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      • Published 19 Jan 2024
      • Last Modified 15 Feb 2024
    • 8 min

    Selecting Personal Protective Equipment

    A worksite entrance’s sign says, “A Hard Hat, Boots, and Goggles are Required in This Area” but which types? What hazards do they protect against? Do certain personnel need additional protection? What personal protective equipment is required by law? This guide will address all that with an overview of PPE.

    Reviewed by Stephen Bettles, Technical Support Engineer (December 2023)

    What is PPE? PPE (personal protective equipment) is often the first line of defence against workplace hazards, though that requires using it properly. This PPE overview will explain how choosing PPE must consider the hazards present and their nature, the types of PPE needed to accordingly protect all parts of the body, and the training required for using and caring for this PPE properly and safely.

    Workplace Hazards

    There are countless types of workplace hazards and many types of PPE to guard against them. Some examples include:

    • Falling objects
    • Moving vehicles
    • Sharp edges
    • Corrosive liquids
    • Airborne particulates or fumes
    • Ergonomic discomfort
    • Noise
    • Working at height
    • Extreme temperature
    • Radiation

    Identifying Hazards

    All hazards must be identified, assessed, and addressed. For hazards that cannot be eliminated, establish one or more of:

    • Engineering controls, such as safety guards
    • Administrative controls, such as designating off-limits areas
    • PPE controls, such as mandating hard hats

    Use engineering and administrative controls to their greatest possible extent and PPE controls to mitigate remaining risk. Employers are obligated to provide PPE for each hazard deemed to require it. Document your risk analyses to be clear about which workplace hazards require PPE.

    Choosing PPE

    According to the Personal Protective Equipment Enforcement Regulations (2018), all employer-provided PPE must include the following:

    • Training on using it safely
    • Assessment of its suitability for the individual
    • Protection against the identified hazards
    • Verification of its proper use
    • Maintenance and replacement

    Selecting PPE considers hazard exposure types, duration, and amounts. Workers operating hazardous equipment every day will need extensive PPE that can stand up to frequent use while remaining comfortable. Visitors to a shop floor, however, could wear less extensive PPE (such as just hard hats and safety glasses) if they will just be viewing equipment at a safe distance from designated walking zones—which are a form of administrative control.

    PPE Training

    Along with providing PPE for workplace hazards, employers must also provide training for them to comply with personal protective equipment at work regulations.

    Explain PPE and health and safety during all employees’ training when they join the company, as well as when their roles and hazard exposures change. Be clear that you value their safety and will provide the PPE, but also that it will take commitment from them to fully realise PPE benefits.

    Maintain your PPE system with ongoing PPE training, such as prominent signage explaining different hazardous zones’ required PPE and yearly refresher courses on the importance and benefits of wearing PPE. Keep an eye on this training’s effectiveness by monitoring whether staff are wearing PPE correctly in all required situations.

    Adequate PPE

    For each part of the body to protect, consider which of the various types of PPE is most appropriate for the hazard.

    hard hat visor carrier

    Head: Beyond their various colours, which play an important health and safety role by designating responsibility level, hard hats have different functional options. RS carries straps and cradles for customising fit and comfort, liners for staying safe in cold environments, and adapters for affixing safety visors to allow combined head and face protection.

    Browse Hard Hat Accessories

    bump cap

    Bump caps are a type of head protection for when falling objects are less of a concern than overhead impacts in tight spaces. These keep your head safe while giving more comfort and ventilation, though they must be approved as a substitution for hard hats based on the hazard analysis.

    Browse Bump Caps

    safety goggles

    Safety goggles form a complete envelope around the eyes, while safety glasses allow airflow around the eyes. This means they have less protection against high-velocity objects, unlike safety goggles which offer a higher level of protection. RS also carries welding masks and full-face shields. Safety glasses are often acceptable for visitors touring or observing an industrial facility but consider eye and face protection more carefully for personnel working close to hazards: debris, metal and wood shavings, chemical splashing, ultraviolet light, infrared radiation, or electrical arcing. Many of these hazards have certain safety standards that safety glasses must meet.

    Browse Safety Goggles

    ear defenders

    Ears: RS’ ear defenders and disposable ear plugs can each provide comparable levels of ear protection. Ear defenders are more comfortable, easier to put on, and have options like microphones and speakers for communication between workers. Ear plugs are inexpensive and can easily be distributed to any personnel that need them.

