Types of PPE - 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

4. Types of PPE

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

RPE is designed to protect the individual wearer from various hazardous substances in their workplace. There are two types of respiratory equipment.

  1. Filters contaminated air or cleans it before it is breathed in.
  2. Supplies clean air from an independent source.

RPE may be required for working with large amounts of

  • gases, vapours
  • dusts, powders
  • welding
  • grinders, cutter and saw use.

Face masks rely on a good seal against the face, if there are gaps in the face mask then contaminated air, dust, gases and vapors may be breathed into the lungs. For this reason it is very important your mask fits properly and is used correctly every time you use it.

Facial hair, stubble and beards make it impossible to get a good seal on the face.

For this reason you need to be clean shaven to allow a good seal around the face and prevent any leaks of contaminated air into the lungs.

There are reasons that employees may have a beard for example, religious reasons. If that is the case there are alternative options that could be introduced, such as a full hood covering the head and the face.

Use our RPE Selector Tool

Face fit testing of RPE

The RPE should have a tight-fitting face piece, you need to ensure the user has the correct device. For this reason the initial selection of RPE should include fit-testing. A competent face fit tester should carry out these assessments.

You will need to repeat the face fit testing if there are changes. For example if the model or size of the face piece changes or if there are significant changes to the user’s facial characteristics. There are two forms of face fit testing.

  • Qualitative fit testing is suitable for disposable filter face pieces and half masks. This can be done as a simple pass/fail based on the user’s subjective assessment of the fit and leakage and this method is not suitable for full face masks. 
  • Quantitative fit testing provides a numerical measure of the fit known as a fit factor. This test requires special equipment and it is more complicated to carry out. This method is recommended for full face masks. Quantitative risk assessment is a more in-depth assessment of the risk.

Hearing protection

There are three types of hearing protection.

  • Earmuffs/defenders that completely cover the ear.
  • Ear plugs that are inserted into the ear canal.
  • Semi inserts (also called canal caps) which cover the entrance of the ear canal.

Hearing protection must be worn by anyone who is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the Exposure Action Level set by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

Go to our noise and hearing loss page

Head protection

There are three widely used types of head protection.

  • Industrial safety helmets (hard hats) which are designed to protect against materials falling from a height or swinging objects.
  • Industrial scalp protectors (bump caps) which are designed to protect from knocking against stationary objects.
  • Caps/hair nets which protect against entanglement.

Tasks where head protection may be required include

  • construction
  • building repair
  • work in excavations or tunnels
  • work with bolt driving tools
  • driving motorcycles.

Turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from wearing head protection on construction sites by virtue of The Employment Act 1989 as amended by Section 6 of the Deregulation Act 2015 (external site)

Eye protection

There are several types of eye protection.

  • Safety spectacles: these are similar to regular glasses but have a tougher lens, they can include side shields for additional protection.
  • Eye shield: a frame-less one piece molded lens often worn over prescription glasses.
  • Safety goggles: these are made of flexible plastic frames and an elastic headband.
  • Face shields: heavier and bulkier than other types of eye protection, face shields protect the face, but do not fully enclose the eye so do not protect against dust, gases, fumes and mists.

Tasks where eye protection may be used include

  • handling hazardous substances where there is a risk of splashes
  • working with power driven tools where materials are likely to be propelled
  • welding operations
  • working with lasers
  • using gas or vapour under pressure.

Foot protection

There are a number of types of safety footwear.

  • Safety boots or shoes, normally have steel toe caps but can have other safety features (e.g. steel mid soles, slip resistant soles, insulation against the heat and cold.
  • Wellington boot can also have steel toe caps.
  • Anti-static and conductive footwear, these protect against static electricity.

Tasks where foot protection may be required include

  • construction
  • demolition
  • building repair
  • manual handling where the risk of heavy objects falling on the feet
  • working in extremely hot or cold environments
  • working with chemicals and forestry.

Where there is a risk of slipping that cannot be avoided or controlled by other measures, attention must be given to slip resistant soles and replaced before the tread pattern is worn.

Go to our slips, trips and falls page

Hand and arm protection

Hand and arm protection comes in a variety of forms.

  • Gloves or gauntlets (leather, latex, nitrile, plastic coated, chain mail, etc).
  • Wrist cuff armlets (e.g. used in glass cutting and handling).

Tasks where hand and arm protection may be required include

  • manual handling of abrasive, sharp or pointed objects
  • working with vibrating equipment such as pneumatic drills and chainsaws
  • construction and outdoor work
  • working with chemicals and hazardous substances such as body fluids
  • working in hot or cold materials or temperatures.

In order to eliminate the risk of ill health through exposure to latex a number of organisations have phased out the use of latex gloves and replaced them with nitrile.

Go to our hazardous substances page

Go to our vibration page

Body protection

Types of body protection include

  • overalls, aprons and coveralls (protection against hazardous substances)
  • clothing for hot, cold or bad weather
  • clothing to protect against machinery
  • high visibility (jackets, trousers and vests)
  • harnesses
  • life jackets.

Tasks where body protection may be required include

  • working with hazardous substances
  • working next to the highway or areas with moving transport and vehicles (e.g. construction sites)
  • outdoor, forestry and ground maintenance work.

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.