When it comes to workplace safety Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be near the top of your list. While other preventative measures and training should always be used first and foremost, there are many industries and work environments that need some form of PPE as well. There is a wide range of protective equipment to choose from but this choice can often be confusing and the additional training that most PPE requires can also make businesses reluctant to take protective equipment seriously. If you’re looking to improve safety in your warehouse but are unsure about what PPE your workers might need and how to introduce them, take a look at this easy guide.
What is PPE
Personal Protective Equipment is any equipment or clothing that is designed to help protect workers from various hazardous environments, situations or materials. While making the area itself as safe as possible should always be the first step, there are some environments that still pose a risk to workers even after all safety systems and processes have been exhausted. These hazardous environments could still cause injury to workers and so need further protection for the workers themselves. Lungs, head, eyes, skin and other body areas may also still vulnerable and need protection.
Why Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is important
The primary reason for ensuring you provide the right PPE in your workplace is safety. Workers are at risk from serious injury without the right protective equipment for their roles. As well as being a serious risk to your workers health and wellbeing, unsafe work environments are also less productive and efficient. They can often end up costing businesses money in lost hours, wages and much more which negatively impact the bottom line.
As well as safety, however, it’s also an employers’ legal obligation to provide PPE. According to The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and in line with The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that where there is still a risk to employees after the necessary safety precautions in the environment, PPE will be supplied and enforced. It also states that where protective equipment is necessary, it will provided free of charge to employees and the necessary training given so that they can use PPE correctly.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 is sometimes superseded by other industries or specific tasks or environments that have their own legal requirements. For example, there are separate legal standards for those dealing with asbestos and should be considered the legal requirements in that area.
What your PPE responsibilities are as an employer
Here’s a quick overview of what your obligations are when it comes to providing PPE. While your employees ultimately where the equipment, you are still held accountable for much of the provision and use of protective equipment.
- Only use PPE as a last result – make sure that you have covered all other safety procedures and systems first.
- Provide PPE – it’s your duty to investigate what protective equipment your workers need and make the arrangements for providing this.
- Provide PPE free of charge – you can’t charge your employees for the protective equipment they need, it must be free of charge.
- Ensure PPE is in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 – these are the legal guidelines for safe and acceptable equipment.
- Ensure and enforce the use of PPE – provide any necessary training so that employees can use the equipment and enforce its use where possible.
- Maintain PPE – make sure that protective equipment is well maintained and safe, replacing promptly it whenever necessary.
How to choose protective equipment
If you’re not sure what protective equipment you might need, you’ll have to complete a quick audit and risk assessment. This should highlight all the hazardous areas within your workplace so that you can find the right safety solution. In many cases, this may be something you can do to the environment itself or policies that you can put into place to improve safety, but in some instances, you may find that protective equipment is the only option or can be used in conjunction with other safety systems to improve safety even more. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you identify what, if any, protective equipment is needed:
Who is exposed and to what?
How long are they exposed for?
How much are they exposed to?
After you have identified what type of equipment you need to protect your workers, you need to make sure that the equipment is safe and suitable to use. The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 set out guidelines that all protective equipment is supposed to adhere to and can help you identify whether the equipment you want is safe and compliant. The main thing to check is whether the equipment is CE marked in accordance with the regulations. Suppliers should be able to advise in this area.
You also need to make sure the equipment suits the user including their size and fit as well as the weight and suitability of the equipment. For example, some equipment might be too heavy or cumbersome for certain workers due to their age or injuries, so you may need to consider moving them to a less hazardous role or finding more suitable equipment. Additionally, PPE that doesn’t fit well such as being too big or too small is not only unlikely to be as safe as it should be, but employees are more likely to dislike the equipment and therefore not use it.
It some cases, you may find that you need more than one piece of safety equipment. In these instances, make sure that all PPE can be used safely together such as goggles, masks and hard hats. The equipment should still be able to perform in conjunction with other equipment and there shouldn’t be any leaks or other hazards.
If you’re ever in doubt, make sure you get advice from equipment suppliers and other specialists who can help you identify what PPE you need.
Using and maintaining PPE
Ensure you provide the proper training and instruction on using the equipment. Emphasise the importance of the equipment for safety to help enforce its use moving forward. Some equipment may be more complex than others and there may be some safety risks that your employees may not think about, for example removing gloves without contaminating the skin. It’s your job to familiarise yourself with the equipment so that you can ensure it’s safe use by others.
You should also maintain protective equipment properly, ensuring it is stored correctly when not in use and kept clean and in working order. To help, assign maintenance of equipment to a person or persons and check in regularly to see that they are keeping the equipment in working order. Ensure everyone knows how to look after the equipment, such as storing it in a particular cupboard or cleaning it after use.
Types of Personal Protective Equipment PPE
Here’s a quick overview of the types of protective equipment you might need in your workplace.
Eyes – Goggles & Visors
Hazards to the eyes include chemical or metal splash, dust, gas, vapour and projectiles. Some form of spectacles, goggles, face screen, face shield or visor are typically used to protect the eye or entire face area depending on the hazard.
Head and neck – Helmets, Hats & Hairnets
Head and neck areas are typically at risk from potentially falling objects, bumping or knocking, tangled hair, chemical drips or splash as well as climate and temperature. A special hat such as a hardhat as well as other industrial safety helmets or even a simple hairnet can all be used to protect this area.
Ears – Earplugs & Earmuffs
Ears are at risk from loud noise and exposure including mid-level sounds for long periods or high-level sounds even at short durations. To protect ears you can use earplugs or earmuffs as well as semi-insert/ canal caps depending on the noise and hazard level or even find a cap or hat solution with ear covers.
Hands and arms – Gloves & Sleeving
Hazards for the hands and arms include climates and temperature, chemicals, radiation, abrasion, cuts and punctures, vibration, biological agents, prolonged immersion in water and other general impacts. You can find various types of gloves, cuffs, gauntlets and sleeving with different properties to protect against particular hazards. For example heat resistant gloves, chemical resistant and so on.
Feet and legs – Safety Boots & Shoes
Feet and legs are at risk from many of the same things as hands and arms including splashes from chemicals and other agents, extreme temperatures as well as cuts or punctures, but are additionally at risk from electrostatic build-up, falling objects, heavy loads and vehicles. You find a range of safety shoes and boots to protect against specific hazards such as steel-capped boots to protect against heavy impacts, wellington boots, foundry boots, chainsaw boots and more.
Lungs – Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
Oxygen-deficient atmospheres, dust, gases and vapours can all be hazardous and cause lung problems. Face masks can be used for minor protection along with respirators to filter the air.
Whole body – Overalls & Hazard Suits
Heat, chemical or metal splash, spray from pressure leaks or spray guns, contaminated dust, impact or penetration, excessive wear or entanglement of clothing are all potential hazards to the whole body. Depending on the risk, you can find disposable overalls or boiler suits for some low-level hazards while chemical suits and other more heavy-duty protective clothing are also available.