A Guide to Personal Protective Equipment

What is PPE?

PPE (or personal protective equipment) are items of clothing and other equipment that help protect workers from illness or injuries whenever they are exposed to workplace hazards. Hard hats, full body suits, high visibility clothing, safety glasses, vests, goggles, helmets, gloves, boots, and earplugs are just a few examples of clothing considered as personal protective equipment. But it is important to remember that personal protective equipment only minimises the risk to the workers’ health and safety. Risks will always be present, that is why the use of personal protective equipment is supplemented with control measures especially in hazardous workplaces. It is imperative that you speak with a workwear and safety equipment specialist to ensure you are correctly equipped.   

Types of Workplace Hazards

Physical hazards. This includes noise, radiation, vibration, heights, electricity, high pressure, high vacuum, etc.

Biological hazards. Includes disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, bio-active substances, and fungi. People who work in hospitals, laboratories, farms, and food processing plants are constantly exposed to biological hazards.

Chemical hazards. Any material or compound that can adversely affect the health of the workers when they are exposed to them. Workers who handle chemicals that are toxic, explosive, flammable, and corrosive are, particularly at risk. These chemicals can enter a body through absorption, ingestion, or inhalation. These substances can burn, blister, irritate, or inflame the skin. A number of chemicals can also cause respiratory diseases, cancer, asphyxiation, organ failure, and even death. A worker who comes in contact with hazardous substances must attend a WHMIS Training Course.

Psychosocial hazards. Includes violence, workplace stress, fatigue, bullying, and other stressors in the workplace.

Types of Personal Protective Equipment

Head protection. Hard hats and safety helmets can protect a worker from head injuries caused by impact, fire, electrical shock, and flying or falling objects. Welders, linemen, electricians, plumbers, construction workers, and other people who work in hazardous workplaces are required to wear hard hats. This type of PPE should have a hard outer shell to prevent penetration by blunt or sharp objects. It should also be water and fire protection, and able to absorb the shock when struck. Helmets, in particular, should be properly ventilated.    

Protective clothing. This type of PPE protects the body from radiation, cuts, dangerous chemicals, temperature extremes, hot liquids, contamination, and more. Full body suits, lab coats, jackets, surgical gowns, jackets, vests, and aprons are some examples of protective clothing. The materials of protective clothing vary depending on the application and the workplace condition.

Eye and face protection. These are equipment that protect the eyes and face from liquid chemicals, chemicals gases, caustic chemicals, flying debris, UV light, and molten metal splashes. Floating or flying dust, swinging ropes and chains, sparks from welding, and laser light could also injure workers, making these equipment a necessity in hazardous workplace. Examples of this type of PPE include goggles, protective eyeglasses, welding shields, laser safety goggles, and face shields.

Respiratory protection. This type of PPE is designed to protect a worker from inhaling toxic compounds or contaminated air in the workplace. In some cases, PPE can also provide oxygen to the wearer when working in low oxygen workplaces. Chemical cartridge respirators, self-contained breathing apparatus, powered air purifying respirators, and dust masks are some examples of respiratory protection equipment.  

Hand and arm protection. Personal protective equipment designed to protect the hands and arms from cuts, bruises, burns, abrasions, and punctures. Some are even designed to protect the wearer from temperature extremes, as well as prevent fractures and amputation. Examples of PPE designed for hands and arms are gloves (hand or elbow-length), arm coverings, and finger guards. Gloves and other such equipment can be made of leather, metal mesh, and canvas. Others are designed to protect the hand and arms from harmful chemicals. These types of gloves are made of neoprene, nitrile, latex, and butyl.

Hearing protection. This type of personal protective equipment is designed to protect workers from extremely loud and prolonged noises in the workplace. Hearing protection equipment include earplugs and earmuffs.  

Foot protection. These are designed to prevent foot injuries in the workplaces. Boots and safety shoes are designed to prevent injuries caused by falling objects, rolling objects, sharp objects littered on the ground, or electrical hazards.

Protective equipment for people working at heights. These are designed to protect a worker from falls if they work at heights. Lanyards, anchor points, and harnesses are some examples of personal protective equipment for construction workers, linemen, window cleaners, etc.

Training Workers in the Correct Use of Personal Protective Equipment

Employees are responsible for ensuring the safety of their workers by providing the correct PPE, as well as training them in the proper use of said equipment. Employers or a trained representative should:

* Explain what PPE is, as well as why and when it is essential

* Demonstrate how to wear, remove, or adjust the equipment properly

* Demonstrate how to clean, maintain, and dispose of the equipment

* Explain the limitations of the equipment

* Ensure that his or her employees understand the importance of the PPE training

* Retrain an employee who demonstrates incorrect usage of PPE. Additional retraining will also be required when there is a new and updated PPE or when the previous training has become outdated.

Choosing the Right PPE for Your Workplace

When selecting PPE, employers should consider whether the design and construction of the item are safe or not. It should also be comfortable and should fit the worker properly to encourage the employee to wear it often. PPE should be designed to suit the workplace conditions and the hazards that come along with it. It should be easy to clean, durable, and practical.

Author: Brandon Park