PCT Online – Tech Talk
May 28, 2013
Author: Jay Bruesch

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We receive training on personal protective equipment (PPE) on a regular basis — so regular, in fact, that we might not fully appreciate why we wear it, other than that a particular pesticide label requires it, or because we want to avoid being cited by our state’s pesticide inspection division.

But I had a little epiphany recently.

Two co-workers and I were working in a grain elevator, about to board a manlift to the bin deck. Per our client’s safety rules, we had donned hard hats, safety glasses and steel-toed shoes. We would have worn these items anyway, even if our client hadn’t required them, because our own training and common sense says that PPE is a must in industrial accounts.

Enter the pigeon.

As the first man began his ascent, and the other two waited below, a pigeon (which, incidentally, was NOT wearing PPE of any kind and was not paying particular attention to where it was going) hit a window 120 feet above us. The window shattered, and for several seconds, razor-sharp shards of broken glass rained down upon us. Protected by hard hats and safety glasses, no one was even slightly injured.

And thus, the “Ah-ha!” moment.

We wear PPE not because of what we expect to happen, but because of what probably won’t happen. But if it did, the consequences would be horrible.

Take, for instance:

  • A carpenter probably could operate a table saw for an entire career without protective eyewear and never get a wood splinter thrown in his eye. But if it did happen, he’d be blinded. You only get one pair of eyes.
  • A nurse could inject thousands of patients without protective gloves and get away with it every time; or a single, careless needle stick could change everything.
  • A pest management professional could conceivably choose not to wear protective gloves, eyewear or respiratory protection — and by sheer luck, avoid injury. But why take that risk when the consequence of not protecting yourself could be loss of vision, hearing, a limb or even your life?

When our little work crew put on our PPE that morning, not one of us was thinking about the impending pigeon-glass collision and the window exploding into thousands of pieces directly above us. But because we were protected, we all went home safely.

Take a long look at the personal protective equipment in your truck sometime soon, and consider why we really wear this stuff. You never know what’s out there waiting to cut, burn, crush, asphyxiate or engulf you. Take care of this equipment. Keep it clean and close at hand. And when the label specifies it, when your company’s or client’s policies require it or when your own common sense tells you that you need it, then wear it!

Without PPE, you’re at the mercy of luck and chance. With PPE, you may survive a completely unexpected hazard.

The author is technical director at Plunkett’s Pest Control in Fridley, Minn. He can be reached at jbruesch@giemedia.com.