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).
A commercial gardener was using a petrol-driven strimmer to trim undergrowth. He hit a piece of unseen debris, which was thrown into the air and caught him in the eye. He lost the sight in that eye because he was not wearing protective goggles, which was advised in the manufacturer's written instructions for using the strimmer.
How similar accidents can be prevented
Ensure those operating strimmers are trained to recognise the hazards posed by unseen debris and wear appropriate PPE, including protective goggles.
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 Regulations 2002 – 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.
Find out more
The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended) give the main requirements. These have been replaced by the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 and Regulation EU 2016/425 of the European Parliament and of the Council. The latest details are available on legislation.gov.uk.
Other special regulations cover hazardous substances (including lead and asbestos), and also noise and radiation.