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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be provided by an employer ‘free of charge’ and supplied where there are risks which cannot be controlled by other means.

PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).

Many employers will provide PPE on the basis of cost, and are then surprised that employees are reluctant to use the equipment as required. This can set up conflicts within the workforce, with health and safety performance suffering as a result.

One of the most effective ways of ensuring that suitable PPE is provided is to involve workers in the evaluation and selection process. Workers will be aware of the physical demands of the job and will understand the requirement for PPE to be comfortable to wear, they are also best placed to appreciate the nature of the tasks which they are required to undertake.

Employees will feel more valued and appreciated if they are involved in the PPE selection process; indeed many employers report better health and safety compliance, fewer accidents, and improved employee engagement as a direct result.

Whilst PPE is widely used to help safeguard workers’ health and safety, it is vital that it is NOT employed as a shortcut to dealing with health & safety problems at work

When selecting and using PPE:

  • Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 – suppliers can advise you
  • Choose equipment that suits the user – consider the size, fit and weight of the PPE. If the users help choose it, they will be more likely to use it
  • If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, eg wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks
  • Instruct and train people how to use it, eg train people to remove gloves without contaminating their skin. Tell them why it is needed, when to use it and what its limitations are
  • Never allow exemptions from wearing PPE for those jobs that ‘only take a few minutes’
  • Check with your supplier on what PPE is appropriate – explain the job to them
  • If in doubt, seek further advice from a specialist adviser

Roger Broadbent, Consultant