Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been in the news an unusual amount in the past year as workers and the general public have sought to protect themselves from COVID-19. Its use was already a necessity for safety in many working environments, however.
Different types of PPE protect users from hazards such as chemicals, extreme temperatures, falling materials and loud noise. From manufacturing to trades and a range of other potentially dangerous professions, companies have a legal duty towards their staff to provide the correct PPE for the job.
What types of PPE are there?
PPE comes in many shapes and sizes depending on the hazards at hand. Areas workers will want to protect can include:
- Eyes, with goggles and visors
- Head and neck, with helmets and hairnets
- Ears, with earplugs and earmuffs
- Hands and arms, with gloves and gauntlets
- Feet and legs, with safety boots or other specific footwear, plus knee pads for comfort when kneeling
- Lungs, with respirators and other breathing apparatus
Workers may also need boiler or chemical suits, aprons, or even disposable overalls to protect the whole body in some tough environments. High-visibility clothing can also be important in large settings such as construction sites that have lots of moving parts.
Choosing the correct PPE will usually depend on a thorough health and safety assessment that identifies all potential hazards, that assesses who is exposed to them, for how long for, and to what extent. Other key factors when selecting PPE include:
- Whether they’re CE marked in line with British safety standards
- What size and fit users need
- If different types are suitable to wear together, such as safety glasses and respirators
If in doubt, specialist suppliers should be able to advise on the appropriate equipment for the task at hand.
Once the correct equipment is identified, companies have a duty to provide policies and instructions for workers on how and when to use PPE. Understanding when it’s needed and what its limitations are will help ensure correct use. Safety signs can then act as clear reminders.
All PPE needs to be properly looked after and stored to keep it in good condition. Some elements may need replacing after so many uses, for example, so it helps to keep a record of stock.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that PPE should only act as a last resort, once other controls such as machine guarding are put in place.