Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital for the protection of workers in a range of scenarios. It is legally defined as ‘all equipment which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects the user against one or more risks to their health or safety’. Whilst you might not think it, this also includes clothing that protects against certain weather conditions.
Employers must provide PPE free of charge to their employees and they must ensure all PPE complies with the relevant legislation. Protection is not just about giving an employee the best equipment on the market, but it is also about matching this with the working environment and the user’s physical needs.
As there are so many jobs and industries which come with different levels of risk, there are also different types of PPE for different purposes and tasks. In this article, we have outlined the different types of PPE that workers may be required to wear.
The different types of PPE available
The different types of personal protective equipment fall into different categories in terms of what part of the body they protect and what function they provide. We’ve outlined these below in a bit more detail.
Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) includes items such as breathing apparatus for confined spaces or protection from fire smoke, disposable face masks and other items such as protective hoods and close-fitting full-face respirators.
When fitting close-fitting respirators, a face fit test is required to ensure the wearer is fully protected.
PPE for the eyes is intended to provide protection from a whole range of risks, from cuts to splashes.
There are standards which should be met for this type of equipment, including BS 7028 (Guide to Selection of Eye Protection for Industrial and Other Uses) and BS EN 166 (Specification for Eye Protectors).
As dirty or scratched eye protection can cause poor vision and lead to accidents, it is vital for all eye protection to be regularly cleaned as well as checked for any damage to the lenses.
Employers are also required to accommodate for those who wear corrective lenses and must find a solution that is in line with protection requirements whilst meeting the prescription requirements of the user.
Head protection is extremely important, particularly if the wearer is in an area such as a building site or factory. Other protection such as hairnets and caps also need to be used in areas where hygiene is important.
There are five key purposes of head protection:
- To protect the head in the event of a fall
- To protect the wearer against impact with objects, be these falling or static
- To offer thermal insulation
- To protect against laceration and entanglement to the head
- To protect against scalping/entanglement particularly on machinery
All forms of head and scalp protection must be suitable, correctly fitted and have an easily adjustable headband, nape and chin strap where appropriate. Examples include:
- Industrial safety helmets
- Bump caps
- Firefighters’ helmets
The relevant standards are BS EN 397 and BS EN 14052.
Assessments carried out under the ‘Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’ will determine whether personal ear protectors are required in the workplace or not. When selecting hearing protection, a detailed noise assessment should be carried out to determine the attenuation required at High, Medium and Low frequencies and match this against suitable products. The relevant standard for the ear protectors is BS EN 352 Part 1.
In providing hearing protection, employers should select protectors which are suitable for the working environment and should consider how comfortable and hygienic they are. Hearing protection will need to be compatible with any other PPE worn by employees, such as hard hats, eye protection, etc.
It is wise for employers to provide a range of hearing protection to allow employees to choose ones which suit them, so long as all of the protection provided is to a suitable standard for the environment.
- Earmuffs/ear defenders
- Semi-insert/canal caps
Where earplugs are used, training will be needed to ensure that they are used correctly and where ear defenders are being used it should be ensured that users do not use music headphones or buds simultaneously. For high noise environments, it may be appropriate for both plugs and defenders to be used.
Hand and arm protection
Hands are frequently exposed to a wide range of hazards and risks, including cuts, heat, cold, chemicals, burns, infection, irritation, and many more.
Before selecting hand and arm protection, the hierarchy of control measures must be followed. Gloves and gauntlets provide the main form of hand protection against a range of industrial hazards, but other forms of protection such as mitts, wrist cuffs or armlets may also be used where appropriate.
In the case of manual handling where there may be a risk of piercing by objects, gloves of suitable material should be provided where these hazards cannot otherwise be removed, isolated, or reduced to an acceptable level.
It should be noted that regardless of the material, gloves should not normally be worn where there is a risk of them being caught in machinery. Where chemical exposure is a hazard, and the risk extends to contact with the arms, gauntlets should be specified rather than gloves.
The relevant standards for gloves and armguards are:
- BS EN 14328 for gloves and armguards protecting against cuts by powered knives
- BS EN 407 for gloves intended to protect against thermal risk such as heat and/or fire
- BS EN 374 Part 1 for gloves used for protection against chemicals and microorganisms
- BS EN 511 for gloves used for protection against the cold
- BS EN 388 for gloves against mechanical hazards
Foot and leg protection
A wide range of safety footwear is available providing protection against many hazards to the feet or legs. Hazards to the feet and legs includes crushing, slipping, piercing, temperatures, electricity, chemicals, cutting, and chopping.
- Safety boots and shoes with protective toecaps and penetration-resistant
- Mid-sole wellington boots
- Specific footwear such as foundry boots and chainsaw boots
The relevant standards are:
- BS EN ISO 20345 for safety footwear
- BS EN ISO 17249:2004 for chainsaw footwear
In some cases, clothing may be required for extended periods of work outdoors to protect against the weather, and to ensure high visibility in situations where there may be vehicles and pedestrians present. Whilst this may not seem like “protection” as such, it is in fact keeping employees safe by preventing illness from working in various weather conditions and from being hit by a vehicle.
PPE for the body also includes clothing that protects workers who are exposed to extremes of temperature, chemical/metal splash, spray from pressure leaks/spray guns, impact or penetration and contaminated dust amongst other things.
There are some considerations for choosing PPE for the body:
- Does it provide suitable thermal comfort?
- Does it protect the worker in their work (E.g. is it buoyant? Is it visible in hazardous situations?)
- Is it easy to clean/what level of hygiene control is required?
- Is It comfortable for the wearer and allows free movement?
For example items such as lifejackets, overalls, boiler suits, aprons and chemical suits should be used where appropriate. Body protection can be made from a choice of materials including flame-retardant, anti-static, chain mail, chemically impermeable, and high-vis.
Height and access protection
Height and access protection covers a broad range of PPE from harnesses to lanywards. Some examples are: body harnesses, fall-arrest systems, lifting and lowering harnesses (for rescue), energy absorbers and lanyards.
These forms of PPE are often specialised and require thorough training and regular inspection to ensure compliance.
Keeping workers safe with PPE
Employers are required to provide PPE if there are no other way to reduce associated risks identified after a risk assessment has been carried out. An assessment should also be carried out to determine the most appropriate personal protective equipment for use in the workplace, and for individual employees.
Not all employees will want to wear PPE, which can be an issue in itself. We’ve outlined some ways that you can encourage the wearing of PPE in your workplace and what to do if employees refuse to wear it.