21 September 2016
Last amended on
17 August 2021

What is PPE?

PPE is a catch-all term that refers to a range of equipment designed to protect the user against health and safety risks at work. Examples include eye protection, safety helmets, gloves, safety footwear and high-visibility clothing.

What laws apply when it comes to PPE?

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended) detail the main requirements. Separate regulations cover hazardous substances (like asbestos), radiation and noise.

How does PPE fit with broader safety measures?

PPE is the last line of defence against potential damage or injury. It should not be considered a replacement for a thorough risk assessment and promoting safe and responsible working. As an employer, you should:

  • Use continuous risk assessment to mitigate as many risks as possible without needing other forms of control.
  • Actively promote and encourage safe and responsible working through adequate instructions, documented procedures, appropriate training, including tool talks and mandated supervision where needed.
  • Require and provide PPE to reduce any remaining risks you couldn’t eliminate via other, more effective means.

Am I responsible for providing PPE?

Regulation 4 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 states that, as the employer, you are responsible for providing employees with suitable PPE in areas where you cannot adequately control risks by alternative, equally or more effective means. You should also ensure that any required PPE is readily available and employees have clear instructions about where to find it. (Just having it on the premises is not enough.) Further, PPE must be provided free of charge, and employees must be trained on how to use the equipment properly and detect and report faults.

To determine what PPE measures are appropriate, you should conduct an audit to decide which staff members are exposed to what kinds of risk. You should also consider how long they are likely to be exposed to particular dangers and in what quantities. For example, working with or around a large container of corrosive liquid may need a different safety approach than working with a much smaller amount.

What should I bear in mind when selecting PPE?

The 2002 regulations stipulate that your PPE products should carry conformity marking, so ensure that the equipment you select meets this requirement. You should also ensure that items can be used together without compromising their protection levels. For example, safety goggles and other kinds of protective headgear may not work well together. It is also important to provide equipment in a variety of sizes and fits where appropriate.

What kinds of PPE should I consider?

Affected area Hazard Potential solutions
Eyes Dust, gas or vapour, projectiles, radiation, chemical or metal splashes Safety spectacles, goggles, face screens or shields, visors
Head and neck Safety spectacles, goggles, face screens or shields, visors Industrial safety helmets, bump caps, hairnets and firefighter helmets
Ears Noise levels and duration Earplugs, ear mugs, semi-insert/canal caps
Hands and arms Abrasion, extreme temperatures, cuts and punctures, impact, chemicals, electric shock, radiation, vibration, biological agents and prolonged immersion in water Gloves, gloves with a cuff, gauntlets and sleeving that covers part or all of the arm
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
Lungs Oxygen-deficient atmospheres, dust and particulate matter, gases and vapours Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

With appropriate PPE chosen, you then need to ensure it is correctly cared for and stored. Think about how you will maintain the equipment (stockpiling replacement parts or kits, for example) and codify who will be responsible and how you expect them to carry out those tasks. Employees should also understand how to report faults, destruction or loss of equipment.

It is also important to schedule regular audits, checks and reviews to ensure that your equipment and compliance remains fit for purposes. Site needs and requirements continuously change, with current tasks evolving and new jobs created. Having a risk assessment process that regularly reviews risks and updates PPE accordingly is essential for ensuring that you continuously comply with regulations and keep your employees as safe as possible.

As a parallel exercise, you should also consider what emergency equipment is required in the workplace. Like PPE, this should be selected carefully, maintained and regular training provided for those expected to use it.

This article is a revised version of one written by Richard McPartland (2017) for theNBS.com

Additional reading

A guide to construction hard hats: Whether involved in building or civil engineering projects, work at onshore or offshore industrial sites, or an occasional visitor, the hard hat – or safety helmet – is an essential item of safety equipment. This article gives a brief overview of the principal features, legislation and guidelines surrounding its maintenance and use.

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