The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recently proposed a new rule for the construction industry that explicitly requires properly fitted personal protective equipment (PPE). While OSHA currently requires construction employers to provide and maintain PPE, this would be the first time it instructs employers to provide PPE that actually fits each employee.
Joe Brandel, business development manager at helmet-based safety company Mips, joins our podcast to discuss the proposed OSHA ruling and the importance of safe PPE usage. During the episode, Brandel shares insight on why many traditional hard hats may be failing in common workplace accidents, and he outlines precautions and new technologies intended to help lower the risk for traumatic brain injuries.
“I’ve been in the business for a little over 24 years, focused mainly on construction safety in industrial markets,” Brandel said. “I’ve worked with a variety of end-user types and industries, mainly focused on safety and PPE.”
Read on for a partial Q&A transcript, and check out the full interview online at https://www.coatingspromag.com/podcasts or at the embedded link beneath this article.
Q: What’s new in these proposed OSHA guidelines, and what are the next steps moving forward, as it pertains to properly fitted PPE?
Brandel: Basically, it’s an addition to their current construction standard. What this addition does, it explicitly requires that PPE fits the worker. That’s obviously very important, because if it doesn’t fit them and they can’t wear it properly, it’s likely not going to offer much protection.
The helmets and head protection products that we’re involved in are included in that, and it’s very important. Because while all parts of your body are important, I can’t think of any more important than your head. So, it all has to fit properly.
Going forward, as far as contractors in your industry and any others for that matter… if they want to abide by this new revision, they need to make sure that their workers and employees have properly fitted PPE. That’s probably going to require some training on how to don it and how to use it, whether it’s a helmet, harness, gloves, or a safety vest. Then, they have to do fit testing to make sure it fits properly. Part of that is comfort. It’s not a requirement in the guidelines, but comfort drives a lot of the compliance. That’s what I’ve learned over the years.
Q: There are reasons why this hasn’t happened in the past. What got this to the finish line? From OSHA’s perspective, why was this able to get done in 2023, in a way it hasn’t before?
Brandel: From what I’ve read, I believe OSHA initially proposed this back in 2016. That was seven years ago, and they got pushback, apparently, from trade associations. They thought there would be added costs, because they would probably have to add different models and more PPE.
Then, I believe the other pushback was about implementation. They believed that there was going to be an issue with implementing it with their workers and employees. To answer your question, I think what pushed it across the finish line was just the workers themselves. Whether it was women, or smaller workers, or even larger workers, they were just kind of sick and tired of having PPE that wasn’t working for them.
Like I said, I’ve been in the business for 24 years, and I’ve seen situations where there’s a pair of gloves, a hard hat, a helmet, or a harness that doesn’t fit properly. That worker is not properly protected if they can’t wear it and use it correctly.
I think that most companies were already abiding by this, before OSHA brought it up. But it’s for the few that that aren’t that OSHA had to implement this into their standard.
Q: What data is out there with regards to accidents, as well as the injuries and deaths that result from it? What are some of the common causes?
Brandel: In the U.S. construction industry alone, a total of 21,400 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were caused by slips, trips, and falls in 2021. A lot of those types of accidents, because they’re fall related, can lead to traumatic brain injuries… or injuries on how the brain functions and performs.
We believe that construction workers are at the highest risk of traumatic brain injuries because of what they do and the environment they work in. According to the statistics, there are definitely more traumatic brain injuries than any other industry, by far. The risk associated with failing to use the proper head protection can be serious and life threatening.
One in five workplace fatalities occurred in construction in 2021, and over a third of those fatalities were due to slips, trips, and falls. So protecting your head is of the utmost importance.
Q: In response to that, what types of technologies and functionality is Mips trying to add to its products? What are the things you’re working on, from a technical perspective, to address those needs?
Brandel: At Mips, we produce a safety system and a low-friction layer for helmets, which we’ve developed over almost two decades now. The intention is to reduce rotational motion, and the effects of that to the brain, in the event of an accident… usually a fall or dropped objects.
The research that we’ve done, and others as well, shows that rotational motion involves a greater risk of brain damage than straight or lateral impacts. So, the intention of our Mips system is to help reduce the risk of rotational motion in those types of accidents.
Q: If we’re talking 2030 and beyond, what does the future potentially look like? What are some of the other technologies that may come to the forefront in the coming years?
Brandel: Some of the other technology I’ve seen – and we’re not involved with this – but there are helmets out there now that are basically “smart” hard hats or smart helmets, with IoT [Internet of Things] devices. Those can come with accessories, sensors, cameras, communication devices, and those sorts of things.
Down the road, seven years doesn’t seem like a lot. But it’ll happen quickly, and it seems like the technology is advancing pretty quickly in this industry.
Joe Brandel made these comments on a recent episode of the CoatingsPro Interview Series. To hear the complete episode, listen below.
Editor’s note: Updated 10/6/2023 with minor clarifications