Personal Protective Equipment

Failure to properly wear personal protective equipment is a major problem in the landscape industry. Violations of federal OSHA’s rules for head protection, eye and face protection, respiratory protection and occupational noise exposure regularly make the top 15 list for the landscaping services industry segment. Personal protective equipment is a factor on every jobsite, and just about every company has room for improvement in this area. Protecting employees’ health and safety through proper PPE use requires regular evaluation – by both management and crew members – of a company’s policies and practices, with improvements made as needed.

The checklist, dos and don’ts and resources below can help both groups along this journey.

Checklist for Employers and Supervisors:

  • Know and follow the rules. Be sure you are following federal OSHA as well as state and local regulations related to PPE. Depending on the work employees are doing, federal OSHA’s General Industry PPE standards or Construction PPE standards could apply. Construction work in landscaping includes: irrigation installation and hardscaping (stonework, pavers, retaining walls, water features, etc.). General Industry standards cover mowing, tree, plant and shrubbery trimming, chemical applications, edging and mulching.

  • Be aware of the penalties. Because each employee not protected by PPE can be considered a separate violation, fines can add up fast. For instance, the fine for three crew members not wearing eye protection while using line trimmers could add up to $21,000.

  • Follow the “hierarchy of controls.” Since PPE does not eliminate the hazard – it only minimizes exposure – make sure your company is first attempting to remove hazards, isolate people from hazards and reduce risks by changing work methods. Learn more about the hierarchy of controls here.

  • Implement a PPE program. When your employees need to wear PPE, federal OSHA requires you to establish a program that addresses: hazards present; the selection, maintenance and use of PPE; the training of employees; and monitoring of the program to ensure its effectiveness.

  • Conduct written hazard assessments. This is the first step in implementing a PPE program. Evaluate your jobsites and facilities to determine the hazards employees might encounter. Typical hazards include loud noise, sharp tools, flying or falling objects and silica dust. For each jobsite hazard assessment, the written record should identify:

    • The workplace evaluated
    • The person certifying that the evaluation has been performed
    • The date(s) of the hazard assessment

  • Create PPE cards for crew members. The cards should list PPE crew members are required to wear when performing certain tasks or using specific tools. Make sure crew members have easy access to these cards.

  • Conduct thorough PPE training. The training must include information about:

    • When PPE is necessary
    • How to wear PPE
    • Limitations
    • Proper care
    • Maintenance
    • Useful life

  • Ensure employees have the right PPE. Protective equipment must meet the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). It also must provide appropriate protection against the specific hazard.

  • Know what PPE your company is required to buy. Federal OSHA requires the employer to purchase and provide all PPE except:

    • Non-specialty, safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or boots)
    • Non-specialty, prescription safety eyewear
    • Everyday clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes and normal work boots
    • Ordinary clothing and other items used solely for protection from weather (winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses and sunscreen)
    • Replacement PPE if an employee loses or intentionally damages employer-purchased items

  • Make employees part of the PPE selection process. If they are able to choose from a few options of safety glasses, for instance, they are more likely to wear the PPE.

  • Be sure PPE is well maintained. Provide PPE in a sanitary and reliable condition and make sure it stays that way. Provide clean containers for PPE storage. If equipment is broken, defective or does not work properly, provide replacement PPE.

  • Know your responsibilities surrounding employee-purchased PPE. When employees provide their own PPE, you are still responsible for assuring adequacy, maintenance and sanitation.

  • Facilitate optimal PPE use. To make finding PPE in the morning, before crews head to jobsites, an efficient process, store items in an organized manner in easy-to-access areas. Consider placing commonly used PPE such as earplugs and safety glasses on a table each morning.

  • Ensure PPE properly fits each employee. Devices with adjustable features must be fitted on an individual basis to ensure a comfortable fit that keeps gear in the correct position. Have crew members put on PPE during training to demonstrate they know how to achieve a proper fit.

  • Require hard hats when overhead objects pose injury risks. Instances include: operating machinery with buckets; hardscaping; and tree trimming.

  • Enforce use of appropriate eye and face protection. This PPE should be worn whenever workers are exposed to eye or face hazards from plant material, chemicals or flying particles. The PPE must comply with American National Standards Institute Z87.1-1989.

  • Administer a hearing conservation program when needed. This should happen anytime employees are exposed to noise levels at or above an eight-hour, time-weighted average of 85 decibels. As a reference: when noise levels are above 80 decibels, people have to speak very loudly; when levels are between 85 and 90 decibels, they have to shout; and with noise levels greater than 95 decibels, they have to move close together to hear each other. Earplugs or earmuffs must lower the noise levels to an eight-hour, time-weighted average of 90 decibels or less.

  • Protect employees from respiratory hazards.

