Personal Protective Equipment at Work: Health & Safety Guide

April 18, 2017
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What is Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment is any equipment or clothing used or worn to protect a worker against health and safety risks. Hazards include physical, environmental, chemical, and bio-hazard risks.

An employee wearing work boots


What Does PPE Protect You From?

PPE can protect the lungs, eyes, head, feet, skin, or body – depending on what you wear. It protects you from work-related dangers, including:

  • Contaminated air.
  • Skin infections.
  • Cuts and punctures.
  • Impacts.
  • Chemical burns.
  • Electric shocks.
  • Extreme temperatures.
  • Projectiles that could harm eyes.
  • Entanglement in machinery.

Where occupational hazards like these exist, the employer must perform a risk assessment and determine how to reduce or eliminate risks. They will first try means such as control measures and safe working systems to eliminate or reduce the risk.

However, if these do not reduce the risk sufficiently, personal protective equipment will be issued as a last resort to protect workers from dangerous work activities. In some situations it will always be necessary to wear PPE, e.g. hard hats and hi-vis on construction sites.

A hairdresser bleaching hair wearing gloves to protect against bleach


Who Is Responsible for PPE?

Employers should provide suitable PPE for work. Under section 9 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, employees do not have to pay for necessary PPE – employers must cover the cost. They must also train employees in how to use it. Equipment should be readily available or there should be clear instructions on where to find PPE.

Employees must maintain their PPE and report faults to their supervisor or manager immediately. Even a small crack or tear can be enough to compromise you safety.


PPE Selection

You should choose PPE with careful consideration.

  1. Pick PPE that is appropriate for the specific hazard(s) to which users are exposed.  For example, if an employee works in wet conditions, safety boots must be waterproof.
  2. If you need multiple articles of PPE, make sure they are compatible. For example, if workers need hard hats and need noise reduction equipment you need to make sure they can be used together.
  3. Make sure the PPE is suitable for its user. PPE must fit workers correctly, so be sure to choose suitably-sized high visibility jackets for smaller and bigger individuals.

There will be various other factors worth considering – depending on your workplace, of course. If in doubt, ask your supplier for advice on the different types of PPE available.

Group of surgeons at work in operating theatre wearing the appropriate PPE


Maintaining PPE

Damaged PPE is ineffective, and it can place workers in great danger. Therefore, it is essential to maintain.

What to consider when maintaining PPE:

  • Store equipment in a dry, clean cupboard or storage box/case.
  • Keep equipment clean and in good repair.
  • Pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.
  • Pay attention to the recommended replacement periods and shelf lives.

Most importantly, check your PPE every time you are about to put it on and when you put it away.

Report any obvious faults immediately and remove the faulty PPE from access. Be responsible and check for damage to protect yourself and others!


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