PPE Is the Last Resort Toolbox Talk

Learn about the hierarchy of hazards and why PPE should be your last resort to keep yourself safe.

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PPE Is the Last Resort Safety Talk

Construction job sites are full of hazards and safety concerns. It is up to you to keep yourself safe as well as your coworkers. Following some simple safety rules and wearing the proper PPE will help keep everyone safe including visitors that may visit a work site.

You may already know the importance of PPE and why you should use it but PPE should always be used as a last resort when trying to keep yourself safe. It is considered the last line of defense because of its place on the hierarchy of hazards. When you are addressing a major hazard in a workplace environment you should always refer to your hierarchy of hazards to address it, more on this later.

What is PPE?

PPE is also known as personal protective equipment and refers to any safety garment or accessory worn by workers. It includes rubber gloves, body harnesses, safety glasses, safety vests, boots, and everything in between. Under OSHA regulations it is the responsibility of employers to provide you, the worker with the proper PPE needed to perform your job duties. Should you have any questions about what PPE is needed to perform your job and what PPE is provided please let your foreman know.

PPE and The Hierarchy of Hazards

The hierarchy of hazards is a control system used in many industries to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazards. It is widely accepted by numerous safety organizations and is a standard practice in most workplaces. Typically this hierarchy is used by managers and foremen but it is important that all workers understand the hazard controls and do their part in helping control them. The five controls in the hierarchy:


The most effective way to keep everyone safe on a job site is to eliminate the hazard altogether. If you see a tool or a piece of equipment that could put you or other workers in danger, consider the necessity of the item. If you do not need it, get rid of it.


When you know that the hazard can not be completely eliminated the next strategy everyone should consider is if you can substitute the hazard out with something a little less dangerous. Even though a hazard may still exist everyone would be in less danger from it. If you see where a hazard can be substituted speak up and let others know.

Engineering Controls

If your job site has tried to eliminate or reduce the hazard and neither of those is good options the next option is to limit the exposure to the hazard by using engineering controls. Engineering controls are designed as modifications to machines, ventilation systems, and processes that reduce the amount of exposure and physically protect workers from harm. Again this is something your foreman would take into consideration but if you see something that could potentially help you should always let someone know.

Administrative Controls

The next option on the hierarchy of hazards is to use administrative controls. These types of controls are typically rules and regulations put in place to help minimize risks. They can include safety signs that are posted to alert everyone of risks and implementing standards and operating procedures when workers are working with or around hazards. As a worker, it is your job to read the safety signs you see posted and to follow the safety procedures that you are given. This will help ensure you and your coworkers are kept safe.

Personal Protection Equipment

At the bottom of the pyramid is personal protective equipment or PPE. Although it is considered the last line of defense on the pyramid it can make the difference between a minor injury and a major injury that could be life-threatening. If you know you should be using PPE, do it!

Real-Life Situation

Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly how things work and how the hierarchy of hazards would work in a situation you may be exposed to. To better explain it consider a hazard that could take place on many job sites, a worker being struck by a forklift.

The first thing to look at is how necessary forklifts are to the job you are doing. Are you moving heavy items? If the answer is yes then you would move on to substitution. Can you use something else to transport the items?

If the answer is no and you still need a forklift to do your job then it is time to look at the engineering and administrative controls. These could include adding floor tape so all workers know where to walk and where the forklift should operate as well as training on how to use a forklift correctly and signs showing there is lots of foot traffic in that area.

PPE Example

The last step is PPE, in this example, the PPE would be to have hi-vis safety vests being worn by all workers so everyone could stand out and there be less chance of someone getting hit by a moving forklift. Again this is just an example of how the hierarchy of hazards could be put to use on a job site that you are working on. Should you see any way that hazards may be reduced always talk to your foreman or supervisor. Your safety on a job site is a top priority for everyone.

Although personal protection equipment is considered the last line of defense it is still extremely important for it to be readily available to all workers on a job site. PPE may be labeled as the last line of defense but it is equally as important as other steps. If all the steps of the hierarchy fail you and other workers can be put at risk for serious injury or even death.

You should always make it a habit to wear personal protective equipment and follow all safety rules and regulations that your foreman or supervisor has made you aware of. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding these, always ask. The safety of you and your co-workers is important to everyone on the job site.

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