI Z41. For all melting and pouring operations a leather safety shoe with a smooth toe is recommended, such as a 6- or 8-in. engineer’s boot. If metatarsals or lace boots are worn, select a built-in design or wear spats or leggings that cover areas where molten metal or sparks could lodge, such as in the tongue of the shoe. Wear pants or leggings that cover the top of the boot, never tucking the pant legs inside the boot or spat. Also, do not use shoes with zippers or materials such as nylon, which could melt or ignite.

Full Body — When working near radiant heat or potential molten splash hazards it is important to protect the entire body. Perhaps the most effective PPE for this is aluminized glass outerwear. This PPE is proven to deflect about 90% of radiant heat and can shed molten splashes and sparks.

Breathing — Foundry operations present the potential for many hazardous substances to become airborne. To protect your employees against these substances it is vital they use the proper respirators. Often times a respirator used for one chemical cannot be used for another, so carefully examine your needs and match them to the appropriate device.

When selecting both primary and secondary PPE it is important to choose equipment that properly fits employees and is comfortable to wear. Style is important, too, for example pockets and flaps create catch points, metal buttons heat up from radiant heat, and fire-retardant tape can stop the fabric breathing and cause sweat/burn marks if not placed well on a garment. High-visibility color options can aid site visibility.

Remember, after selecting PPE it is important to properly train employees in usage and to implement a maintenance program to ensure the equipment is always in proper working order.

Michael Rich is a safety writer and researcher for Safety Services Co., a supplier of safety training materials and compliance products in North America. Learn more at