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Personal Protective Equipment

What is Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment, otherwise known as PPE refers to clothing and equipment used to protect a person from one or more risks. PPE will vary depending on an individuals role however it can include the likes of safety footwear, hard hats, high visibility clothing, eye protection, life jackets, safety harnesses and respirators.

PPE also covers weatherproof clothing it is necessary for the protection of employees. This can include waterproof clothing and insulated clothing.

Why is PPE important?

PPE is important for protecting employees from hazards that could affect their health and safety. When operating in a working environment procedures are put in place to make it safe. This requires there to be certain procedures and instructions in place, as well as training for staff members and supervision to encourage people to work safely and sensibly.

Despite all of these precautions, there are still some hazards that may remain. These can include…

  • Injury to the lungs through the inhalation of contaminated air
  • Injury to the head and the feet from falling materials
  • Injury to the eyes from flying particles or splashed liquids
  • Injury to the skin from corrosive materials
  • Injury to the body from extreme temperatures

It is because of hazards such as these that PPE is needed in the workplace. Having protective wear in place will ensure that these risks are reduced significantly.

What are the legalities behind PPE?

It is stated in The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 that when risks cannot be controlled by other means, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is correctly selected and used.  Source.

It is also a legal requirement for employers to provide the correct PPE equipment needed by employees. A worker should never be expected to pay for their own PPE.

When should you use PPE?

PPE should be used as a last resort for protecting somebody’s health and safety. This is because PPE only protects the wearer and not those around you. Methods for protecting everyone should always be considered first before resorting to PPE.

For example, Safety goggles will safeguard the wearer from splashes of corrosive liquids in containers. A passer-by without goggles, however, will not be protected. In an instance like this fixed screens should be provided instead of individual glasses to ensure everyone is protected.

There are some other reasons why PPE should be used as a last resort. One reason is that for PPE to be effective it has to fit correctly and be maintained.

Women workers

A recent UK study identified that one-third of women workers do not have properly fitting PPE. As a result, their work is hindered sometimes or significantly. They reported issues on clothing not fitting properly and being improper for the task at hand. Pregnant women have even been forced to adjust their role due to inappropriate clothing and equipment.

Women are sometimes given no option to wear men's PPE rather than having their own tailored to their gender. This worryingly means that these women are not adequately protected from hazards in their working environments.

Another reason is that PPE even when fitted correctly can restrict the wearer’s mobility or visibility. It can also add additional weight to a person making it harder to move around. All of these issues can potentially create other hazards for the worker.

Choosing the correct PPE

PPE has to be identified through a risk assessment. This means that it should only be issued if needed after all other safety precautions fail to protect against a hazard.

A risk assessment through Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) for example, could indicate that gloves are needed when handling certain substances.

A competent risk assessment assessor must carry out these checks to ensure that they are done properly. They will then be able to inform you which equipment you need specifying the grade and type required.

Types of PPE

Various forms of PPE are available. These include…


Respirators are used to protect the wearer from breathing in any contaminants from the air. This is essential for making sure that the respiratory tract isn’t damaged by pollutions in the air. There are two type of respiratory devices available. One of them filters out chemicals, gases and airborne particles while the other provides the wearer with clean, respirable air from another source.

Skin protection:

Occupational skin diseases are the second most common type of occupational disease. These can be contracted through chemical agents where materials make direct contact with the skin, physical agents including extreme temperatures and radiation, mechanical trauma caused by friction, pressure, abrasions, etc. and biological agents such as parasites, microorganisms, plants and animals coming into contact with the skin.

Anything that acts as a barrier against these things is considered to be PPE skin protection. These can include gloves, lab coats and face shields.

Eye protection:

A large number of eye accidents occur within the workplace and require medical attention. Various materials can cause damage to the eye including metal and wood particles, chemicals, glass particles, UV lights and much more.

There are two different forms of eye protection available and the type used will depend on the wearer’s occupation. These also come in various materials and designs to meet the needs of the worker. Eye protection comes in the form of eye goggles and face shields.

Hearing protection:

Industrial noise can be extremely damaging to a person’s hearing. It is unfortunately often overlooked however it can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus when exposed to it on a daily basis. Earplugs and earmuffs are used as hearing protection.

Foot Protection:

Various types of safety footwear for protecting the feet from damage and weather/terrain conditions are available. Safety boots and shoes with steel toe caps protect the toes from heavy loads being dropped onto them. Steel however can also be incorporated into the mid-soles if needs be. Other safety features on shoes include slip resistant soles and insulation against hot or cold environments.

Other safety footwear available is wellington boots, which can be provided with steel toe caps and anti-static or conductive footwear to protect against a build-up of static electricity.

Hand and arm Protection:

Hand and arm protection comes in different forms. These include gloves of different materials, wrist cuffs, armlets and gauntlets. Where gloves are not practical barrier cream may be used instead.

Protective clothing and ensembles:

This refers to the various suits and uniforms that are worn by workers to keep them safe from harm. Examples of these are lab coats worn by scientists and protective vests worn by law enforcement officials.

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