Harper College

Safe and Healthful Workplace

What is healthful? Some define it as “conducive to health,” while others describe it as “good for you.” Companies with facilities with any hazardous materials or chemicals must establish specific protocols to maintain a safe and healthful workplace. There are a lot of potential hazards to employees when working with various materials or substances that can cause harm to a person(s) or seriously damage property. Some examples include exposure to toxic chemical substances that can burn skin or start a fire. The list of possible results from unsafe handling or spillage of certain chemicals/substances is long, but the most common is exposure to dangerous levels of airborne particulates. According to a recent study conducted by OSHA, of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards (OSHA), respiratory protection and improper use (or lack thereof) of PPE was number two. 

Understanding the need for clear safety standards and procedures is vital for all workplaces with potential exposure to harmful dust, fog, vapors, sprays, gases (visible or invisible), smoke or other toxic airborne materials. In most situations, employers have established policies and procedures-usually based on established Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) respiratory protection standards. Unfortunately, there are times when individuals choose not to wear PPE - such as face masks. We have all been there; “I am so tired of wearing a mask!” While this type of employee frustration is understandable, everyone must do their part to follow the appropriate procedure/protocol. Following mask protocol is especially critical when working in environments that could expose someone to unacceptable levels of the above-listed airborne materials. Here are a few examples of violations found on worksites:

  • Face masks worn improperly, i.e., mask partly covering nose and mouth, an improper fit of face mask.
  • Face masks are worn around the neck but not covering the nose or mouth.
  • The employer failed to monitor PPE compliance issues with employees and ensure compliance with established procedures.

It should be noted that these PPE/face mask issues were NOT RELATED TO COVID-19 mask mandates. Most of the issues were directly related to respiratory protection for industries that worked with different chemical hazards and/or harmful airborne materials that required the use of specialized/filtered face masks. Not only was it an employee that fell short of following protocol, but it was also the employer that did not hold employees to a high safety standard. 

How can we improve? Training, and yes, training. Did I say training? Here are some benefits of training:

  • Maintain a safer workplace environment
  • Prevention of workplace-related injuries
  • Employee recognition of potential hazards and ability to be part of the safety process for all.
  • Fewer absences from staff due to work-related injuries or other effects of improper exposure to harmful materials.

Employees can never be too prepared or over-trained. Consider signing up for our Chemical Hazard Awareness class today. You’ll breathe easier for it.

Last Updated: 1/19/24