Engineering Controls Vs. PPE: Which is the Key to Workplace Safety?

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At every facility, the safety of workers should always be a top priority. According to OSHA regulations, employers must prioritize engineering controls over Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when it comes to safeguarding their facility and workers. In this article, find out why engineering controls are considered to be the first line of defense - learn their importance, advantages, and the drawbacks of relying on PPE alone.

The Advantages of Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are a powerhouse approach to mitigating risks at their source. These controls, including machine guards, ventilation systems, and noise barriers, can directly eliminate or minimize hazards. When compared to personal protective equipment (PPE), engineering controls have undeniable benefits:

  • Shift to Safety: Engineering controls are more of a long-term solution rather than a band-aid one. If employers address the potential hazards at their root cause, it's a stronger approach to safety rather than relying on PPE or worker compliance.
  • Universal Protection: These controls offer broader protection. While PPE safeguards only the workers, implementing controls protects the entire facility while reducing the risk of hazards.
  • Savings and Sustainability: Engineering controls may be the more expensive option, but it's actually more cost-effective in the long run as they require minimal maintenance and last longer. PPE may be cheap, but they need to be regularly replaced.
  • Maximizing Productivity: These controls streamline workflow by eliminating PPE donning and doffing. Workers can optimize their time and output.
  • Minimal Maintenance Required: Engineering controls are built for reliable and sustained performance, without the need for frequent replacement or upkeep. Employers save money and workers have fewer interruptions.

The Drawbacks of Personal Protective Equipment

While PPE is essential for safeguarding workers, it may not always be the most effective option due to its limitations.

  • Uncomfortable: PPE can be bulky, uncomfortable, and sweaty, making it difficult for employees to wear for extended periods.
  • Inconvenient: Protective gear is essential to ensure the safety of workers, but the process of putting it on and taking it off can be a hassle.
  • False Sense of Security: PPE may deter workers from consistently using it, and jeopardize their own well-being. Moreover, relying solely on PPE can create a sense of complacency and cause workers to disregard other crucial safety measures.
  • Inadequate Protection: PPE must be properly used and maintained to ensure maximum protection against potential hazards.

Engineering Controls for Noise Exposure

Eliminating or reducing noise exposure in the workplace is crucial for maintaining a safe and healthy environment. This involves modifying or replacing equipment and processes. Some examples of engineering controls for reducing noise exposure include:

  • Machine Enclosures: Enclosing loud equipment or machinery with sound-absorbing materials can significantly reduce noise levels. These enclosures should be designed in a way that enables easy maintenance access.
  • Vibration Control: High levels of vibration from equipment or machinery can generate unpleasant noise. Vibration control is a process that involves isolating the equipment or using materials that absorb vibration. This technique helps to curb noise and create a more peaceful environment.
  • Noise Barriers: When it comes to keeping noise at bay, noise barriers are the answer. These barriers offer a practical and effective solution for situations where a loud area would otherwise disturb a peaceful one. Constructed from sturdy materials such as concrete, brick, or steel, these barriers work to keep unwanted noise at bay.
  • Control Rooms: Efficiently managing equipment or machinery is now hassle-free with dedicated control rooms. These specialized rooms keep operators shielded from the clanging noise, allowing them to monitor and operate machines seamlessly.
  • Equipment Maintenance: By regularly maintaining and lubricating your machinery and equipment, you can effectively lower noise levels. Don't let excessive noise disrupt your work environment- prioritize proper upkeep to keep your equipment running smoothly and quietly.

Engineering Controls for Respiratory Hazards

Airborne hazards are a serious concern in many workplaces. Luckily, engineering controls provide an effective way to mitigate respiratory risks by altering the work environment or processes. Here are some common examples of engineering controls:

  • Ventilation Systems: Protect your employees from hazardous substances by installing our local exhaust ventilation systems, including hoods, ducts, and fans. These systems remove harmful particles from the air, ensuring a healthy and safe work environment.
  • Enclosure: Cabinets and other enclosures can be a game changer in preventing the spread of dangerous substances. By keeping them isolated and contained, the surrounding environment is shielded from harm. This is why enclosures are crucial in situations where hazardous materials are present.
  • Substitution: In order to mitigate health and environmental risks, it is essential to implement substitution techniques. This approach tackles the challenge of replacing hazardous materials with safer alternatives, such as adopting a less toxic cleaning agent.
  • Process Modification: The goal is to curb the creation and dispersion of dangerous substances. Thus, overhauling your work processes by shifting away from dry methods and transitioning to wet methods.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: For situations where engineering controls fall short in reducing exposure to acceptable levels, we've got your back with our high-quality respiratory protection equipment, including top-notch respirators that meet industry standards. Your safety and well-being are our top priority, and we are committed to providing the best PPE solutions available.

By incorporating engineering controls, the possibility of respiratory hazards is notably diminished, making it a crucial aspect in safeguarding the physical well-being of workers.

It's wise to make engineering controls a priority above personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must keep in mind the limitations of PPE and focus on applying engineering controls whenever possible. This comprehensive approach to workplace safety involves implementing engineering controls first, followed by administrative controls and PPE. With such an approach, businesses can create a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, leading to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and a better bottom line.


      The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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      Author: Herbert Post

      Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.