Employers have a responsibility when it comes to providing personal protective equipment (and ensuring it is appropriately used) in the workplace.

What is personal protective equipment?

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

What laws apply when it comes to PPE?

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

How does PPE fit with broader safety measures?

Employers should encourage people to work safely and responsibly. Providing instructions, documented procedures and appropriate training and/ or supervision are all ways in which employers can meet this requirement.

There will, however, always be circumstances where even allowing for safe systems of work and engineering controls, risks remain. Personal protective equipment therefore exists to mitigate these risks. For example, splashes of corrosive liquids would pose danger to the eyes or skin which protective eyewear, gloves or clothing could address.

What do I need to do when it comes to PPE?

Personal protective equipment should only ever be used as a last resort – an employer should always seek to mitigate risks without resorting to other forms of control.

Where PPE is required an employer  must provide this for employees free of charge and ensure that the equipment has been carefully chosen. Employees must also be trained to use the equipment properly and know how to detect and report faults.

In determining what PPE measures are appropriate an employer should carry out an audit to determine which members of staff are exposed to what kinds of risk. In carrying out such an audit you should seek to understand how long members of staff are likely to be exposed to particular dangers and in what quantities – a small amount of corrosive liquid arguably requiring a different approach to a huge container, for example.

What should I bear in mind when selecting PPE?

The 2002 regulations stipulate that products should carry the CE marking so ensure that the equipment you select meets this requirement. You should also take care to ensure that multiple items can be used together without compromising their levels of protections (safety goggles and other kinds of protective headgear, for example, 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
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 firefighters' helmets.
Ears Noise levels and duration.
Earplugs, ear mugs, semi-insert/canal caps.
Hands and arms Abrasion, temperature extremes, 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, dusts, gases and vapours. Respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

With appropriate PPE chosen you need to consider how to ensure it is properly cared for and stored. Think too about how you will maintain the equipment (stockpiling replacement parts or kit, for example) and codify who will be responsible and how you expect this to be carried out. Employees should also understand how to report faults, destruction or loss of equipment.

Needs and requirements will obviously change over time so with equipment in use make sure you diarise regular checks and reviews to ensure compliance and that the solution provided is fit for purpose. As workplace tasks evolve and new tasks are required there should be a process that exists to update PPE provision accordingly.

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.