PPE - it may be the bane of your life, but as you’ll probably already know it can save your life (and prevent serious injuries and illnesses). It’s a vital part of a tradesperson’s job, so we’ve covered everything you need to know about personal protective equipment.
Let’s start with the basics for those that don’t already know. PPE stands for personal protective equipment, and in layman’s terms, is equipment worn to protect the wearer from any potential health or safety risks. In many circumstances it’s a legal requirement (check out the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 if you fancy some bedtime reading) for employers to provide the correct equipment, so if you manage a team you’ll need to make sure you provide suitable protection for everyone, and if you’re self-employed you’ll need to get the right gear too.
Why is PPE important?
PPE is considered to be a last-resort measure, it needs to be used where the health and safety concern or risk cannot be controlled using a different method (for example removing the risk). The regulations for PPE list, among others, the following conditions for all equipment that must be met:
• It must appropriately meet the risks and conditions of the workplace
• It must be suitable for the person wearing it (their individual health and requirements must be taken into consideration)
• It has to fit correctly (including offering adjustments on the equipment if necessary)
• It must be compatible with other PPE items that will be worn at the same time (e.g. goggles and helmets)
• It must be assessed before each use to ensure it’s fit-for-purpose
• It must be maintained and kept in good working order
• It must be replaced if needed
• It must be provided to employees with full and clear instructions on how to use it safely and effectively, the risks that will be avoided/limited by using it, and how to correctly maintain the equipment
However, these regulations only apply if the hazard doesn’t fall under one of the following legislations:
• The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999
• The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002
• The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
• The Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005
• The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
What types of PPE are available?
Safety and work gloves
Work gloves are one of the most common types of PPE, and probably the most noticeable if you need them but don’t have them. Other options for protecting your hands and arms include gauntlets, wrist-cuts and armlets.
There are a number of hand injuries you risk if you don’t wear PPE gloves, including cuts, abrasions, heat or cold damage, vibrations, contamination, burns, infection, skin irritation and dermatitis. Depending on your trade, you’ll need to look for gloves that work for you, for example, if you’re a plumber, you’ll need good grip and waterproof coating. Make sure the gloves you’re choosing offer plenty of protection and flexibility, and don’t forget to replace your gloves as soon as there’s any sign of damage to ensure their protection isn’t compromised.
BS EN 14 328 - protective clothing - gloves and arm guards protecting against cuts by powered knives
BS EN 407 - protective gloves against thermal risks (heat and/or fire)
BS EN 374 Part 1 - protective gloves against chemicals and micro-organisms
BS EN 511 - protective gloves against cold
BS EN 388 - protective gloves against mechanical risks
Eye protection and safety goggles
Building and construction sites are a risky place when it comes to your eyes, and comfort isn’t worth the risk of losing your eyesight. Some of the hazards that you may encounter on job sites include dust, cuts, chemical splashes, projectiles and debris, and gas and vapours.
These can be easily avoided using safety spectacles, goggles, face-shields or visors.
BS 7028 - eye protection for industrial and other uses
BS EN 166 - personal eye protection
Exposure to loud, repetitive noise caused by machines and tools is common in the trade industry. As many tradespeople know, this can lead to lifelong issues such as tinnitus, but can be easily avoided with suitable gear. As per PPE regulations, any ear protectors must be compatible with other PPE equipment such as eye goggles and hardhats without compromising their protective abilities.
BS EN 352 Part 1 - standard for ear protectors
Respirators and dust masks
Another common cause of serious illness on project sites is inhaling hazardous materials over a number of years which can cause long-term internal damage. Common airborne hazards in construction include large amounts of dust, gas and vapours. There are a number of different mask and respirator options to suit different environments and hazards, browse our range here.
Hard hats and protective helmets
A head injury on site can be completely life-altering, but due to the nature of job sites, they’re all too common. Whether the risk is walking into and hitting your head on a fixed object, falling and hitting your head, being hit by a falling object, getting caught on a machine, or the risk of exposure to the cold weather - head protection is vital.
BS EN 397 - industrial safety helmets
BS EN 14052 - high-performance industrial helmets
The dangers of failing to wear hi-vis clothing when needed should be pretty obvious - you could get hit by a vehicle or other objects being thrown by coworkers. Hi-vis clothing makes sure you stand out on busy construction sites and in areas of low lighting.
Other types of Personal Protective Equipment
Knee pads provide comfort and protection for your knees from the damages of spending long periods of time kneeling down, for example when painting, tiling or doing anything low to the ground.
If you spend any time working on scaffolding or on high building exteriors, you’ll be familiar with the fear every time you look down or there’s a gust of wind. Safety harnesses are essential in these situations to prevent any serious falls.
When shopping for PPE, make sure you look for quality items, as you’ll want equipment that lasts so you don’t need to keep replacing it because it’s damaged or worn (and using your friend’s old second-hand equipment isn’t a great idea). You’ll also need to make sure you get the right equipment for the environment you’re working in, so pay close attention to the product descriptions to make sure you know what you’re getting, and the differences between the different products.