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A major contributory factor to accidents in the workplace is the misuse, incorrect selection or lack of maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Lack of information, instruction and training is often the root cause of a lot of these incidents.

Protection offered by PPE is rarely complete. Think of it as the last line of defence to control a risk after all other control measures have been implemented, or where a foreseeable failure of such measures could expose workers to danger.

It’s made clear in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations that employers are responsible for providing suitable PPE and associated training and employees are duty-bound to use PPE when required.

  • Complete and maintain records of risk assessments identifying workplace hazards and type of PPE you might need. Your assessment should answer these questions for each hazard:

    - What is it?

    - Who is exposed to it?

    - How much of it are they exposed to?

    - How long are they exposed to it for?

  • Make sure that the most appropriate engineering, technical and organisational risk control measures are in place; then identify existing residual or potential risks for which PPE is needed.
  • Talk to employees and safety representatives about PPE and what is needed, including training.
  • Select suitable PPE, taking into consideration:

    - the type of protection required;

    - the level of protection required;

    - compatibility with other PPE;

    - individual issues (e.g. beards, spectacles);

    - wearer acceptability and comfort (including suitability for those with health conditions);

    - fit (so that it can be worn correctly and be as effective as possible); and

    - information, instruction and training requirements (in use, care, cleaning, limitations, inspection, maintenance arrangements, fault or defect reporting, etc).
  • Discuss specifications and general procurement needs with a specialist. It may be necessary to contact manufacturers to assist with particular risks or circumstances.

    - There are a number of EN Standards for safety equipment. The detailed text of these standards is available from the British Standards Institution (BSI).
  • Provide suitable storage arrangements for PPE.
  • Set up and maintain a system to record the issue, training, maintenance and servicing of PPE, including an opportunity to report its condition and faults or defects.
  • Give supervisors and managers information, instruction and training so they can monitor and supervise effective use of PPE.
  • Do reviews at suitable intervals or when circumstances change or new information or equipment becomes available.

These are the main types of PPE and some of their features (i.e. body area to be protected from the possible function or hazard, the PPE item used for protection, as well as notes on usage).

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. 

Head and neck

  • Helmets/bump caps - Whether a helmet or bump cap, and what type, is required will depend on the activity it will be worn for. It will need to provide optimum protection (by acting as a shock absorber), without inhibiting the senses or movement of the wearer. You can buy some helmets that incorporate specially designed eye, hearing, face and neck protection.
  • Hairnets - Prevents hair being caught in machinery, resulting in scalp injuries. Also to be used where hair might be a contaminant, like food preparation.
  • Hoods/snoods - Designed to protect the user’s head, neck and shoulders against either the cold or excessive heat and flame.

Eye and/or face

  • Safety spectacles/ goggles - Where there may be a danger to eyes from extreme temperatures, light levels or dust and fragments in the air. Tinted eyewear may be needed to prevent slips and trips where there is glare.
  • Face screens/ shields/ visors - To protect against sparks, heat and light.

Hands and/or arms*

  • Mittens/ gloves/ gauntlets - Numerous types are available but many can be penetrated by chemicals. Some materials, like rubber and latex, may produce allergic reaction so you should consider alternatives. Disposable or cotton inner gloves can help reduce effects of sweating. Gloves may be inappropriate where they can be caught in machinery.
  • Sleeves - To prevent skin exposure to hazardous substances and UV rays.  

Torso and limbs*

  • Clothing (trousers, jackets, etc.) - Workers may need to consider the ‘everyday’ clothing they wear on the job, so it doesn’t create risks.
  • Overalls/ coveralls/ aprons/ boiler suits/ chemical suits - Covers or protects the worker’s clothing. May be designed to be disposed after a single use. They may be created using special fabrics that makes them flame-retardant, heat-resistant, anti-static/static-resistant, thermal, insulating, conductive, chemically impermeable, waterproof/water-repellent or breathable.
  • Body armour (including plate link and chain mail) - For protection against blunt force, shrapnel and sharps.
  • High visibility (HV) - Typically day-glo or fluorescent yellow coloured with reflective strips where visibility is necessary in poor lighting conditions or during darkness.

Feet/ankles/calves

  • Suitable shoes - Comfort is essential and a ‘sensible shoe policy’ is recommended, avoiding inappropriate footwear for the particular workplace, e.g. high-heeled shoes or open sandals.
  • Safety boots/ shoes - Generally, these have protective toe caps and a penetration-resistant mid-sole. The design, resistance factors and specification of the sole and the style of safety footwear are driven by the nature of the work and the hazards involved, the floor surfaces and contamination types (e.g. spillages). Further investigation and measurement of grip, roughness and slipperiness in different conditions may be required to support the correct selection of footwear, floor surface and cleaning methods.
  • Wellington boots/ waders - For work in standing water or where the ground is saturated and therefore wet, unstable and slippery.
  • Thermally lined boots - For cold work.

Hearing

  • Earplugs/ earmuffs - Good fit is essential so that a seal is formed into or over the ear canal. Failure to use them properly and consistently reduces the protection provided and significantly increases exposure

Breathing** (due to a lack of oxygen or presence of hazardous gases in the air; See below for drowning)

  • Respiratory protection equipment (RPE) - Okay for short-term or infrequent use, but careful selection of RPE and filters, and formal examination and checks with a strict maintenance regime are essential.
  • Breathing apparatus - Provides an independent air supply, via a fresh air hose, compressed airline or self-contained breathing apparatus, for work in confined spaces and where there is a risk of oxygen deficiency. Comprehensive training is essential.

Falls

  • Harness/ restraints - Designed to prevent a fall from occurring.
  • Fall arrest systems - Designed to stop a fall that has already occurred. 

Drowning

  • Buoyancy aids/ life jackets/ immersion suits - For use when on and around bodies of water.

Extra notes:

*Barrier creams are unreliable and are not classed as PPE and shouldn’t be used as a substitute. Despite this, it is beneficial to apply skin-conditioning cream after working with water or solvents.

**Disposable nuisance dust masks are unsuitable for hazardous dusts and fumes. They are not CE marked to the requirements of the EC PPE Directive and therefore aren’t’ classed as PPE.

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