When PPE Becomes The Danger
You wouldn’t think a story concerning maritime safety would begin in 1880 in nearby Australia with a showdown between police and an outlaw, who was on the run from conviction, but this one does.
The Australian bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly is one of Australia’s greatest folk heroes.
He, and his gang, ran rampant around the Victorian countryside, defying British authority and killing police.
Kelly’s were notoriously famous for donning their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Today, you would define PPE as anything used or worn by a person to minimise risk to the person’s health or safety.
What immediately comes to mind are boots, face masks, hard hats, ear plugs, respirators, gloves, safety harnesses and high visibility clothing.
In modern day terms, Kelly’s “risk” was the bullets from the police and the “management” involved covering himself with 41.4 kg plates of plough iron.
In other words, he put on a body plate protecting the chest area and head gear with a slot for visibility.
However, the PPE fell well short of the intended goal.
In those final moments during the ruinous siege at Glenrowan on 28 June 1880, Ned Kelly was suited up and ready to face the Police.
His accomplice Joe Byrne was overheard saying to Ned, “Well it’s your fault; I always said this bloody amour would bring us to grief.”
Minutes later Kelly was captured by the police.
He was critically injured and Joe was killed, both having been shot in areas unprotected by their PPE – Ned in the legs, and Joe in the groin.
You could say that Kelly was a real “push over” i.e. if you pushed him he would have fallen, and getting up would have taken some effort too.
The visibility from his mask was also poor.
He could only see about 60 degrees in front of him.
It’s not the only time in Australian history where PPE has caused problems.
More recently it was reported that the uniform and the protective gear the Australian soldiers wore in the battle of Afghanistan were so bulky that it is was difficult to get a comfortable kneeling shot off the weapon.
Even more recently, in a recent ship drill, it was reported that one crewman lost his balance when going down the ladder donning a full fire fighting apparatus. He was lucky that there was a colleague to steady him.
Here in Fiji, how many times have you seen road workers operating jackhammers in an open area donning a helmet and high visibility vest and nothing less?
It seems that protection of an object falling from the sky is more important than wearing gloves or ear muffs.
So when does the protective equipment become a hazard itself and endanger the person wearing it and subsequently others? It’s when you have:
- Incorrect type
- Incorrect usage
- Untrained personnel
If PPE was to eliminate risk and protect, where does it stand in the hierarchy of protection?
Generally, risk mitigation can be achieved by the following methods:
- Limitation to exposure (time)
- Removal from source (distancing)
- Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
It should be noted that PPE is ranked third in the list and in most respects the adoption of PPE should be considered to be a last resort, that is, its use is sanctioned only when all other forms of mitigation have failed or proved impracticable.
We teach the cadets at Fiji Maritime Academy that the safety of co-workers is the prime priorities kept in mind by a professional seafarer while working on-board a ship.
All shipping companies ensure that their crew follow personal safety procedures and rules for all the operation carried onboard ships.
That includes wearing the correct PPE for the job at hand only after taking into account limiting exposure (time) and removal from the source (distancing).
On the surface, it seems that since PPE is the most visual, just like Kelly’s armour, it would be the first consideration during a high-risk situation.
However, if Kelly had followed the first two steps of risk mitigation, there may never have been need for a showdown at Glenrowan for the PPE to fail.