How can Defective Personal Protective Equipment Harm Workers? September 24, 2021
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to protect individuals from hazards that cause illness and injury. Employers are responsible for assessing their workplaces to determine what hazards are present that may require the use of PPE.
Manufacturers should design PPE to meet standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Workers may suffer harm if the PPE supplied by their employers is either inadequate or defective. Serious injuries caused by defective PPE include lacerations, amputations, blindness, hearing loss, back injuries, and head injuries.
What Types of PPE Are Required in the Workplace?
PPE is an integral part of safety programs in nearly all areas of industry, including manufacturing, food processing, construction, mining, and biomedical research. The OSHA publishes numerous standards regarding the types of PPE required in the workplace, including the following:
- Eye and face protection: Employers must provide safety glasses, visors, or other means to protect workers’ eyes and faces against flying particles, molten metal, gases, dangerous liquid chemicals, or light radiation.
- Hand protection: This may include gloves or other forms of protection when employees’ hands may be exposed to risk of laceration, abrasion, puncture wounds, chemical burns, or harmful substances.
- Head protection: Employers must provide helmets for workers in construction and other areas where there is potential injury from falling objects.
- Respiratory protection: Employers must provide workers with respirators, masks, or other PPE if the air in the workplace may be contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors.
- Hearing protection: Employees exposed to noise above certain decibel levels must be provided with earplugs or other types of PPE to protect against hearing loss, loss of balance, and tinnitus.
- Fall protection: Employees working at heights should be equipped with personal fall arrest systems that break their fall in case scaffolding collapses or they trip or lose their balance.
- Foot protection: Employers should ensure that workers have access to steel-toed boots or other footwear that can protect against serious foot injuries.
The goal of PPE is to reduce the incidents of injuries among workers or at least minimize the extent of harm in case of an accident. However, if PPE is inadequate or defective, workers may face unexpected risks of injury.
There are many thousands of manufacturers in the U.S. capitalizing on the demand for PPE. The PPE market is huge and growing and is expected to be worth more than $120 billion in six years. Unfortunately, unscrupulous PPE manufacturers and distributors may take advantage of the growing demand for PPE, resulting in defective products that may injure workers.
What Types of Injuries Are Caused by Defective PPE?
The types of injuries caused by defective or inadequate PPE can range from mild cuts to serious life-altering paralysis or death. Many thousands of workers experience eye injuries on the job each year because they were not provided with adequate eye protection. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common eye injuries are due to flying splinters or wood chips.
In construction, inadequate or defective footwear can lead to serious crushing injuries to the feet and toes. Each year, the lack of adequate fall protection on construction sites results in thousands of serious injuries, including head trauma, paralysis, and death.
Defective PPE can also lead to a life-threatening illness. Recently, health care workers have been relying on masks, gowns, gloves, Plexiglas barriers, and air-purifying respirators to protect them from contracting COVID-19. There have been reports that nursing homes and other facilities received defective PPE paid for by the federal government. This resulted in cases of COVID-19 among workers and patients that may have been prevented.
In addition to causing harm to workers, defective earplugs have caused thousands of military troops to suffer irreversible hearing loss. There are approximately 240,000 registered claimants involved in the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs litigation. These lawsuits allege that the earplugs failed to maintain tight seals, allowing noise from explosions and gunfire to permanently damage soldiers’ eardrums, causing hearing loss, tinnitus, and loss of balance. The lawsuits claim that the design of the earplugs was defective and that the manufacturer did not provide proper instructions for use.
How Do PPE Products Become Defective?
PPE products can become defective due to a variety of causes, including the following:
- PPE may be defective as designed or manufactured.
- PPE may not be certified for the specific task for which it was sold.
- Storing PPE incorrectly can lead to contamination or damage.
- PPE may be considered defective if it is wrongly sized, rendering it less effective.
- PPE products may also be lost or damaged during shipping. This is not uncommon for PPE products transported in bulk.
What are the Responsibilities of the Employer?
An employer’s responsibilities regarding PPE include but are not limited to the following:
- Employers must assess the workplace regularly to identify any hazards that necessitate the use of PPE.
- Employers must provide the required PPE at no cost to the employee.
- The PPE provided must fit properly and be free of defects.
- Employers must train workers on the proper use of PPE, including inspecting and cleaning it after each use.
Studies have shown that allowing workers to participate in the PPE selection process can help ensure that it is comfortable and fits properly. The result is that workers will be more likely to wear and use the PPE. Employers may also allow their workers to supply their own PPE.
Employers should also regard PPE as a last line of defense against work hazards. Before resorting to PPE, employers should try to use engineering and administrative controls to reduce or eliminate hazards. This is because all types of PPE have limitations, and PPE alone does not eliminate the hazard.
What Should Workers Do if Defective PPE Caused an On-the-Job Injury?
Workers who believe that defective PPE may have caused or contributed to an on-the-job injury should seek medical attention right away and notify their supervisors as soon as possible about the work-related accident or illness. These steps are vital to preserving a worker’s rights to benefits. This may also be critical if there is enough evidence for the worker to file a third-party products liability claim against the manufacturer or distributor of the defective PPE.
Workers who believe their employers have not provided adequate PPE should also tell their supervisors and document their concerns. Workers may also file complaints with the OSHA.
Our attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP advocate for injured workers, and we are proud of our track record, including the following case.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Seek Justice for Workers Injured by Faulty PPE
Defective or inadequate PPE may cause bodily injury to workers who assume that they are being protected from harm on the job. When this happens, PPE manufacturers or other third parties may be held liable for damages. If you were injured due to defective or inadequate PPE, speak with our Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP right away. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.