What is Personal Protective Equipment?
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a term that defines any piece of clothing or equipment that’s worn by employees to minimize exposure to biological, chemical, or any physical hazards on the worksite. For instance, doctors wear PPE when they treat patients suffering from contagions to mitigate the risk of contracting the virus themselves.
Personal protective equipment must be provided by the employers to employees, and they should also offer training about how to use it properly to mitigate the risk to employees’ health and safety. The fundamental principle is that personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used as a last resort, as employers must also take other steps to control risk in the workplace.
Why is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Important?
Personal protective equipment is important as it serves as the last line of defense against occupational illnesses, injuries, and protects against fatalities. In many situations, businesses often combine the use of PPE with other safety measures to bring the risk to employees to acceptable levels.
Wearing PPE is important for several reasons. For instance, PPE protects employees from needless injuries on the worksite, and it also prevents individuals from unnecessary exposure to chemicals. Wearing personal protective equipment is necessary, especially during a pandemic or a virus outbreak, as it mitigates the spread of infectious diseases or germs.
Employees who wear personal protective equipment are able to perform their duties more effectively and efficiently, as they don’t have to worry constantly about sudden exposure. As a result, employee productivity also increases.
Types of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment is designed to be a safety measure at most, and even the strictest measures might not be enough to curtail the risk associated with certain jobs. That is why it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of PPE regularly.
Depending on the nature of the job, it is important to identify the kind of PPE that will be required. There are several types of personal protective equipment that must be worn in the workplace, including:
- Equipment for protecting the face and the eyes
- Equipment to protect the ears
- Head protection
- Equipment for respiratory protection
- Foot protection
- Body protection
- Hand protection
Face and Eye Protection
PPE that’s designed to protect the face and the eyes includes safety goggles or face shields. Full face masks can also be worn to increase protection. This type of PPE protects against loss of vision, splashes, burns, and any toxic liquid sprays etc.
Employees who work in high-noise environments often need to wear ear protection to prevent serious damage to their ear drums. This involves wearing ear mufflers, earplugs or headphones to protect the ears from excessive noise.
Respiratory protection can include full-face respirators or breathing apparatus, or even masks, such as the N95 respirators, to protect against the inhalation of harmful materials. This can include gases, chemicals, toxic sprays, or airborne contagions such as viruses or bacteria that could cause infections.
PPE for Skin and the Body
PPE must also be worn when employees are working in high-risk environments, such as construction sites. Head protection, for instance, is very important, and there are strict laws for employees to wear hard hats and proper gear to protect their head against falling objects.
As for body protection, it is important for employees to wear safety suits or vests depending upon the nature of the task. If the task can lead to an injury or must be performed in a high-risk environment, such as near exposed flames or high levels of radiation, it is important that employees take appropriate safety precautions.
Hand and Feet Protection
Protecting the hands and feet is also important, and PPE for this includes knee pads, safety boots (with steel toes), or proper insulation. In some cases, for employees working at elevated heights, wearing protective equipment to prevent falls is also important.
Fall protection may include wearing a safety harness or straps to prevent injury from sudden falls. IT also includes using lanyards to prevent sudden injury.
What Does PPE Not Include?
There are certain types of clothing that aren’t included in PPE. This includes:
- Conventional uniforms or clothes worn by the employees.
- Clothing worn to maintain food hygiene
- Any equipment worn to protect oneself on public roads, such as helmets.
- Equipment worn during sport competitions
- Offensive weapons used as a deterrent. For instance, gas canisters aren’t considered PPE, though any riot gear worn by security guards is a part of PPE.
- Portable devices to prevent risk, such as dosimeters or gas detectors.
How to Assess and Select PPE
It is important to understand that employers cannot charge their employees for PPE. It doesn’t matter if the PPE must be returned or is designated for one-time use; employers cannot transfer the cost to the employees.
When selecting and evaluating different types of PPE, employers are responsible for making sure that they prepare a comprehensive list of all hazards in the workplace. PPE selection must be carried out through a detailed risk assessment.
Like all risk assessments, it is important that employers designate competent persons to conduct the analysis. This includes people with the necessary experience and understanding to conduct a thorough analysis.
It is also necessary that all PPE carries the CE marking. This signifies that the PPE meets the basic legal, health, and safety requirements to be sold within the European Union.
It is also necessary for employers to provide adequate training to employees about how to use PPE. Employers should conduct training sessions on how employees should use PPE correctly, and must then evaluate whether employees are using them properly, since PPE is ineffective if it’s not working or fitted properly. This helps foster a safety culture in the workplace.
Testing and Inspecting PPE
All PPE must be examined and inspected before use. Examination and maintenance of PPE is necessary to ensure that it's in proper working order, otherwise it’ll be ineffective. The primary objective of PPE testing is to ensure that the equipment will protect the person wearing it.
It’s imperative that companies only buy certified and tested PPE that has undergone proper testing and has been certified.
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