Risk at Work - Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Employers have duties concerning the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.
PPE is equipment 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, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
Why is PPE important?
Making the workplace safe includes providing instructions, procedures, training and supervision to encourage people to work safely and responsibly.
Even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, some hazards might remain. These include injuries to:
the lungs, eg from breathing in contaminated air
the head and feet, eg from falling materials
the eyes, eg from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids
the skin, eg from contact with corrosive materials
the body, eg from extremes of heat or cold
PPE is needed in these cases to reduce the risk.
What do I have to do?
Only use PPE as a last resort
If PPE is still needed after implementing other controls (and there will be circumstances when it is, eg head protection on most construction sites), you must provide this for your employees free of charge
You must choose the equipment carefully (see selection details below) and ensure employees are trained to use it properly, and know how to detect and report any faults
Selection and use
You should ask yourself the following questions:
Who is exposed and to what?
How long are they exposed for?
How much are they exposed to?
When selecting and using PPE:
Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 – suppliers can advise you
Choose equipment that suits the user – consider the size, fit and weight of the PPE. If the users help choose it, they will be more likely to use it
If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, eg wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks
Instruct and train people how to use it, eg train people to remove gloves without contaminating their skin. Tell them why it is needed, when to use it and what its limitations are
Other advice on PPE
Never allow exemptions from wearing PPE for those jobs that ‘only take a few minutes'
Check with your supplier on what PPE is appropriate – explain the job to them
If in doubt, seek further advice from a specialist adviser
PPE must be properly looked after and stored when not in use, eg in a dry, clean cupboard. If it is reusable it must be cleaned and kept in good condition.
using the right replacement parts which match the original, eg respirator filters
keeping replacement PPE available
who is responsible for maintenance and how it is to be done
having a supply of appropriate disposable suits which are useful for dirty jobs where laundry costs are high, eg for visitors who need protective clothing
Employees must make proper use of PPE and report its loss or destruction or any fault in it.
Monitor and review
Check regularly that PPE is used. If it isn’t, find out why not
Safety signs can be a useful reminder that PPE should be worn
Take note of any changes in equipment, materials and methods – you may need to update what you provide
Types of PPE you can use
Chemical or metal splash, dust, projectiles, gas and vapour, radiation
Safety spectacles, goggles, face screens, faceshields, visors
Make sure the eye protection chosen has the right combination of impact/dust/splash/molten metal eye protection for the task and fits the user properly
Head and neck
Impact from falling or flying objects, risk of head bumping, hair getting tangled in machinery, chemical drips or splash, climate or temperature
Industrial safety helmets, bump caps, hairnets and firefighters' helmets
Some safety helmets incorporate or can be fitted with specially-designed eye or hearing protection
Don't forget neck protection, eg scarves for use during welding
Replace head protection if it is damaged
Noise – a combination of sound level and duration of exposure, very high-level sounds are a hazard even with short duration
Earplugs, earmuffs, semi-insert/canal caps
Provide the right hearing protectors for the type of work, and make sure workers know how to fit them
Choose protectors that reduce noise to an acceptable level, while allowing for safety and communication
Hands and arms
Abrasion, temperature extremes, cuts and punctures, impact, chemicals, electric shock, radiation, biological agents and prolonged immersion in water
Gloves, gloves with a cuff, gauntlets and sleeving that covers part or all of the arm
Avoid gloves when operating machines such as bench drills where the gloves might get caught
Some materials are quickly penetrated by chemicals – take care in selection, see HSE’s skin at work website
Barrier creams are unreliable and are no substitute for proper PPE
Wearing gloves for long periods can make the skin hot and sweaty, leading to skin problems. Using separate cotton inner gloves can help prevent this
Feet and legs
Wet, hot and cold conditions, electrostatic build-up, slipping, cuts and punctures, falling objects, heavy loads, metal and chemical splash, vehicles
Safety boots and shoes with protective toecaps and penetration-resistant, mid-sole wellington boots and specific footwear, eg foundry boots and chainsaw boots
Footwear can have a variety of sole patterns and materials to help prevent slips in different conditions, including oil - or chemical-resistant soles. It can also be anti-static, electrically conductive or thermally insulating
Appropriate footwear should be selected for the risks identified
Oxygen-deficient atmospheres, dusts, gases and vapours
Options – respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
Some respirators rely on filtering contaminants from workplace air. These include simple filtering facepieces and respirators and power-assisted respirators
Make sure it fits properly, eg for tight-fitting respirators (filtering facepieces, half and full masks)
There are also types of breathing apparatus which give an independent supply of breathable air, eg fresh-air hose, compressed airline and self-contained breathing apparatus
The right type of respirator filter must be used as each is effective for only a limited range of substances
Filters have only a limited life. Where there is a shortage of oxygen or any danger of losing consciousness due to exposure to high levels of harmful fumes, only use breathing apparatus – never use a filtering cartridge
You will need to use breathing apparatus in a confined space or if there is a chance of an oxygen deficiency in the work area
If you are using respiratory protective equipment, look at HSE’s publication Respiratory protective equipment at work: A practical guide
Heat, chemical or metal splash, spray from pressure leaks or spray guns, contaminated dust, impact or penetration, excessive wear or entanglement of own clothing
Conventional or disposable overalls, boiler suits, aprons, chemical suits
The choice of materials includes flame-retardant, anti-static, chain mail, chemically impermeable, and high-visibility
Don't forget other protection, like safety harnesses or life jackets
Careful selection, maintenance and regular and realistic operator training is needed for equipment for use in emergencies, like compressed-air escape breathing apparatus, respirators and safety ropes or harnesses.