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Why PPE Is Important At Work

April 2nd, 2019

Last updated: October 13th, 2020

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital to employees in any work situation where health and safety hazards exist, and hence, employers have a legal duty to provide it and maintain it where it is applicable. Generally speaking, PPE protects the user from health and safety risks at work and includes items such as gloves, goggles, boots, harnesses and high-visibility clothing.

In terms of health and safety, an employer must carry out risk assessments to help monitor risks and to consider what controls are needed in the workplace. These controls usually come in the form of procedures, safe systems of work and engineering controls to make processes and equipment safe. However, these don’t necessarily manage all the hazards present and hence PPE is provided as a further control, often referred to as the ‘last line of defence’ or the ‘last resort’. Certainly, PPE should not be considered as the sole solution to controlling a risk, and procedures and engineering controls should be put in place first.

Depending on the nature of the organisation, PPE can be issued to help control exposure to many different hazards, typically including contaminated air, falling materials, flying particles or corrosive liquids, contact with corrosive materials and for warmth and protection from extreme elements.

PPE duties of the employer and employee

An employer has a duty to make appropriate PPE available and to monitor its use. The PPE should be suitable and in good condition, it should be issued free of charge and employees need to be trained in how to use it, and the importance of using it.

In addition, it should be noted that employees have their own duty to wear PPE that has been issued to them and to report any defects or problems with the PPE, ie. if it is not suitable for the specific job or if hazards still exist.

The employer should ensure that PPE is maintained and that the user has a safe place to store it. They should also ensure that ample supplies are stocked in order to issue replacement items ASAP. It is recommended that a PPE procedure is put in place to ensure PPE is issued to the right people, signed for and that visitors and contractors coming on site are also monitored, issued with PPE where applicable and subject to the same control systems in place.

Requirements of PPE

PPE needs to be selected depending on the type of exposure, who is exposed, how long they are exposed to the hazard for and how much of the hazard they are exposed to. This should all be considered via a formal risk assessment specific to the individual task or piece of equipment involved. Equally, the PPE needs to be suitable for the user in terms of size, fit and weight and it should be CE marked by the manufacturer.

An employer can refer to legislation to ensure they have covered all aspects of PPE. This is detailed in The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. These outline the main requirements of an employer in issuing PPE, while other more specific regulations cover work with hazardous substances such as lead, asbestos, noise and radiation.

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