Like humans, personal protective equipment has a life expectancy.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense against injury on the job site. But if your PPE is worn out or damaged, it’s like a safety net with a tear in the middle. That’s why it’s important to inspect your PPE before each use.
PPE isn’t meant to last forever; each piece has a certain life expectancy. And you won’t know if it’s nearing the end of it if you don’t inspect it.
Inspections take a matter of seconds. Here are some things to look for.
Hard hat: Look for cracked, torn, frayed, or otherwise deteriorated suspension systems, brims or shells. Replace your hard hat if has been damaged or become brittle, or if it’s past its expiration date. Many hardhat manufacturers suggest that hardhats be replaced at least every five years on average and that the suspension be replaced every year. Check the manufacturer’s replacement instructions.
Safety glasses: Examine the lenses for chips, scratches and scrapes. These can not only impair your vision but weaken the lenses. Make sure the headband has not become frayed and has not lost its elasticity.
Harness: Check for missing straps and examine the fabric for torn or frayed fibers and kinks or knots. Grasp the harness webbing and bend it to make damaged fibers or cuts easier to see. Also look for stretched or thin areas; stretched-out webbing can indicate the harness was involved in a fall. Check for pulled or missing stitches at tack points and look for any hard or shiny spots, which can indicate heat damage. Check D rings and/or other hardware for rust, corrosion and distortion. Look at the date of manufacture on the tag and remove the harness from service if it’s past the adopted service life policy. Also remove from service any harness that’s been involved in a fall.
Gloves: Inspect your gloves before every use for cracks, cuts, punctures, thin areas or discoloration. Chemical-resistant gloves may get stiff or discolored after excessive use.
Work boots: Inspect your boots for cracks, cuts, holes, worn tread and signs of separation. If your boots have been damaged in an accident or a close call, they may need to be replaced. You can sometimes tell if a steel-toed boot has sustained an impact because the cap won’t “bounce back” fully. But boots with composite toes may not show their damage.
Keep it clean, and play it safe
Clean your PPE regularly according to the manufacturer's recommendations. This can help it last longer and will also make any damage easier to spot.
Remove any worn or potentially damaged PPE from service until a competent person or a manufacturer's representative can certify the equipment for use.
Store all PPE indoors and away from sunlight, moisture and chemicals. The back of your truck isn’t the place to keep it.
Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.