Everything you need to know about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and how to keep safe at work
Published November 24th, 2020
What is PPE?
A 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. Here are some benefits of using PPEs:
- prevent unnecessary injury in the workplace;
- protect employees from excessive chemical exposure;
- prevent the spread of germs and infectious diseases including COVID-19;
- help businesses comply with regulatory requirements; and
- improve employee productivity and efficiency.
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:
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
PPE includes the following categories to protect employees from physical hazards:
PPE includes hard hats and headgears and should be required for tasks that can cause any force or object falling to the head.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- Ensure boots have slip-resistant soles that can protect against compression and impact.
- Ensure the sole plate is in good condition to prevent punctures.
PPE includes safety harnesses and lanyards and should be strictly used for tasks that can cause falling from heights and serious injury or death.
- 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.
PPE includes ear muffs and plugs and should be used for tasks that can cause hearing problems and loss of hearing.
- 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.
The global COVID-19 pandemic widely affects the economy, businesses, and living standards around the world. The implementation of using PPE such as face mask and face shield while in public areas are mandatory in different countries to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. This protocol, however, doesn’t guarantee that the ongoing risks have materially changed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set forth guidelines on the proper way of wearing face masks to protect oneself from acquiring or spreading the virus. Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of wearing masks.
The battle against the global pandemic requires frontliners including doctors and nurses to wear isolation gown to protect them from acquiring the virus. This would help lessen the chance of getting sick even if they always interact with COVID-19 patients. Below are CDC guidelines they should follow in using PPE:
- All health workers should take comprehensive training about PPE including its appropriate usage, proper don (put on) and doff (take off) procedures, limitations, maintenance, and disposal.
- Ensure the choice of gown size is appropriate to the body size.
- Perform hand hygiene prior to donning the isolation gown.
- Put on NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator or higher. Use a facemask if a respirator is not available.
- Respirator straps should be placed on the crown of the head (top strap) and base of the neck (bottom strap).
- Perform a user seal check each time you wear a respirator.
- Face mask ties should be secured on the crown of the head (top tie) and base of the neck (bottom tie). If the face mask has loops, hook them appropriately around the ears.
- Select the proper eye protection such as face shield or goggles.
- Ensure the correct position of eye protection. It should not affect the seal of the respirator.
- Wear gloves, it should cover the cuff (wrist) of the gown.
- Prior to entering the patient area including the isolation room, PPE must be donned appropriately.
- While on duty, PPE must remain in place and be worn correctly especially in potentially contaminated areas.
- When attending patients, do not adjust the PPE. For example, retying the gown or adjusting the respirator or facemask.
- PPE must be removed slowly and deliberately in a sequence to prevent self-contamination.
- Ensure glove removal does not cause additional contamination of hands.
- Gloves can be removed using glove-in-glove or bird beak technique.
- When removing the gown, carefully reach up to the shoulders and pull the gown down and away from the body.
- After removing the gown, always perform hand hygiene.
- When removing eye protection, do not touch the front of the face shield or goggles.
- When removing respirators or face masks, do not touch the front of the respirator or facemask.
- Dispose of face masks properly.
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 toolbox talk about PPE 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.
Safety is paramount to all businesses across industries. Using PPEs are essential to protect employees from risks and hazards. Here are the frequently asked questions regarding PPE.
Can a mask be worn when performing fitness activities?
According to the World Health Organization, people should not wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Once a mask becomes wet it promotes the growth of microorganisms and makes it difficult to breathe.
What can be done to ensure the proper use of personal protective equipment?
All Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be well maintained, clean, and reliable. Employers should check if it is safely designed and constructed according to their function and usage. It should fit comfortably for users to ensure they are protected and they can work efficiently.
Are employers required to train each worker who is enforced to use PPE?
Yes. According to OSHA, employers should conduct PPE training including topics on when to use it, what proper equipment should be used, how to use and adjust it, equipment limitations, and proper maintenance and disposal of equipment.
Who is responsible to pay for PPE when it is used to comply with OSHA standards?
Who is responsible for making sure that PPE fits each worker properly?
Employers must ensure that each employee follows PPE guidelines and the equipment is adequate to protect the employees from hazards even when an employee provides their own PPE.
Why are there so many precautions about using PPE?
PPE is the last level of defense according to NIOSH. It is a false statement to believe that once an employee wears PPE they are totally protected. PPE only minimizes the likelihood of exposure or may reduce the severity of the injury. Do not use PPE when the risks are higher than how it is designed.
Can employers allow employees to not wear PPE for ‘only take a few minutes’ jobs?
No. Never allow exemptions from wearing PPE even if the job would only take a few minutes. An incident can occur anytime and wearing appropriate PPE can reduce the risk of an accident.
How to select the appropriate equipment?
A PPE safety checklist would help identify the appropriate PPE that is required in performing tasks. It would help ensure that the employee is using the right equipment to reduce the risks and overall hazards.
Featured PPE Safety Checklist
PPE Safety Checklist
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Safety Checklists are used by safety officials and supervisors to help identify tasks that require PPE, ensure staff is using the right equipment, and reduce overall harm. This page features the most downloaded PPE checklists from OSHA and other best practice checklists. Use iAuditor by SafetyCulture a web and mobile inspection app, to conduct regular PPE self-inspections, identify tasks that require PPE and ensure staff is using the right equipment. Get started with these free customizable PPE checklists to find out how you can prevent accidents at work.