Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms, such as sharp edges, falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, noise and a myriad of other potentially dangerous situations. Nearly 2 million disabling work-related injuries are expected to occur this year, with more than 25 percent involving the head, eyes, hands and feet. Controlling hazards at their source is the best way to protect employees. Personal protective equipment is an important part of the puzzle. Here are the guidelines for using it to improve safety in the workplace.

What Is PPE?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is equipment worn by employees to minimize their exposure to a variety of hazards. Examples of PPE include gloves, safety boots, safety goggles, earplugs, hard hats, respirators and full body suits.

Making the workplace safe entails the provision of instructions, procedures, training, and supervision to encourage employees to work safely and responsibly. Although engineering controls and safe work systems have been applied to a workplace, some hazards might still be present, which can result in injuries to the lungs, the head and feet, the eyes, the skin and the body. PPE is needed in these cases to minimize risk.

PPE Guidelines

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that hard hats are worn by 16 percent of employees who sustain head injuries; face protection is worn by 1 percent of employees who suffered from face injuries; safety boots are worn by 23 percent of employees who sustained foot injuries; and about 40 percent of employees who suffered from eye injuries wore eye protection. In light of these statistics, it is important that every employee be informed of the following guidelines.

  1. Understanding when PPE should be used
    PPE is one of the least effective ways of controlling the risk associated with hazards. As a result, it should only be used when there are no other practical control measures available, or as an interim measure until a more effective control method can be implemented. It should always be used when it could potentially reduce risk of illness or injury.

  2. Assessing suitable PPE
    The type of PPE used should be the most suitable PPE for the job being performed. When assessing suitability, consider the following:
    • What are the requirements of this job?
    • Will this PPE protect workers from the risks, and is it appropriate for use given the environmental conditions present in the workplace?
    • Will the use of this type of PPE increase the overall level of risk to workers, or will it add new risk?
    • Can this PPE be adjusted to fit correctly?

  3. Selecting the appropriate PPE
  4. When choosing the right PPE, the selection processes must include a consultation between the worker and the employer. Good quality products that are marked in accordance with the relevant personal protective equipment regulations should be chosen. In the European Economic Area as well as often in the United States, the CE marking signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic safety requirements, and in some cases, has been tested and certified by an independent body. Employees should ensure that the PPE selected best suits them in terms of its size, its weight, the levels of comfort or discomfort it produces when in use, as well as the employee's current health status. Also, if multiple items of PPE are to be worn simultaneously, they should be able to be used together without one hindering the functions of others.

  5. The proper use of PPE
    It is the responsibility of employers to instruct and train their employees on the proper use of PPE. This includes the reason(s) for using PPE, as well as the circumstances under which it should be used, its maintenance and storage, and the limitations of the selected PPE. In the event that some aspect of the job changes, PPE may need to be changed to suit the task.

  6. Maintenance
    PPE also has to be well maintained. That is, it should be kept clean and in good condition. All PPE should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. This includes the recommended replacement periods and the shelf lives. These simple maintenance requirements can be carried out by employees, but more intricate repairs, such as the replacement of parts, should only be done by specialists. Workers should always inspect their PPE before every use and be sure to report its loss, destruction or any faults to the employer.

  7. Storage
    PPE should also be properly stored when it is not being used. For example, PPE can be stored in a dry, clean cupboard, or for smaller items, in a box or case.

Key Points to Remember About Personal Protective Equipment

  • PPE is most effective when used in combination with other control methods.
  • It is the employer’s responsibility to provide all employees with suitable PPE.
  • The selected PPE should provide adequate protection for its intended use.
  • It is the employer’s responsibility to adequately train all employees on the safe use of PPE.
  • It is the employee’s responsibility to ensure that all PPE is properly maintained and its defects reported.
  • It is the employee’s responsibility to ensure that all PPE is returned to proper storage after use.