Personal protective equipment is an essential aspect of protecting employees from injury. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, covers a wide range of different items of equipment; hand hats, specialised breathing apparatus, safety boots, and chemical suits are some of those items that can be classed as PPE. So, how do you decide what is required for any given job?
Well, let’s start with risk assessment. Current legislation requires that a formal risk assessment is carried out when jobs with significant risk are undertaken. Difficult to define, significant risk means something that has the potential to cause serious harm to a person while at work and, should that harm occur, the resulting injury that is likely. Of course, it is important to take a practical view of PPE, and not to provide too much equipment for the risk that actually exists.
Let’s take a practical example. Think about paint and decorators at work. It is unlikely that they would be using toxic paints, so they would not require elaborate PPE. Perhaps they might need a soft cap to prevent paint spots getting onto their hair. However, a painter working inside an industrial tank, using a very strong lead-based material in a confined space, may well need a lot more personal protection. In this case, he might use a face mask to prevent breathing fumes, and he may well need gloves to prevent the strong paint damaging his skin. This is exactly why we need to carry out risk assessment, which is aimed at identifying the hazards and risks and putting appropriate controls (PPE) in place to reduce those risks.
There are several guidance documents issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that are readily available on the subject of PPE, many of which are free of charge. A good website to check these out is:
As far as chemicals are concerned, any work involving toxic, irritant, corrosive or harmful materials must be risk assessed and appropriate PPE provided. All of these chemicals should have warning labels that identify the general risk. Manufacturers and suppliers of these chemicals must provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that detail the hazards, risks and PPE that should be worn when handling or working with these chemicals. The MSDS is an excellent place to start when trying to work out what type of PPE may be needed.
There are lots of other types of PPE that might be needed. When working with hazardous machinery or portable power tools, it is advisable to wear safety goggles, and even full face protection may be required. For example, using a grass strimmer may seem a simple task, but flying debris from high speed rotating equipment can be extremely hazardous. Mesh face visors and good quality safety boots provide excellent protection against these hazards.
So, when undertaking a hazardous task, personal protective equipment must be considered and, if the risk of injury is significant, PPE must be proved to employees. Hard hats, gloves, safety boots, plastic suits, face masks, breathing apparatus and safety goggles are all examples of PPE, which exists to help prevent personal injury.