    Both these types of ear protection have some drawbacks, so consider them carefully when selecting PPE for the ears:

    Ear defenders can be uncomfortable to wear in warmer climates and are sometimes not practical to wear with other PPE (such as eye protection) while remaining effective

    Ear plugs are more difficult to quickly use, both for their insertion and removal

    Browse Ear Defenders

    Disposable Gloves

    Hands: Hand protection generally falls into disposable gloves or work gloves, though RS carries finger cots as well for more focused protection. There are disposable gloves for working with industrial machinery fluids, medical gloves to prevent passing infections, and food-safe gloves for working in food preparation. For people with latex sensitivity, nitrile or vinyl options exist.

    Browse Disposable Gloves

    work gloves

    Work gloves are meant to hold up to sustained use. The dexterity required for the task is a chief factor, along with warmth, puncture resistance, and electrical resistance.

    Browse Work Gloves

    Respirator mask

    Lungs: Respiratory protection is vital PPE for jobs like industrial sanding and painting or work near hazardous fumes. RS respirators can cover either the mouth and nose or the entire face. Select the right filters for them based on the hazards present and ensure that all operators have their respirators fit and sealed properly.

    Browse Respirator Masks

    Safety boots

    Feet: Safety boots and shoes offer more than steel toes. Protection from impact is crucially important, but feet also need guarding against water immersion and penetration through the sole. Footwear must also protect against slipping hazards and the build-up of static charge, which can be a consideration in areas involving electronic repair and manufacturing. Given that employees will often provide this PPE based on preference and comfort, consider a safety footwear reimbursement program for fulfilling your duties for providing PPE - and ensure all footwear in use is appropriate for all the hazards present.

    Browse Safety Boots

    The PPE provided and available must provide its intended protection. This requires consideration of the task involved and any interaction between multiple types of PPE being used simultaneously.

    Wearing PPE Correctly

    Enjoying the benefits of wearing PPE requires wearing and using them correctly.

    • Coveralls must be sized to the wearer correctly to prevent loose sleeves from getting caught in spinning equipment and to avoid ergonomic stress from prolonged work in ill-fitting heavy clothing
    • Safety glasses can leave large gaps open on their sides or bottom when worn over regular glasses. Offer an assortment of safety glasses to ensure comfortable, fully protective eye protection to workers requiring it constantly
    • For the various disposable gloves you need to supply, keep easy access to their boxes (and to garbage cans), and provide clear training and signage explaining what each type is for
    • Disposable earplugs have a specific insertion method into the ear. Ensure all staff are trained on this technique
    • Respirators require careful fitting to the user to maintain sealing against airborne hazards. RS carries face-fittesting kits for this. This PPE must also fit functionally and comfortably with other required types of PPE, such as hard hats and safety goggles.
    • Face masks must tightly cover both the nose and the mouth to provide respiratory protection

    PPE Limitations

    Given the wide selection for all types of PPE, be aware of the hazards your PPE selections do and do not protect against. Familiarise yourself with the various industry standards for PPE types (safety footwear, goggles, etc.) and examine which ones different PPE products meet.

    Maintain PPE inventories since many PPE products must be immediately replaced after a safety incident, such as a heavy object falling on a hard hat.

    Remember that PPE is used for hazards that cannot be mitigated with reasonably practicable engineering or administrative controls.

    Caring for PPE

    All types of PPE need proper care and attention, lest they become workplace hazards themselves.

    Coveralls, for example, require regular cleaning, both for sanitation reasons (as with all clothing) but also to keep built-in high-visibility stripes clean and reflective. Many industrial laundry services exist for this, and some offer mending as well. Any fraying threads or dangling fabric is a serious safety hazard since it can become entangled in spinning equipment, leading to serious injury.

    Establish regular respirator filter replacement, such as after a set number of operating hours (similar to filters in your equipment maintenance program).

    As part of your safety incident protocols, assess the PPE of the personnel involved in an accident. If a hard hat protected a worker from a falling object but cracked in the process, it likely needs immediate replacement. This also applies to safety glasses that crack upon blocking a flying object.

    Finally, provide suitable storage for any PPE that’s not in use. Ensure PPE storage areas are clean, well-ventilated, and protected from UV exposure to ensure the longevity of the equipment.

    Benefits of PPE

    The benefits of wearing PPE are wide-ranging. Workers are kept safe and healthy at their jobs and have assured ongoing protection. Visitors can practically tour and oversee facilities and operations without incident. Employers comply with personal protective equipment at work regulations, letting them avoid punitive fines, prevent safety incidents and their financial and reputational costs, and be assured that they have a safe place of business for all involved.

    Browse RS’ extensive types of PPE to work out achieving the benefits of PPE for your workplace.

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