Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) a Simple Guide

image showing several pieces of personal protective equipment (ppe)

Employers have a legal duty to keep their workers safe by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in a wide range of industries and workplaces. Whether you run a restaurant, a construction site or a nail bar, you must ensure that your employees have the equipment and clothing necessary to do their jobs in a way that does not endanger their health and safety.

In this guide to PPE, we’ll share all the information you need to maintain compliance with health and safety legislation.

What is PPE?

PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, includes items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, respiratory protective equipment (RPE), hearing protection, high-visibility clothing, hazmat suits and face masks.

PPE serves to protect the eyes, head and neck, ears, hands and arms, feet and legs, lungs and the whole body from harm in hazardous environments. Potential hazards that necessitate the use of PPE include chemicals, dust, excessive noise, poor lighting conditions, wet weather, falling objects and any workplace environment that increases the risk of injury or illness.

Who Needs PPE?

PPE should be used as a last resort. If it is possible to reduce or eliminate risks to health and wellbeing via other measures, these should be put in place. However, in many workplace settings, a risk will remain even when safety procedures are implemented. In which case, any employees who are expected to work in a hazardous environment must be provided with PPE.

This could mean that only employees performing certain tasks or working in specific areas will need to use PPE or it might mean that your whole team needs to wear protective clothing all of the time.

PPE is used across a diverse range of industries and job roles, from the most obviously hazardous settings such as construction sites and chemical plants to seemingly “harmless” workplaces such as nail bars and event venues. Employers have a legal duty to assess the risk in all areas of the business to identify hazards and determine if PPE is necessary to keep people on-site safe.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public are legally required to wear a face covering — which is technically, not classified as PPE — in certain settings, such as on public transport and in shops. Some employees in customer-facing roles, like hairdressing, are also required to use a face-visor.

Do Employers Have to Provide this Type of Equipment?

Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, employers are legally required to “ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees” if they are exposed to hazards that cannot be controlled by other means. They must also provide relevant training so that workers understand how and when to use the PPE provided.

PPE should be fit for purpose and carefully maintained. If it becomes worn or damaged, it is no longer fit for purpose and must be replaced. Correct storage of PPE can help extend its lifespan. There should be a ready supply of replacements to ensure that workers are never left without adequate protective equipment to wear. Assigning one or more employees to take on the responsibility for monitoring and maintaining PPE will reduce the risk of people wearing items that are no longer fit for purpose.

How to Choose the Right Level of Protective Equipment for Your Workers?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends considering the following questions when selecting PPE for employees:

  • Who is exposed and to what?
  • How long are they exposed for?
  • How much are they exposed to?

Furthermore, PPE currently must be CE marked, the correct size for the wearer and if multiple items must be worn simultaneously they should be complementary and not diminish the level of protection afforded to the wearer.

What are the Different Types of PPE Available?

There is a wide range of PPE available to cover different areas of the body. Items should be selected to protect against the particular hazard that the wearer will be exposed to in the workplace.

  • Eyes – Safety spectacles, goggles, visors and face shields.
  • Head and neck – Hairnets, firefighters’ helmets and industrial safety helmets.
  • Ears – Ear muffs, ear defenders, earplugs, semi-insert/canal caps
  • Hands and arms – Gauntlets, gloves and cuffed gloves.
  • Feet and legs – Safety boots and shoes, wellington boots and task-specific footwear such as chainsaw boots.
  • Lungs – respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
  • Whole-body – Overalls, boiler suits, chemical suits and aprons.

Understanding your obligations under the law and choosing the right PPE for your workplace and its people can be a daunting task. Howlett Health and Safety has over 30 years’ experience helping employers achieve and maintain compliance with health and safety legislation.

Book a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your needs today. Our expert consultant can help you risk assess your workplace, plan appropriate safety measures and select the most suitable PPE where necessary.

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