Using PPE correctly requires understanding what types of PPE should be used for specific hazards, the responsibilities of employees and employers towards PPE, and how to use, maintain and store PPE effectively.
What Is PPE?
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment and refers to equipment or clothing worn by an individual such as an employee or worker to minimise their exposure to workplace hazards that can cause injuries or illnesses.
Common Types Of Personal Protective Equipment
There are many different types of personal protective equipment available to employees and workers in various industries. Some of the most common types of PPE include:
- Head and neck protection. Hard hats are the most common type of head protection used in construction and many other workplaces, but other options like bump caps, safety helmets, welding helmets and hairnets are available as well.
- Eye and face protection. Safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and welding shields can protect employees from eye injuries at work, chemical splashes, and other hazards.
- Hearing protection. Earplugs, earmuffs, and canal caps can protect employees from noise-induced hearing loss.
- Respiratory protection. Masks and respirators protect employees from breathing in hazardous substances or particles, such as dust, fumes, and chemicals.
- Hand and arm protection. Gloves and sleeves can protect employees from laceration cuts, punctures, and chemical exposures.
- Foot and leg protection. Safety shoes, boots, and leggings protect employees from slips and falls at work, as well as puncture wounds, and broken bones.
The type of PPE required will generally depend on the specific hazards present.
What Responsibilities Do Employers Have Regarding PPE?
Employers have a number of responsibilities when it comes to providing PPE to their employees as outlined in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 including:
Identifying Hazards At Work
Employers must assess the workplace to identify any hazards that may require the use of PPE to protect their employees. Therefore, risk assessments should be routinely carried out to identify what hazards could cause an injury or illness in the employer’s business, the likelihood of somebody being harmed and how seriously, and then take any appropriate actions (such as providing PPE) to eliminate the hazards identified. If eliminating a hazard isn’t possible, then the risk of injury or illness from it should be controlled.
Provide Appropriate PPE
Employers are responsible for providing employees with PPE that is appropriate for any hazards identified in workplace risk assessments. This includes providing PPE that fits properly and is suitable for the job being performed.
Ensure That PPE Is CE/UKCA Marked
PPE must be CE or UKCA marked, which means it complies with the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations.
Train Employees On Using PPE
Employers must ensure that employees are trained on how to use the PPE provided to them correctly. This training should include guidance on when to wear PPE, how to put it on and take it off, how to adjust it for a proper fit, and how to inspect and maintain it.
Ensure PPE Is Properly Maintained
Employers are responsible for ensuring that PPE is maintained and stored properly. This includes regular inspections to ensure that PPE is in good condition, repaired as needed, and replaced when necessary.
Monitor PPE Usage
Employers must monitor their employees’ use of personal protective equipment to ensure that it’s being used correctly and effectively.
Provide additional PPE If Needed
Employers must also provide additional personal protective equipment as needed if the workplace hazards change, or if the existing PPE is found to be insufficient.
Consult With Employees
Employers should also consult with their employees on the selection, use, and maintenance of PPE. This includes consulting on:
- The type of PPE that is needed for the specific work being carried out.
- The performance requirements of the PPE.
- The comfort and fit of the PPE.
- The training and information that employees need to use the PPE correctly.
Consultation with employees is an important part of ensuring that the PPE selected is suitable for the specific hazards and risks present in the workplace and that employees are involved in the decision-making process. This can also help to motivate employees to use the PPE correctly and look after it.
What Responsibilities Do Employees Have Regarding PPE?
Employees also have several responsibilities regarding the use of personal protective equipment at work. These responsibilities include:
Using The PPE provided
Employees must use any PPE that is provided by their employer and use it properly in accordance with training and instructions.
Reporting Concerns Or Issues
Employees who have concerns or issues related to their PPE (or other employees’ PPE) should report them to their supervisor immediately. This might include reporting any damage or defects to PPE, losing your PPE or concerns about the fit or comfort of your PPE etc.
Any damaged or defective equipment shouldn’t be used until it has been repaired or replaced.
Taking Care Of PPE
Employees must take care of their PPE and keep it clean and in good condition. They should store it in a safe place when not in use and not deliberately damage or misuse it.
Participating In Training
Employees must participate in any training provided by their employer on the use and care of their PPE.
Cooperate With The Employer
Employees should cooperate with their employers to ensure that all PPE is used correctly and effectively. They should also follow any additional instructions given by their employer in relation to the use of PPE.
What About Employees With Medical Conditions?
Employees with medical conditions may have specific requirements when it comes to using personal protective equipment. The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that any employee with a disability or a medical condition is not put at a disadvantage in the workplace.
Therefore, if an employee has a medical condition that affects their ability to wear PPE, the employer may need to consider alternative measures. For example, if an employee has a lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe when wearing a face mask, the employer may need to provide an alternative solution such as a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) instead.
Employers should discuss any concerns with the employee and seek advice from a medical professional if necessary. They may also need to carry out a risk assessment to determine whether the employee can safely carry out their role without PPE, or with alternative measures put in place.
What Are The Potential Consequences Of Not Wearing PPE?
Not wearing personal protective equipment can have serious consequences, both for the individual and for the employer.
Some potential consequences include:
- Injury or illness. As you’ll know by now, the primary reason for using PPE is to protect employees from injury or illness. If PPE isn’t provided or worn, employees are at risk of injury from hazards such as chemicals, sharp objects, or falls. They may also be at risk of developing illnesses such as respiratory diseases or noise-induced hearing loss.
- Legal action. Employers have a legal duty to provide PPE where necessary. If an employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of inadequate PPE, for example, they may be able to claim compensation against the employer.
- Fines and penalties. Employers who fail to provide PPE or who do not ensure that it is used correctly can face fines and penalties from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). These can be significant and can have a negative impact on the company’s finances and reputation.
- Increased insurance premiums. Employers may also see an increase in their insurance premiums if they’ve faced legal action or been fined as a result of breaching their duty of care, as insurers may view the company as a higher risk.
- Lost productivity. If an employee is hurt or made ill as a result of not using or being given the appropriate PPE, they may need time off work to recover. This can result in lost productivity for the company, as well as increased costs for sick pay and temporary cover.
As you can see, not wearing PPE can have serious consequences, both for employees and employers. Therefore, it’s vital for employers and employees to adhere to their responsibilities in respect of using personal protective equipment at work to safeguard everybody’s health and safety.