    • Be sure you are complying with federal OSHA crystalline-silica regulations updated in 2016 and with any state and/or local rules. Workers can be exposed to crystalline silica when cutting, chipping or drilling stone, brick, asphalt or concrete products, and when contacting silica dust, which can come from these materials, dirt or sand. The federal rules are comprised of two standards, one for Construction and one for General Industry. Because both Construction and General Industry standards can apply to the landscape industry, the specifics of the standard you must follow could vary depending on the type of work being performed.
    • Know the federal respirable-crystalline-silica exposure limit (in both the Construction and General Industry standards) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
    • Employers are required to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to help keep worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica at a permissible level; provide appropriate respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure-control plan; offer medical exams to highly exposed workers; and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
    • Provide workers with wet-cutting saws/systems or vacuum-dust-collection systems when they cut masonry products. These are typically the most effective engineering controls in landscape applications.
    • Post warning signs around worksites where crystalline silica dust may be suspended in the air and provide appropriate respirators for any workers who might be exposed.

  • Ensure crew members wear gloves during almost all tasks. Require use of appropriate gloves for chemical, abrasion, burn and vibration hazards. Tight-fitting gloves without gauntlets are recommended when working with augers, wood chippers and other rotating equipment.

  • Require sturdy work boots for all landscaping tasks. Work shoes must meet ASTM-F2414 and F2413-05 and should protect from: falling objects, chemicals and punctures.

  • Always wear the PPE you require employees to wear.

  • Make consequences part of your PPE policy. Enforce PPE rules by checking jobsites often and consistently following up with documentation and action.

  •  Conduct PPE policy reviews and refresher training regularly and as needed.

    • A safety committee, safety manager or management group can begin a PPE review by looking at any PPE-related violations as well as internally documented incidences of PPE non-compliance over the past couple years. Have a meeting with crew members to gather input about current PPE practices and how they can be improved.
    • Federal OSHA requires you to conduct PPE refresher training when:
      • Employees demonstrate lack of understanding
      • Repeated misuse is observed
      • Changes in the workplace or on the jobsite affect PPE use
      • There are changes in PPE, including new types, styles, etc.
      • Initial training becomes obsolete

    Employee Dos and Don’ts


    • Know what situations/hazards require personal protective equipment (PPE). See Federal OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment topics page for guidance.

    • Understand the purpose of PPE. It is meant to keep you safe and healthy. Always wear the PPE your company provides.

    • Know the consequences of PPE violations. Repeated violations of your company’s PPE rules make you more of a liability than an asset to your employer and could result in the loss of your job.

    • Wear basic protective attire every work day. This generally includes a long-sleeve shirt, pants, gloves, steel-toed boots and eye protection. Wear additional PPE as needed.

    • Protect your hearing. Wear earplugs or noise-attenuating earmuffs when operating or working near equipment. Working around equipment can cause hearing loss, which is permanent. If you hear ringing, hissing, roaring, whistling or chirping sounds in your ears, ask your employer to have your hearing checked by an audiologist.

    • Be aware of the operations and job tasks that could expose you to crystalline silica. Anytime stone, asphalt, concrete, brick, or other masonry products are dry cut, silica dust is in the air. Mixing concrete or hauling/dumping rock, sand or masonry also can create silica dust. Sweeping or using a leaf blower to move dust or dirt can result in airborne silica dust as well.

    • Understand the potential effects of inhaling silica dust. They include: lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. These health problems can be disabling and fatal.

    • Know federal OSHA’s rules regarding crystalline silica and respiratory and work with your employer to follow best practices:

      • Wet cut masonry, concrete, and stone whenever possible.
      • Use a vacuum dust collection system if wet cutting isn’t possible.
      • Wear a respirator when instructed to do so. Your company should provide an appropriate respirator when work practices and engineering controls cannot limit your silica-dust exposure to a safe level.
      • Vacuum dust from your clothes before leaving the jobsite, and, if possible, shower and change into clean clothes before heading home.

    • Speak up. Share thoughts and suggestions about your company’s PPE policies and practices. You can do this by attending a safety committee meeting or talking with your supervisor or crew leader.


    • Forget commonly needed PPE when headed to a jobsiteKeep safety goggles/glasses and earplugs/earmuffs in a readily available location and/or make a routine of collecting them at the office.

    • Use PPE without checking it for damage. Examine PPE prior to each use. If tears, holes or other defects are present, ask your supervisor for replacement equipment. Pitted or scratched lenses in safety glasses, for example, can impair your vision.

    • Wear PPE that doesn’t fit properly. Let your supervisor know so you can get replacement gear.

    • Fail to clean and disinfect PPE after use. PPE should be cleaned and disinfected regularly, according to your company’s guidelines and/or manufacturers’ recommendations.

    • Improperly store PPE. Shoving a respiratory into a pocket or tossing PPE into a truck could result in damage. Store gear in clean containers instead.

    • Have a beard or mustache when you need to wear a respirator. Facial hair can interfere with the seal between a respirator and your face.

    Additional Resources:

    Federal OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment topics page -

    Federal OSHA’s General Industry PPE standards -

    Federal OSHA’s Construction PPE standards -

    Hierarchy of Controls -

    Payment for Personal Protective Equipment -

    Federal OSHA’s Crystalline Silica topics page -

    Federal OSHA’s Respiratory Protection topics page -

    Federal OSHA’s Eye and Face Protection topics page -

    Federal OSHA’s Occupational Noise Exposure topics page -