Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE”, is the equipment worn to minimise exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and infection. The hazards addressed by protective equipment include physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, bio-hazards, and airborne particulate matter.
- PPE is the last line of defence protecting workers from hazards in the workplace. Even before requiring workers to wear PPE to protect them from a specific hazard, the employer must try to eliminate the hazard or reduce it as much as possible.
- PPE is not the most effective safety measure because it places only a barrier between the worker and the hazard. The hazard still exists; so if the right PPE is not worn properly or when it is needed, or the PPE fails (for example, leakage through gloves), the worker is not protected.
Types of Personal protective equipment
Head protection is an essential element in providing workers with protection from heavy impact, falling and low-hanging objects, and electrical hazards. A hard hat should be worn in all situations where there are head protection hazards. All forms of head and scalp protection must be of the suitable head size and correct fit. It should have some ventilation and an easily adjustable headband/chin strap, where appropriate. Class G and H hats protects from electrical shocks up to 2,200 volts and 20,000 volts, respectively.The relevant standards are BS EN 397 and BS EN14052.
Proper use and care of the hard hat
- Always wear your hard hat while you are working in areas where there are potential head hazards
- Adjust the suspension inside your hard hat so that the hat sits comfortably, but securely on your head
- Inspect the shell of your hard hat for cracks and dents.
- Inspect the suspension system for frayed or broken straps. If your hard hat needs to be repaired, have it repaired immediately or ask your employer for a new one
- Place plastic (non-metal) reflective tape on the hard hat, if working at night
- Never paint, scratch or drill “air holes” in your hard hat
- Never carry personal belongings such as cigarettes, lighters, or pens under your hard hat
Protective equipment for the eyes is intended to provide protection against impact, cuts, arc flash, heat, sprays, etc. These are often worn when using power tools such as drills, welding machines, etc. to prevent damage to the eyes from flying particles and radiation. It is always recommended to wear a face shield whenever handling a high voltage application.
Eyes protection equipment should always be cleaned before every use, as dirty lenses lead to poor vision and may lead to accidents. When lenses become scratched, pitted or cracked they should be replaced. The relevant standards are :
- BS 7028 (Guide to Selection of Eye Protection for Industrial Uses)
- BS EN 166 (Specification for Eye Protectors).
- DIN EN 169 (Filters for welding and related techniques)
Hearing protection is used to reduce (attenuate) noise reaching the worker’s ear, and so reduce the risk of hearing damage from excessive noise. The effectiveness of hearing protection is often limited by personal and workplace factors, and it can reduce the audibility of warning sounds. Earmuffs and earplugs are the most common types of personal protective equipment for ears.
Hearing protection is required for workers who are exposed to noise levels equal to or greater than 80-85 decibels averaged over an eight-hour period. Selecting the right PPE for ears is very important as hearing protection equipment will need to be compatible with other PPE (eg hard hats, dust masks and eye protection) worn by workers.The relevant standard for the ear protectors is BS EN 352 Part 1.
Hands & arm protection
Hand and arm protection are required when the risk of injury from cuts, burns, chemicals, electrical shock, high temperatures, or abrasive material cannot be predicted at the workplace. There is not a single type of glove that will provide adequate protection from all exposures.
Various type of hand hazards are:
- Traumatic hazard
- Tools and machines with sharp edges can cut your hands
- Staples, screwdrivers, nails, chisels, and stiff wire can puncture your hands
- Getting your hands caught in machinery can sprain, crush, or remove your hands and fingers
- Contact hazard
- Coming into contact with caustic or toxic chemicals, biological substances, electrical sources, or extremely cold or hot objects can irritate or burn your hands
WARNING: Toxic substances are poisonous substances that can be absorbed through your skin and enter your body.
There are many types of gloves available today to protect against a wide variety of hazards. The nature of the hazard and the operation involved will affect the selection of gloves.
- Rubber insulating gloves – classified by the level of voltage and protection they provide. IEC 60903 is the recognised electrical safety standard for live working – Electrical Insulating Gloves
- Leather protector gloves – worn over rubber insulating gloves to help provide the mechanical protection needed against cuts, abrasions and punctures. BS EN 14328 is the standard for gloves and arm guards protecting against cuts by powered knives. BS EN 407 contains the specifications for gloves intended to protect against thermal risks such as heat or fire. BS EN 388 covers the specification of gloves against mechanical hazards
The human foot is rigid enough to support the weight of the entire body, and yet flexible enough to allow to run, walk, climb and to take you anywhere you want to go.
Various type of foot hazards are:
- Impact Injuries – at work, heavy objects can fall on your feet. If you work around sharp objects, you can step on something sharp and puncture your foot
- Injuries from spills and splashes – liquids such as acids, caustics and molten metals can spill into your shoes and boots. These hazardous materials can cause chemical and heat burns
- Compression injuries – heavy machinery, equipment and other objects can roll over your feet. The result of these types of accidents are often broken or crushed bones
- Electrical shocks – accidents involving electricity can cause severe shocks and burns
- Extremes in cold, heat and moisture- if not protected, your feet can suffer from frostbite in an extremely cold environment. Extreme heat, on the other hand, can blister and burn your feet. Finally, extreme moisture in your shoes or boots can lead to fungal infections
- Slipping- oil, water, soaps, wax, and other chemicals can cause you to slip and fall
A wide range of safety footwear are available providing protection against many hazards to the feet or legs including heavy impact, crushing, slipping, piercing, temperatures, electricity, chemicals, cutting and chopping. The relevant standard for safety footwear is BS EN ISO 20345.
Height and access protection
When working on heights, there are specific Personal Protective Equipment tools (like safety harness) available to protect the worker against falls from a height.
Safety harnesses are an attachment between a stationary and a non-stationary object and are usually fabricated from ropes, cables or webbing and locking hardware. Safety harnesses require periodic inspection, and anchorage points require periodic testing.
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