Is your body on the injury "hit list," or do you use the "tools of the trade" (personal protective equipment) for protection? Using safety equipment could save your eyesight and more.

Think of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in terms of "zones of protection." These break down into the following categories: eyes and face; head; ears; respiratory system; hands, arms, and trunk; and feet and legs. Before performing any task, ensure all zones have proper coverage. The figure (original article), shows body parts to consider along with PPE to protect them. Let's look at recommended safety guidelines for each zone.

Eyes and face. Can you imagine an eye injury so devastating that, even after surgery, your eye is useless? Some of us (this author included) don't need to imagine; we have suffered such an injury. It doesn't take much to injure your eyes. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to protect them either. In most electrical work, safety glasses do the trick, but don't confuse prescription glasses or sunglasses with safety glasses. You can fit prescription glasses with side shields, or wear safety glasses/goggles over your prescription glasses.

Don't be fooled into thinking you never need goggles just because you do electrical work. If open chemicals are present, wear goggles; someone could splash you inadvertently.

Face shields protect against chemicals and flash. This is why flash suits have special hoods with built-in face shields. They also protect you from debris. Suppose you're building a conveyor. You'll need to drill holes for mounting electrical boxes, motor starters, wireway brackets, and sensors. You may drill some of these while on your back, looking up. Drill oil, tap oil, and solvents can fall toward your face.

Head. Hard hats protect against flashes and falling objects. However, it's easy to defeat the hard hat. Did you know stickers on your hat could make it conductive? Firms normally limit how much area the stickers cover; one per side and one in back, with plenty of space left over. When you make a complete path around the hat, you may find trouble. Using tape to make "racing stripes" may add visual appeal, but soiled or conductive tape can make a conductive path. You defeat the purpose of your hat by making the liner too loose or too tight. Hard hat suspension systems require specific clearances to work correctly. Stuffing the shell with anything (voluminous hair, rags, thick hat, paperback, and pocket reference book) defeats the suspension system.

Ears. When hearing loss happens gradually, few people take it seriously. If you must speak up for someone to hear you, then it's too noisy not to wear hearing protection. The most common form is the roll-up foam plug you insert into your ear canal. These work well in most noise conditions. Their comfort factor is high, and you can have a normal conversation while wearing them. So, it's unnecessary to remove them frequently. You can store them in a special earplug case made for your hard hat suspension frame.

If you alternate between high noise/low noise areas frequently, consider molded earplugs or "insertables." For extremely high noise, use earmuffs; possibly in combination with earplugs. Earplugs and earmuffs also keep debris out of your ear canal. Such debris can lead to infection. Noise is only one reason to use ear protection.

Respiratory system. In a confined entry space, you follow confined entry work rules. That often means an air hose or portable supply of bottled air. You may need respiratory protection in other circumstances, such as working around drywall in new construction or around metal-cutting operations. For electricians, this usually means a dust mask. It's common to apply touch-up paint to newly installed equipment. When you paint or prep, you need to wear a respirator. Your choice of respirator (anything from a paper mask to a canister) depends on the particles/toxins. If you think respirators are unnecessary, see the sidebar, on page 40.

Hands, arms, and trunk. If you work around sharp edges, hot surfaces, or chemicals, wear the appropriate gloves. An undetected caustic can contaminate a door handle. That's why the presence of chemicals is reason enough to wear gloves. To protect yourself against flash hazards, wear special insulating sleeves made for electrical work. Wear high-voltage gloves if you are handling high voltages.

Reaching into energized cabinets? Wear long sleeves; but keep them buttoned. If you are going to work closely with rotating equipment, wear short sleeves. Never wear nylon, polyester, or polyester blends; they melt to the skin. The table, on page 40, shows what fabrics work best.

Feet and legs. Do you need steel-toed shoes? A quick look on OSHA's website ( settles the question, with standard number 1926.95. You must protect your feet from falling hazards, but such protection needn't be steel toes. If falling hazards are not present, then serviceable leather shoes will do. To protect yourself from back strain and fatigue, let your shoes rest a day between wearings.

Leg protection for most electricians usually means blue jeans in good condition; but it may also mean a flash suit.

Sidebar: Lung Disease

When you inhale industrial dust particles, you may be at risk for more than stuffy sinuses. The "normal" dust levels in most operations are acceptable. But when you ignore "respirator required" signs or work unprotected when dust levels are high, you are taking risks.

Different types of particles have different effects. Inhaling iron dust, coal dust, or similar substances can cause pneumonitis, pneumoconiosis, and pulmonary fibrosis. Some particles can cause allergic reactions, and chronic exposure can lead to an asthmatic condition.

Effects of dust particles on individuals vary. Key factors include genetics, previous "insults" to your respiratory system, and level of health and fitness. Time and intensity of exposure play the central roles. People are amazingly resilient. Most of us can tolerate inhaling moderate amounts of industrial dust. However, reduce your exposure to levels well within your body's range to cope.