What does PPE stand for?

  • PPE stands for personal protective equipment. PPE means any device or appliance designed to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazard.

When must PPE be used?

  • The fundamental principle is that personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used as a last resort.
  • The safety and health of employees must be first safeguarded by measures to eliminate workplace risks at source, through technical or organisational means (e.g by substituting hazardous chemical) or by providing protection on a collective basis (e.g providing scaffolding instead of harnesses).
  • Collective protective measures covering numbers of employees in a workplace must have priority over protective measures applying to individual employees.
  • If these measures are not sufficient, only then should PPE be used to protect against the hazards that are unavoidable

Why should PPE only be used as a last resort?

  • PPE only protects the wearer.
  • It is ineffective if not working or fitted properly
  • Theoretical levels of protection are seldom reached in practice.
  • The use of PPE always restricts the wearer to some degree.
  • The psychological effect of PPE may be such that the individual wearing the PPE feels more protected than he or she actually is.

Do I need training in use of PPE?

  • Where PPE is provided employees must be informed of the risks against which they are being protected by the PPE.
  • Employees must also be provided with suitable information, instruction and training (including training in the use, care or maintenance of PPE) to enable them to make proper and effective use of any PPE provided for their protection.
  • PPE users must be trained as regards the wearing, proper use and any limitations of PPE.
  • Managers and supervisors should also be aware of the reasons for providing PPE, its proper use and, in particular, the level of protection afforded.
  • Training, both theoretical and practical, should also cover persons involved in the selection, maintenance, repair and testing of PPE.
  • The level of training provided will vary with the level of risk involved and the complexity and performance of the equipment. For instance, the use of respirator equipment will require a comprehensive degree of training with regular refresher courses, whereas the training for using protective gloves for dealing with hazardous substances may require demonstration only. The frequency of the refresher courses required in the case of PPE for high-risk situations will depend on the nature of the equipment, how frequently it is used and the needs of the employees using it.

What should I do before I buy PPE?

  • The employer has to make an assessment of the hazards in the workplace in order to identify the correct type of PPE to be provided and to ensure that PPE is appropriate to the risk. Care must be taken in selecting PPE as certain types give reasonably high levels of protection while others that may appear almost the same, give relatively low levels of protection. The level of risk must be assessed so that the performance required of the PPE can be determined.
  • Selection of PPE must take account of the proper wearing and fitting of the equipment – an employer should take into account that one type of PPE may not fit all.
  • In sourcing PPE, the employer must therefore, select appropriate PPE which is user-friendly and which fits the individual employee correctly, after adjustment if necessary.
  • Special care should be taken where persons suffer from certain medical conditions, e.g. certain types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may not be suitable for employees with asthma, bronchitis or heart disease. Where situations such as these occur, the employer should seek medical advice as to whether the employee can tolerate the use of PPE. Employers should make provision for medical conditions where they are aware of such conditions.
  • Ensure any PPE you buy is ‘CE’ marked and complies with the requirements of the European Communities (Personal Protective Equipment) Regulations 1993 which require PPE to have the appropriate CE mark. The CE marking signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic health and safety requirements.

How should PPE be stored?

  • PPE must be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This is extremely important as leaving PPE lying around increases the risk of parts deteriorating by exposure to dirt, oil, UV rays, sunlight etc

What do I do with asbestos PPE after it has been used?

  • Every employer shall ensure that protective clothing provided is either disposed of as asbestos waste or adequately cleaned. The cleaning shall be carried out either on the premises where the exposure has occurred, where those premises are suitably equipped for such cleaning, or in a suitably equipped laundry.
  • Every employer shall ensure that protective clothing which has been used and is to be removed from the premises (whether for cleaning or disposal) is securely packed, before removal, in a suitable container and adequately labelled as a product containing asbestos whether it is intended for cleaning or for disposal as asbestos waste .  Where, as a result of the failure or improper use of the protective clothing provided, asbestos is deposited on the personal clothing of an employee, that personal clothing shall be treated as if it were protective clothing

I find PPE to be too uncomfortable. Can I refuse to wear it?

  • If you find a given piece of PPE to be uncomfortable, you should ask your employer for an alternative or suggest a different model.
  • Outright refusal to wear PPE on the grounds of comfort is unlikely a valid reason in the eyes of your employer. On the other hand, your employer may see refusal due to health or religious issues as legitimate.
  • For example, if a particular pair of work boots triggers a skin condition such as psoriasis, your employer should work with you to find another method of foot protection – even if it simply involves providing a different kind of footwear.
  • Regardless, you should discuss issues regarding inability to use PPE with your supervisor.