There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to make this post. First off, PPE (or personal protective equipment) is so so so important. Your safety should come first in any circumstance you find yourself in. I think it’s crucial to make sure you’re in the proper gear before you get knee deep into a project. While I think this is being taught in some universities and certification schools, I do not think a lot of people take it seriously. Ya’ll – give yourself the PPE you deserve! Secondly, it’s taken me a while to get my PPE down to a science, and I just wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way. I’m still learning a lot about it, so I welcome comments and feedback. This post is kind of dense, so grab a cuppa and enjoy!
There’s a lot of different types of PPE that I’m going to attempt to list down below. Your specific needs in PPE will vary depending on what kind of job you are doing, so don’t think you need everything I’m going to mention.
I’m going to be recommending products that I use in a paint and fabrication shop. I work with acrylic paints, auto body paints, chemicals, solvents, mud mixtures like joint compound and Bondo, spray paint, oil paint, you get the gist. I also work in a shop that has a lot of power tools in it, and although we have a great dust collection system, there does tend to be particulate in the air. I also work outside when I need the best ventilation I can get. So, with that in mind, let’s get into the categories!
Examples of respiratory protection can be broken down into two categories for the most part – air purifying devices and devices that supply air.
Air purifying devices are pretty common in fabrication shops and can include dust masks, gas filters, and particulate filters. Here’s the mistake I see the most often in paint shops – dust masks and respirators are not always the same thing. Dust masks are used for protection against things like sawdust, dust from sanding, or dust from chalk. I highly recommend grabbing one of these if you’re going to be sanding something gnarly like MDF.
Respirators on the other hand, are used to remove particulate from inhaled air by using filters and cartridges. Particulate filters have a prefix label on them (“P”) followed by a class number indicating what type of particulate they are meant to filter. Class 1 is for mechanically generated particulate like silica, Class 2 is for mechanically and thermally generated particulate like metal fumes, and Class 3 is for highly toxic materials. As far as cartridges, there are different kinds depending on what gas and vapors you normally work with. I recommend checking out the 3M website for more information about this.
I use a 3M half mask respirator with a NIOSH approved 6001 organic vapor cartridge and a P3 2091 particulate filter. The filter and cartridge attach together, and with a quarter turn, attach to the mask itself. I really like the half mask option because I wear glasses and it’s so much easier to take on and off when I need a break. There are so many types of respirators out there (some even have voicemitters in them so you can communicate easily, what?!). I recommend taking the time to assess what types of things you’re looking to filter out, choosing a full or half mask style, and if you’re required to wear one at work – you should be receiving guidance about scheduling a fit test for your respirator by an OSHA certified person. Even though you can go buy a respirator and put it on, it’s recommended that you schedule an appointment with your doctor to check if you’re healthy enough to actually wear one. Pro tip: write the date you inserted a new cartridge on the cartridge itself so you can stay on top of changing them out!
I use respirators when I’m spray painting, using Bondo, using a pneumatic sprayer, and any other time I’m using something that will put unwanted toxins in the air.
I had an amazing experience using a PAPR (powered air purifying respirator) once when I had to use a pneumatic sprayer. I don’t have a personal PAPR, but it is an option that is out there and let me tell you – this thing puts air into your lungs that is as crisp as the Shenandoah Valley!
I don’t have too much to say about this section, other than advising you to find eye protection that is comfortable for you! I used to use the standard typical plastic ones that were slightly scratched from being used so much and it changed my life to get some nice over the glasses safety goggles with rubber ends on them. You can also get prescription safety glasses at your eye doctor if you’re into that sort of thing. As a painter, I love wearing eye protection when using a pneumatic sprayer, but also when rolling paint on vertical surfaces.
If you’re lucky enough to work in a shop that doesn’t have power tools running constantly, boy do I envy you. Hearing protection doesn’t have to be annoying and uncomfortable, make it work for you because it’s important.
I have a couple different options for hearing protection that I have available to me including the Howard Leight Max disposable ear plug (the orange ones), the 3M Classic earplugs (the yellow ones), and the EarJellies ear plugs made of viscoelastic silicone (the blue ones). Honestly, I like all of them, and prefer these types over the corded or over the ear options. That’s personal preference of course. I have the EarJellies in my work bag at all times, so if I’m off-site or in a pinch, these are awesome to have. Plus, they are so comfortable, I can’t even feel them in my ears. I have the luxury of working in a shop with the Howard Leight ones available to me, so we tend to accumulate a lot of these at home – you can never have enough earplugs!
If you do use the uncorded ones like I do, please educate yourself on how to properly place these in your ear. You have to roll them in your fingers, pull your ear lobe back with the opposite hand, apply the earplug, and wait for it to fully expand before being exposed to a ton of noise.
I get it, wearing a hard hat is super uncomfortable at first – here are some tips I have about getting through it. Don’t wear a hat underneath your hard hat. Make sure your hard hat is tightened properly (do the shake your head test before entering a hard hat required area!). I like hard hats with twist knobs in the back so much more than the snap band, but that’s personal preference. Also, if you have long hair, I advise a low bun for hard hats – it’s so much more comfortable and your bun actually helps the hard hat stay in place better. I also really like putting my hair in french braids if I know I’m going to be wearing a hard hat for a long period of time. If you’re outside or going to be getting a little sweaty, I recommend doing the bandana headband thing underneath your hard hat.
Yes, this counts as PPE! If you’re going to be working outside in the sun, apply sunscreen before and periodically throughout the day. Not just once in the morning. My favorite SPF to put on your face is the CeraVe SPF 30 Sunscreen – it’s cheap and doesn’t feel greasy. I really want to try the Drunk Elephant SPF as I’ve heard great things about it, but dang – talk about expensive. For the body (mainly my arms and shoulders when I’m working), I use the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer SPF 70 Body Stick. This stuff is great – it’s cheap, it doesn’t leave a weird residue, and it doesn’t break me out! It does take a little time to apply because it’s not a spray, but lack of time should never be a reason to skip PPE.
I’m not a PPE expert by any means, nor do I have all the OSHA regulations memorized, but what I do know is that PPE is worth reading about, worth implementing in your day to day work life, and not something to be afraid of! If you’re a student and you believe your shop doesn’t supply adequate PPE, speak up about it and contact your supervisor or advisor with your concerns. If you’re looking to purchase your own set of PPE go-to’s, do some research about it to make sure you’re buying the right type for your own work environment and know that it’s okay to invest in your own safety!
Obviously there are a lot of PPE options I didn’t cover here like welding helmets and jackets, gloves, and safety toe boots – but don’t you worry, I’ve got content planned for days. Stay tuned!
Hopefully this was helpful and not too scatterbrained, I just want to educate people on what I know and inspire ya’ll to take care of yourselves.
Thanks for reading! More soon!