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Avoid OSHA Citations: How to Properly Store PPE


It's important to have PPE to protect workers from any hazards that can't be eliminated through other controls. But did you know that how you store PPE is important, too? A PPE program's success can be determined by its storage practices. And in some cases, poor storage practices can even result in OSHA citations.

Respirator Storage Tips

Respirators have especially stringent OSHA storage requirements. In November 2020, OSHA listed improper respirator storage as a common COVID-19 citation. Standard 1910.134(h)(2)(i) requires respirators to be stored in a way that protects them from damage and contamination and prevents facepieces and respirator valves from being deformed.

Manufacturer 3M recommends these storage practices for N95 respirators:

  • Store respirators in their original packaging.
  • Store respirators in clean air.
  • Store respirators out of direct sunlight.
  • Store respirators in a rigid space where they won't be crushed or become misshapen.
  • Store respirators in a climate-controlled place where the humidity and temperature don't exceed the manufacturer's recommended limits. These can differ depending on the model. For example, instructions for one model specify that it be stored in an environment that's not above 86° F, not below -20° F and not above 80% relative humidity.

Hard Hat Storage Tips

OSHA recommends that protective headgear be stored out of direct sunlight, which can damage them. Loss of surface gloss, chalking and flaking on the shell or brim of a hard hat are signs that it may have been exposed to excessive heat or sunlight and should be replaced.

Fall Protection Harness Storage Tips

According to Safety+Health magazine, fall protection harnesses should be stored hanging, flat or neatly folded to prevent unnecessary wear. They should be kept dry and away from temperature extremes. Dirty harnesses should be cleaned immediately and dried before storage, following the manufacturer's instructions. Typically, manufacturers recommend that harnesses be dried and stored away from direct sunlight and heat. If the webbing feels excessively brittle or hard, this can be a sign of damage from heat or sunlight, according to a manufacturer's inspection guide.

General PPE Storage Best Practices

OSHA may not have specific guidance on storing other types of PPE, but that doesn't mean you should store it carelessly. The "Handbook of Occupational Safety and Health," edited by S. Z. Mansdorf, recommends the following general practices for PPE storage:

  • Keep the storage area clean and dry.
  • Keep the PPE away from direct sunlight when stored.
  • Train users on how to store PPE correctly.
  • Consult the manufacturer's instructions for more specific guidance.

PPE made from highly engineered materials may have more stringent storage requirements. For example, Bulwark recommends storing its fire-resistant clothing in lockers, drawers or closets, while DuPont recommends storing its encapsulated garments in boxes, in bags or on hangers and warns against compression (stepping on or placing heavy object on the garments).

When deciding where to locate your PPE storage, it's also a good idea to choose a place that's as convenient as possible for workers. The more conveniently located your PPE storage, the more likely that workers will use the equipment when they need it. When the storage area is not convenient, some workers may keep their protective equipment in toolboxes, on worktables or in other places where it might get dirty or damaged. And other workers may forgo PPE altogether.

It's also smart to stay organized. Storing PPE using wire shelves, storage cabinets and bins can make it easier and faster for workers to find the right equipment in the right size. Some companies may also consider using a managed inventory service to handle PPE organization or vending.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.