Often referred to as the last line of defence, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has an important role to play in protecting employees from workplace injury and ill health. Yet every year we hear about accidents in the workplace that could have been prevented or mitigated by the wearing of effective PPE. This month’s article outlines the legal responsibilities employers and employees have and offers practical advice on when PPE should be used.

What is PPE?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to all the protective clothing and equipment workers use. The use of PPE as an additional risk control measure provides added protection to the worker from a wide variety of occupational hazards including, but not limited to, the prevention of injury from:

  • impacts, ejections and emissions from machinery and processes
  • electrical hazards
  • extreme temperatures
  • chemicals and airborne contaminants

The Legal Bit

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 require employers in all industries and service occupations to supply PPE for use at work where there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways. The regulations also require that PPE:

  • is properly assessed before use to ensure it is suitable
  • is provided with instructions on how to use it safely
  • is maintained and stored properly
  • is used correctly

Deciding What PPE to Provide

The decision on whether to use PPE as a control measure will be provided by the recommendations of your risk assessments of your workplace and activities. The type of PPE chosen should provide the level of protection required and be comfortable, durable and compatible with any other items of PPE to be worn.

Remember, PPE is an individual not collective risk control measure hence it will only protect the wearer providing it is suitable, properly maintained and worn correctly. Of course, if PPE fails it will offer no protection at all.

Having completed your assessment it will need to be recorded, monitored and reviewed to ensure compliance.

Types of PPE

There are many different types of PPE available that can be used to provide control against workplace hazards including (not an exhaustive list):

  • Protective helmets and bump caps used for head protection against impact blows. These must be able to withstand penetration and absorb the shock of a blow from falling or flying objects or when striking against fixed items and from high-voltage shock and burn.
  • Eye protection comes in various forms including prescription safety spectacles, safety glasses, goggles, face shields and protect against flying particles, chemical or metal splashes, dust, potentially injurious light radiation or a combination of these. In some instances visors should be worn to protect the face.
  • Protective clothing includes high visibility clothing, thermal workwear etc. High visibility clothing is designed to make you conspicuous when working in areas where moving vehicles and machinery operate. Thermal clothing will protect the wearer from temperature extremes.
  • Gloves protect against burns, cuts, electrical shock, abrasion, temperature, impact, disease or contamination and chemicals. A wide variety of gloves are available including those offering wrist and arm protection.
  • Safety footwear for protection of feet and legs from falling objects, electrostatic build-up, sharp objects, metal and chemical splashes, hot surfaces and wet slippery surfaces. Workers should use appropriate safety footwear with protective toe caps, overalls and leggings.

Information, Instruction and Training
Before commencing work which requires the use of PPE, employers must provide information, instruction and training to those people affected. This will include:

  • an understanding of when PPE is to be worn and associated risks
  • the type of PPE to be worn
  • what its limitations are, including compatibility
  • an understanding of how to properly care for, maintenance requirements and disposal of PPE
  • displaying prominent signage informing employees of PPE requirements

In many cases, more than one type of personal protective equipment will provide adequate protection. In those instances people should be given a choice as to the type of PPE they would like to wear.

Organisations will have to be able to demonstrate that information, instruction and training has been provided and employees understand it.

Maintenance and Storage
Certain types of PPE must be maintained and stored correctly. For example, the maintenance of masks will ensure they remain effective whilst being used and they should be stored correctly away from areas where they may become contaminated.

Monitoring
Supervisors must monitor and observe employees conducting their daily workplace tasks ensuring PPE is being worn and used correctly. Random checks will reveal whether compliance is achieved.

Summary
Personal protective equipment is widely used in the workplace and although it is regarded as the last line of defence in the risk control hierarchy it can be effective if used properly.

For further information on this subject and whether PPE has a role to play in your workplace please contact Ellis Whittam.

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