Personal Protective Equipment - Healthy Working Lives

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work

This section explains your obligations for providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees and different types of PPE available.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work, this can include items such as

  • safety helmets
  • ear protection
  • high visibility clothing
  • safety footwear and safety harnesses
  • thermal, weather and waterproof clothing
  • respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

As an employer, it is important that you understand your responsibilities and take steps to keep your workers and members of the public safe. 

You will need to know what PPE you need to provide and what training you need to provide to employees to ensure that they use it correctly.

As an employee, you will need to understand your responsibilities for the use, storage and maintenance of your own PPE.

  1. PPE legislation
  2. When do I need to provide PPE
  3. Training, maintenance and storage of PPE
  4. Types of PPE

2. When do I need to provide PPE

PPE should always be your last resort to manage workplace risks. This is a legal requirement.

While risk assessing work activities you need to think of different control measures before moving to ask employees to wear PPE. When deciding what precaution that you are going to introduce in the workplace you can work through the ‘hierarchy of controls’. It aims to minimise or prevent workplace hazards.

Hierarchy of controls

The controls in the hierarchy are in order of decreasing effectiveness, you should always follow this order.

  1. Elimination - Physically remove the hazard, for example use a mechanical aid instead of manual handling.
  2. Substitution - Replace the hazard with something less dangerous, for example by using a less hazardous chemical.
  3. Engineering Controls - Isolate the employees from the hazard, such as noise zones or barriers.
  4. Administrative Controls - Change or train the way people work, for example by reducing the exposure to vibration by rotating employees.
  5. PPE - Protect the worker with personal protective equipment.

These are some of the reasons why PPE must be considered as a last resort.

  • PPE only protects the person wearing it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source protects everyone in the workplace.
  • It is hard to assess the level of protection provided by PPE because it depends on how it fits the individual and if it is maintained and used correctly.
  • PPE may restrict the user to some extent by limiting mobility or visibility, or by requiring additional weight to be carried. Thus creating additional hazards.

Assessing and choosing PPE 

The need for PPE must be identified through Risk Assessment, it should not be a one size fits all approach. The protective equipment should be personal to the individual user and be suitable and fit for purpose. 

All personal protective equipment must be 'C E' Marked (external site). The C E mark signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic/minimum safety requirements.

To establish if your employees need to wear PPE you can carry out a risk assessment. During the assessment you will identify workplace hazards, evaluate and estimate risks to decide if you are doing enough to manage risks in the workplace. You will also decide what PPE needs to be used.

Use our risk assessment form

Suitability of PPE

The following factors should be considered when assessing the suitability of PPE.

  • Is the PPE appropriate for the risk involved and conditions at the place where exposure may occur? For example goggles are not suitable when full face protection is required.
  • Does the PPE prevent or adequately control the risks involved without increasing the overall risk. For example gloves should not be worn when using a pillar drill due to the increased risk of entanglement.
  • Can the PPE be adjusted to fit the user correctly? For example if an employee wears glasses then ear defenders may not provide a proper seal to protect against noise hazards.
  • What are the needs of the job and the demands it places on the user?
  • How long will the PPE be worn?
  • What are the requirements for visibility and communication? For example PPE might not allow the user to hear a fire alarm.
  • If more than one item of PPE is being worn are they compatible? For example some respirators make it difficult for eye protection to fit properly.
  • Has the state of health been taken into account of those using the PPE? For example a health surveillance survey could be carried out to make sure the PPE is suitable for those users and doing the job it is supposed to do.
If you require any further advice you can call the healthy Working Lives free advice line number on 0800 019 2211 and speak to one of our safety advisors.