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1. What is PPE?

PPE is an abbreviation for Personal Protective Equipment. The term refers to a piece of equipment someone can apply or wear to reduce the threats hazards present to health and safety.

Tasks, environment-dependent and common uses of PPE include:

  • Hard steel toe cap boots - to protect toes and feet from anything heavy which may fall on them
  • Gloves – to protect a person’s hand from sharp or corrosive substances. Also to prevent contamination if handling food or coming into contact with people such as dentists
  • Masks – Used to filter out harmful and toxic fumes or air particles
  • Ear plugs – Used by operatives of loud machinery such as road diggers
  • Respirators – A device intended to provide safety from inhaling hazardous toxins such as fumes, vapour's, gases and particulate matter like asbestos and microorganisms transmitted across the air
  • Safety harnesses – Used by people working at height in case of a fall
  • Hi-vis clothing – To enable a person to be highly visible in a dangerous environment where injury risk is high
  • Aprons – Worn to mitigate the risk of infection between health professionals and patients
  • Face Shield – To protect the face against high risk of eye infection from small debris and against infection

The exact purpose of these safety apparatus varies depending on the job and working environment. For example, employees in the oil and gas sector require protective gloves that provide safeguarding against heavy objects on impact.  

Employers mostly provide PPE as a safeguarding measure to protect employees from immediate hazards.


2. When should PPE be used?

Employees are obliged to wear PPE as directed in their workplaces’ guidelines, which should broadly reflect that of the local governments' advice.

In this respect, employers should command the application of the PPE as a:

  • Last Resort: There are no other means of mitigating the risk of threats to safety
  • Back-up Measure: PPE augment other, more-effective control measures
  • Temporary Policy: Redefined control measures are being implemented in the near future

Most work environments mandate the use of PPE as a contingency policy and ensuring employees have a safe working environment.


3. What standard of PPE is required to be followed?

The standard of PPE which you’re adhered to follow resides on the location of your place of work and the businesses health and safety policies.

Governmental acts and standards in English-speaking countries include:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (United States)
  • Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Canada)
  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (United Kingdom)
  • Model Work Health and Safety Act (Australia)
  • The Health and Safety in Employment Act (New Zealand)

However, without breaking domestic laws, organisations can employ their own PPE rules which all employees must strictly adhere to. For example, certain worksites may command the use of a specific piece of safety equipment.

As an employee, you are obligated to follow these rules to minimize the risks you may face.

HSE (UK) states the following:

The current legislation which refers to the supply of personal protective equipment is The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2016/425, which is enforced by the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018. HSE are the enforcing authority for the supply of PPE that is designed for use at work.

The current legislation which relates to the use of personal protective equipment is the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. The latest details are available on legislation.gov.uk. Other special regulations cover hazardous substances (including lead and asbestos), and also noise and radiation”.


4. Who decides what PPE to wear for a job?

It is the responsibility of the employer to operate in accordance with the above-mentioned act or standard, should decide the kinds of PPE you should wear for a specific job.


5. How to choose the right PPE for the job?

Choosing the right PPE for the job is another task that’s largely the responsibility of your employer and is based on various influencing factors.

Specifically, employers must analyse and assess workplace hazards that require PPE to be used. But before selecting PPE to match a given hazard - they must recognise if they can effectively assess the possibility of dealing with the hazard differently.

If employers cannot achieve this, they must opt for the correct PPE for the employees concerned. 


6. What’s the most necessary piece of PPE?

There is no definitive here as such, as the correct response depends on:

  • The nature of the work or industry
  • The types and severity of hazards in the workplace
  • If PPE is worn as a last resort for some hazards and not others

For example, if handling food or coming into contact with people such as a dentist is a big part of your job then disposable gloves would be necessary.

If different pieces of PPE are used as last safety resorts, one may not be more important than another.


7. Should PPE be the first course of action for safety?

Using or wearing PPE is typically a final, not first, course of action for safety but taking the decision to not wear it should only be concluded after a risk assessment of the hazards in that environment.

Although PPE plays an important role, it is the responsibility of the employer to prioritise hazard-control measures to ensure the well being of their employees. Due to such measures, many workplaces mandate PPE as a back-up or temporary safety method.

However, in the case that there are no other means to reduce supposed risks, using PPE can act as a first course of action for implementing safety measures.


8. If employees find PPE to be too uncomfortable can they refuse to wear It?

If an employee finds a given piece of PPE to be uncomfortable, they should the employer for an alternative or suggest an alternative to alleviate discomfort.

For instance, if a distinct pair of work boots provoke symptoms of a skin condition to arise such as psoriasis, your employer should work with you to find another method of foot protection – even if it simply involves providing a different kind of footwear.

Regardless, you should discuss issues regarding inability to use PPE with your supervisor.