PPE is the personal protective equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks.The best practice advice for health and safety professionals and useful resources for further reading.

Why is PPE important?

In the hierarchy of risk control, PPE is considered to rank lowest and represent the option of last resort. It is only appropriate where the hazard in question cannot be totally removed or controlled in such a way that harm is unlikely (for example by isolating the hazard or reducing the risk at source to an acceptable level).

There are a number of reasons for this approach:

PPE protects only the person using it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source can protect everyone at the Theoretical maximum levels of protection are seldom achieved using PPE, and the real level of protection is difficult to assess (due to factors such as poor fit, or failure to wear it when required). Effective protection can only be achieved by equipment which is correctly fitted, maintained and properly used at all times;

PPE may restrict the wearer by limiting mobility, visibility or by requiring additional weight to be carried.

Use of PPE may alter employees’ perception of the hazards they are dealing with.

In this context of a last resort control measure, PPE is critically important as it is generally only used where other measures are insufficient and as such it plays a crucial role in preventing and reducing many occupational fatalities, injuries and diseases.

PPE in numbers

This infographic provides some key facts and figures:

Key changes

All organisations involved with the production, importation, supply, distribution, marketing and sale of PPE will have the same responsibilities as the manufacturer, including getting product approval, making sure it conforms to the Regulation and keeping technical files and records. This will level the playing field between manufacturers and importers, and mean that fewer low-specification and counterfeit products will get into the EU marketplace.

  • Change of categorisation from product related to risk related;
  • Change of classification for certain product categories; Hearing Protection, now categorized as ‘harmful noise’ (risk) is moving from category II to III.
  • EC Declaration of Conformity to be provided (or with a web link) with each product.
  • 5-year validity / expiry date for new EU Certificates.
  • Increased obligations on ‘economic operators’ – being the total supply chain, including manufacturers, importers and distributors.

    PPE will not satisfy the requirement that it is ‘suitable’ unless:
  • It is appropriate for the risks and the conditions at the place of work;
  • It takes account of ergonomic requirements and the state of health of the person who may wear it;
  • It is capable of fitting the wearer correctly (if necessary after adjustments within the design range);
  • So far as is reasonably practicable, it is effective to prevent or adequately control the risk, without increasing overall risk;
  • It complies with community directives applicable to the item (i.e. CE marked).

    The Regulations also require that:

  • Where more than one item of PPE is to be worn, that the items are compatible;
  • PPE is properly assessed before use to ensure it is suitable – to assess the risks which the PPE is to control, to evaluate the characteristics required of the PPE in order for it to be effective against the risks, and to check that the PPE selected has those characteristics;
  • PPE is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair (including replacement and cleaning as appropriate).
  • Appropriate accommodation is provided to store the PPE when it is not being used;
  • Employees are provided with instructions on the risks which the PPE will avoid or limit, the reason for using the PPE, how to use it safely and effectively, actions needed by the employee to keep it in good order eg cleaning, replacement, storage (such instruction must be comprehensible to the persons to whom it is provided);

    Employers take reasonable steps to ensure the PPE is used correctly by employees.

    Employees themselves also have duties to use the PPE in accordance with their training, report loss or defect and to store the PPE as instructed. The self-employed similarly have a duty to make full and proper use of PPE.

    The Regulations do not apply where there is other legislation with mandatory requirements for the provision and use of PPE in relation to specific hazards:

  • The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 (as amended).
  • The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (as amended).
  • The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended)- The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (as amended).

    Types of PPE

    Various types of PPE are available for use in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance and general information about types of PPE used in industry, but it doesn’t cover specialised and less-used items.

    Detailed information should be obtained from suppliers on these more specialised items. Potential users should be involved in the selection of equipment they will be expected to wear and if possible more than one model should be made available to them.

    The different types of PPE include:

  • Head and scalp protection;
  • Respiratory protection;
  • Eye protection;
  • Hearing protection;
  • Hand and arm protection;
  • Foot and leg protection;
  • Body protection;
  • Height and access protection.

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is legally defined as ‘all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects the user against one or more risks to their health or safety’.