Safety in the Workplace

March 29, 2021

Worker safety is on the mind of many businesses and organizations these days. Every type of work has various risks, so it’s important to prepare the workplace to keep employees safe in different emergencies and hazardous conditions.

Experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health point out that “infectious diseases are emerging and reemerging more quickly than ever before.”

They write, “Between 1980 and 2013, the number of annual epidemics has gone from fewer than 1,000 to over 3,000. Infectious diseases such as Zika, MERS-CoV, SARS, cholera, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, influenza, and Ebola kill millions every year, and their outbreaks have decimated economies and triggered aftershocks and panic around the world.”

Prepare for Future Emergencies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that businesses, communities, families, and individuals should plan for disasters and emergencies and the disruptions that often follow. Businesses should take steps to protect themselves against the many hazards posed by such calamities. Some of these include developing a plan containing procedures, strategies, organizational structures, potential hazards, personal protective equipment, and the potential actions that can be undertaken if there is a natural or manmade crisis.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The coronavirus pandemic underlines the need for PPE’s availability, including nonmedical masks for general use and face masks for medical staff and other frontline workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor points out that PPE is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause workplace injuries and illnesses. PPE can include items like:

● Gloves

● Safety glasses

● Safety shoes

● Earplugs

● Hard hats

● Respirators

● Coveralls

● Safety vests

The use of personal protective equipment goes hand in hand with other protective measures, which may include social distancing guidelines (including safety cone areas to keep people apart), enhanced cleaning and sanitization practices, redevelopment of open-plan offices, communicating building protocols through signage and floor markings, and much more.

Protective Face Masks and Gloves

There are various protective masks available for everyday use and people who work in a surgical or another medical setting, including three-ply woven masks and N95 face masks.

Latex gloves are often employed for protection, with alternative materials available for people who have latex allergies. Special care should be taken in choosing gloves for the handling of dangerous chemicals since chemical resistance varies according to the type of chemical and glove material.

A pair of latex cleaning gloves might feature an interior lining for added defense.

Safety Glasses and Face Shields 

Eye protection, including safety glasses and full-face shields, is an additional form of protection that may be used as an added measure to defend against splashes or flying particles.

Safety glasses and safety goggles may be worn when handling harsh chemicals and substances or when workers operate machinery that produces dust and chips.

Face shields are sometimes used as a replacement for or an adjunct to face masks. For optimal performance, the face shield should extend below the wearer’s chin.

Ear Plugs and Hearing Protection

While one way to protect against unacceptable noise levels is to eliminate the source or reduce it with engineering methods, this is not always possible. Hearing protection can reduce the amount of noise reaching the ears, which might otherwise affect hearing ability.

Inserted in the ear canal, earplugs can be premolded (re-formed) or moldable (foam earplugs). Disposable, reusable, or custom-molded earplugs are also available. Meanwhile, earmuffs consist of sound-dampening material and soft ear cushions that fit around the ear, with hard outer cups held together by a headband.

Hard Hats

Protecting the head from injuries is a key component of many safety programs. Hard hats help keep employee heads safe from falling objects, bumping into fixed objects, or coming into contact with electrical hazards. They are also designed to protect workers from splashes, rain, high heat, and exposure to ultraviolet light.

Hard hat features may include the ability to:

● Resist penetration by objects

● Absorb the shock from a blow to the head by an object

● Be slow to burn

● Be water-resistant

If hard hat safety is not a concern on a work site, employees can also wear bump camps, reducing minor bruising or abrasions if they bump against an object, like low pipes in a basement.

Some occupations where hard hats are frequently used include:

● Carpenters

● Electricians

● Lineman mechanics and repairers

● Plumbers and pipefitters

● Assemblers

● Packers

● Wrappers

● Sawers

● Welders

● Laborers

● Freight handlers

● Timber cutting and logging

● Stock handlers

● Warehouse laborers

Safety Vests

When workers are in the field, they sometimes need to wear safety vests or high-visibility vests to be seen and stay safe. These protective devices are reviewed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and classified as Class 1, Class 2, or Class 3 safety vests based on the amount of reflective material and high-contrast (orange or lime color) fabric in their construction.


Featuring strong, resistant fabric, coveralls are designed for workers who may come in contact with hazardous substances and situations. The types of safety coveralls include:

● Standard or basic protective coveralls

● Waterproof coveralls

● Fire-retardant or fire-resistant coveralls

● Electric-resistant coveralls

● One-time-use coveralls

● High-visibility coveralls

● Quilted coveralls (for colder weather)

Other Types of Work Safety Equipment

Several other types of equipment and workwear built for improving work safety include the following:

Protective arm sleeves: These can be used by workers in construction, demolition, glass handling, fabrication, and other professions.

Aprons: Aprons can be protective items for loading operations, handling concentrated formulations, cleaning out containers before disposal, or protecting professions like restaurant chefs.

Knee pads: Knee pads assist in jobs requiring a lot of kneeling (such as welders) or used for support.

Back support: Back support belts can be used as a preventative measure to reduce lower back discomfort.

Eyewash stations: Eyewash is used for flushing the eye and commonly found in workplaces involving harsh chemicals like labs and chemical plants.

Whether it is an unusual emergency, like a pandemic, or an ordinary work hazard, having the right work safety gear can help protect workers and keep the companies that employ them running smoothly.

About the Author

Peter Giffen is a writer and editor who specializes in business and technology.

All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is,” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrants the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.