Personal Protective Equipment or PPE protects workers from injury at work. Around 9,000 PPE-related injuries are reported to the HSE annually. Inadequate PPE can even lead to fatalities. Unsurprisingly, fatalities are most common in the construction industry, other sectors with high incidences are agriculture, manufacturing and service industries.
Aside from the human cost, there is a huge financial cost. annually PPE-related accidents cost £252 million. Failure to make a provision for PPE costs business approximately £49 million and failure to implement the use of it costs £65 million. Much of this is avoidable.
What is PPE?
The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (amended) define PPE as all equipment, including clothing, that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, footwear and safety harnesses. PPE also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
Why is it Important?
Even with good and effective management of health and safety issues, it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of a workplace accident. Hazards can include electrical shocks, chemical splashes, excessive noise, cuts and burns and exposure to gases.
Should Employers Provide PPE?
Providing suitable equipment is the duty of the employer, the second and equally important step is to ensure it is being used and it is being used correctly.
Employers should ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to those employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work. Although it must be provided, it is no substitute for putting in safe systems of work and controls and should be seen as a last resort.
As an employer, you have a duty to check regularly that PPE is being used as instructed. Relevant safety signs are a useful reminder for when and how PPE should be worn. You should also note any changes in working methods and respond accordingly.
PPE and Safe Systems of Work
All users should be trained on how to use the equipment, explaining when it should be used and why. It is the responsibility of management to ensure all staff understand the importance of wearing PPE, particularly for the jobs that will “only take a couple of minutes.”
Planning how reusable PPE should be stored correctly, laundered and maintained when not in use is also of paramount importance. Users should know they must report any fault or loss immediately.
How Often Does PPE Need Replacing?
It is also important to ensure you have replacement PPE available if needed together with a stock of relevant disposable PPE for any visitors to your workplace who may need protective clothing. It is the duty of the manager to provide PPE. The first step is deciding what equipment is appropriate for your organisation.
Consider who is exposed to hazards and what they are exposed to, how long, and how much. This should be detailed in your PPE policy which should form the basis of your decision-making along with your risk assessments and any data you have about previous accidents and injuries.
Suppliers can give advice about the suitability of the PPE available.
What Should You Look For When Choosing PPE Products?
Ensure products are CE marked in accordance with the PPE Regulations 2002. Make sure you choose equipment to suit the user – size, weight and fit of the equipment should all be considered. If the user will be wearing more than one item of protective equipment at the same time, make sure they are suitable to use together. Always check the PPE you select is the appropriate one for the hazard.
Different Types of PPE
Below are some examples of PPE and its use. the categories are based on the type of protection afforded by the equipment:
Head and Neck
- Possible hazards – Falling objects, bumping into objects, hair caught in machinery, chemical splashes, welding burns, temperature.
- Solutions – Safety helmets, hairnets, scarves to protect the neck.
- Possible hazards – Splashes from chemicals, dust, projectiles, metal shards, gas/vapour, radiation
- Solutions – Safety goggles, face shields and visors
- Possible hazards – Noise: duration and/or decibels.
- Solutions – Earmuffs, ear plugs, semi-insert/canal caps. Choose protectors that reduce noise to an acceptable level, while also allowing for communication.
Hands and Arms
- Possible hazards – Cuts and punctures, impact injuries, chemicals, electric shock, radiation, vibration, biological agents, prolonged immersion in water or exposure to temperature extremes.
- Solutions – Gloves, gauntlets and sleeving that covers part or all of the arm.
Feet and Legs
- Possible hazards – Falling objects, impact injuries. slipping, cuts and punctures, metal and chemical splashes, temperature extremes, prolonged immersion in water, vehicles.
- Solutions – Safety boots and shoes with protective toecaps. Penetration-resistant wellington boots. Specialist footwear, eg foundry boots and chainsaw boots, footwear with anti-slip soles.
- Possible hazards – Entanglement of clothing, chemical or metal splashes, heat, spray from pressure hoses/guns, dust, impact injury, cuts and punctures, heat, chemical or metal splash, spray from pressure leaks or spray guns, contaminated dust, impact or penetration, excessive wear.
- Solutions – Conventional or disposable overalls, boiler suits, aprons, chemical suits
The provision of PPE will help ensure that your workplace is a safe environment for everyone and will also encourage people to work safely and responsibly. Good management and procedures should always be the basis of your health and safety policy, but protective equipment is your last line of defence. If the risk can be controlled any other way then there is no need for PPE.