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What is PPE?

Everything you need to know to keep safe at work

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PPE and its Importance

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is clothing or equipment designed to reduce employee exposure to chemical, biological, and physical hazards when on a worksite. It is used to protect employees when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible to reduce the risks to acceptable levels.

According to the hierarchy of controls by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), PPE is recommended to be the last level of defense to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, but some businesses combined it with other control measures to ensure a safe and healthy environment for their workers.

4 Basic Types of PPE

However, even the strictest controls will not necessarily eliminate all the risks associated with most job tasks and this is where the need for PPE must be evaluated. A hazard assessment can help identify which specialized PPE will be required. There are numerous types of workplace safety equipment available depending on the hazard exposure and work conditions. The following are basic PPE that can help protect employees:

Face and Eye Protection

PPE includes safety goggles and face shields and should be used for tasks that can cause eye damage or loss of vision, sprays of toxic liquids, splashes, and burns.

Safety Tips:

  • Check if safety glasses comply with the ANSI Z87.1 eye protection standard.
  • Ensure that there are no cracks or deformities on the lenses.
  • Ensure the strap is in good working condition and is firmly sealed to the cheek and forehead.
  • Clean and disinfect after use.

Respiratory Protection

PPE includes full-face respirators, self-contained breathing apparatus, gas masks, N95 respirators, and surgical masks are used for a task that can cause inhalation of harmful materials to enter the body. This includes harmful gas, chemicals, large-particle droplets, sprays, splashes, or splatter that may contain viruses and bacteria such as COVID-19, viral infections, and more.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure that the equipment is fit-tested and the employee has undergone proper training before wearing one.
  • Carefully read the instructions to determine if it is designed to help protect against the hazards you may face.
  • Change filters on half-mask or full-mask respirators frequently.
  • Replace disposable respirators with every use.
  • Surgical masks are not to be shared with anyone.
  • Avoid touching the surgical mask after wearing it.
  • Change surgical mask timely and should be disposed of after use.
  • Replace the mask immediately if it is damaged or soiled.

Skin and Body Protection

PPE includes the following categories to protect employees from physical hazards:

Head Protection

PPE includes hard hats and headgears and should be required for tasks that can cause any force or object falling to the head.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure that there are no dents or deformities on the shell and connections are tightened inside.
  • Do not store in direct sunlight as extreme heat can cause damage.
  • Choose appropriate cleaning agents as it can weaken the shells of hard hats and may eliminate electrical resistance.
  • Always replace a hard hat if it was used for any kind of impact, even if the damage is unnoticeable.

Body Protection

PPE includes safety vests and suits that can be used for tasks that can cause body injuries from extreme temperatures, flames and sparks, toxic chemicals, insect bites and radiation.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure that they are clean and free from cuts and burns.
  • Always get a good fit to ensure full body protection.
  • Ensure bodysuit is heat-resistant clothing when working with high-temperature hazards.

Hands Protection

PPE includes safety gloves and should be used for tasks that can cause hand and skin burns, absorption of harmful substances, cuts, fractures or amputations.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure hand protection fits perfectly with no spaces and is free from cuts, burns and chemical residue.
  • Always replace them if any sign of contamination was observed.
  • Use rubber gloves when working with heat and electricity to reduce the risk of burn or electrical shock.

Foot Protection

PPE includes knee pads and safety boots and should be used for tasks that can cause serious foot and leg injuries from falling or rolling objects, hot substances, electrical hazards, and slippery surfaces.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure boots have slip-resistant soles that can protect against compression and impact.
  • Ensure the sole plate is in good condition to prevent punctures.

Fall Protection

PPE includes safety harnesses and lanyards and should be strictly used for tasks that can cause falling from heights and serious injury or death.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure that the straps are free from tears, deformities and burn marks.
  • Check the buckles if connected securely and tightly.
  • Dispose of the equipment if used after a falling incident.

Hearing Protection

PPE includes ear muffs and plugs and should be used for tasks that can cause hearing problems and loss of hearing.

Safety Tips:

  • Ensure the equipment fit the ear canal perfectly.
  • It is recommended to use formable earplugs to fit on different sizes of ear canals.
  • Use protectors that reduce noise to an acceptable level to have a room for communication.
  • Ensure earplugs are clean and in good condition.

PPE Safety

Workplace safety should begin with a hazard assessment. Once the hazards and risks have been identified, a plan can be put forward to prioritize and reduce the risk of injury. Useful systems and tools to perform hazard assessments include performing a risk assessment and a Job Safety Analysis (JSA).
The hierarchy of controls is a proven safety approach that helps protect employees. If elimination, substitution, engineering, and administrative controls are not enough to eliminate the risk, it is vital to choose the appropriate PPE carefully. Ensure employees are properly trained to use the equipment and be able to detect and report any damages before commencing work.
A PPE toolbox talk is recommended to discuss the different kinds of PPE that can be used to minimize the likelihood and mitigate the effects of hazards. It can help in assessing the sufficiency and availability of equipment for all employees.


Sare Hawes

SafetyCulture staff writer