How to choose the right PPE for you

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) is a word that we have all become very familiar with over the past couple of years. The Covid-19 pandemic made us more aware than ever of the term PPE, but what does it actually mean?

“PPE – Personal Protective Equipment”

So, just facemasks and vinyl gloves? Not quite! PPE is much more than that and has been around for a lot longer than the coronavirus. PPE has been used for centuries, think back to chainmail armour worn by soldiers in wars that were fought way back when.

Nowadays, PPE is used across all sorts of hobbies and industries to keep workers safe, such jobs include construction, gardening, medicine and electricians.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) Laws UK

Making a workplace safe includes a myriad of steps, controls, procedures, training and supervision.

In the UK PPE is the responsibility of the employer, however PPE should only be used as a last resort. Before PPE is instated in a workplace a risk assessment should take place and safety controls should be implemented. Even once these measures are put in place some hazards may remain that could cause potential risks to the safety of employees, risks such as:

  • the lungs, e.g. from breathing in contaminated air on infectious wards.
  • the head and feet, e.g. from falling materials on a building site.
  • the eyes, e.g. from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids in scientific labs.
  • the skin, e.g. from contact with corrosive materials.
  • the body, e.g. from extremes of heat or cold for those working outside or in specific factories and warehouses.

In these cases, the employer must provide any essential PPE free of charge to protect their employees. Items could include masks, helmets, goggles, gloves, hi-vis and insulated clothing.

Any workers receiving new PPE must also be given sufficient training in the care and use of the equipment to ensure they are safely wearing and cleaning/ disposing of the equipment. Without this training there is a risk that employees could be needlessly harmed or, in some industries, the risk of contamination.

All PPE that is provided must be purchased in line with current regulations outlined below.

The current legislation referring to the supply of personal protective equipment is the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2016; these regulations are in turn enforced by the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018.

HSE (Health and Safety England) are the enforcing authority for the supply of PPE that is designed for use at work.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) Standards, CE mark and EN

When selecting the PPE to give to employees or when purchasing for personal use, it is vital that you select equipment that conforms to official standards. These standards let the user know that the product has been efficiently and rigorously testing to withstand the risks at hand.

Standards do vary depending on the type of PPE you require, for example there are multiple standards of hi-vis jacket that identify the levels of conspicuity and reflection for the garment (learn more in our hi-vis blog). These variations mean that some research should be undertaken prior to making a purchase. Certified suppliers can help you with this process and our team at Rapid Fire Supplies are happy to help you find the right PPE for you or your company.

How to care for PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

As equipment that is made specifically to protect the body PPE must be kept in good working order. This responsibility usually falls to the user (e.g. the employee not the employer) and is up to them to report any faults or damages to their PPE. However, official checks should also be carried out for all workers to uphold safety standards.

Keep in mind…

  • Whose responsibility is it to maintain the PPE? Is there a designated person to perform check-ups or is it your responsibility?
  • Replace damaged PPE with parts that match the original products e.g. respirator filters.
  • Have extra PPE available onsite. Stocks of spare helmets, gloves, goggles etc. should be kept in case of damage to enable productivity to continue safely.
  • Keep a supply of disposable versions of everyday PPE such as one-use masks, coveralls, gloves. These are a good option for jobs that are particularly dirty or for visitors.

Which parts of the body require PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)?

Body PartHazardsPPE options
EYESDust, small particles, UV radiation, gas and chemical splashes.Safety goggles, safety glasses, face shields and visors.
EARSNoise and dust.Earmuffs and earplugs.
HEAD AND NECKBumps, falling objects, hair getting caught, chemical splashes, temperature.Helmets, hair ties/ hair nets, bump caps, insulated hats.
LUNGSDust, gases and lack of oxygen.RPE: masks, respirators, full face masks and air hoses.
HANDS AND ARMSCuts, temperature, falling objects, chemicals, electric shocks and radiation.Gloves – to the wrist or full arm including vinyl gloves, high-impact resistance gloves, thermal gloves etc. and gauntlets.
FEET AND LEGSWet/ cold conditions, prolonged wear, cuts, slipping, falling objects, chemical splashes and vehicles.Safety boots, safety shoes, protective toecaps, wellington boots and safety socks
WHOLE BODYTemperatures, dust, chemicals, cuts, falls, excessive wear, machinery faults, vehicles.Hi-vis garments, overalls and coveralls, boilersuits, aprons, safety harnesses and chemical suits.

Who needs PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)? And which PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE) do they need?

If we were to outline every situation where PPE is required, you would be reading this blog forever! Instead, we’ve compiled a brief list of people who would require PPE in their role, covering the main types of PPE available.

This is intended to be a brief outline of the types of PPE some industries may need, however it is not conclusive and can vary depending on the risk levels in a particular workplace.

The below overviews should be read so that any relevant information can be applied to your own unique circumstances.

Scientific lab

We are focusing here on a scientist working in a lab, they are exposed to chemicals and work with a variety of apparatuses.

PPE is therefore essential.

It is also relevant to note that underneath PPE the scientist should wear appropriate clothing. Long trousers, long-sleeved tops and fully closed shoes prevent any dangerous splashes getting onto the skin.

Simultaneously they should avoid loose clothing, wearing their hair down and any jewelry especially rings.

Gowns

The PPE item synonymous with lab work is the lab coat. There are many different types of lab coat on the market depending on the levels of protection required for the activity.

This Portwest lab coat has an anti-microbial coating that is proven to kill 99.9% of bacteria. Available at a great price, it has a comfy fit and the numerous pockets mean that it is a great choice of lab coat for students who are embarking on their journey in the lab and for the wider scientific community.

Gloves

In a lab that requires an anti-microbial coated lab coat as part of the PPE, it will also be important to have the correct gloves to effectively protect the hands from any harmful chemicals that the scientist may be working with.

Again, there are many options to select from such as disposable vinyl gloves and reusable gauntlets

Here are a few that we recommend. Always assess the circumstances and identify what hazards you will be working with prior to choosing a glove.

Goggles

Working with dangerous chemicals means that there is a risk of splashing. This splashing, if it reaches the eyes, could cause severe damage to the vision and depending on the chemical could potentially result in blindness. Therefore, eye protection should always be worn during lab work.

The type of protection required does depend on the risk presented e.g. if there is a dangerous gas as well as chemicals being used a tightly fit safety goggle should be worn preferably with no ventilation. However, in most scenarios a splash protection safety goggle, such as this Portwest safety goggle, is usually a safe PPE choice.

Masks

Similarly, when it comes to deciding which gloves to purchase, the type of mask depends on the risks at hand. If working with dangerous gases or materials that can cause gases (e.g. when they are burnt) then a respirator is recommended. This Moldex reusable half mask gives protection to the wearer protecting against gas, vapours and dust.

If there is not a risk of this, then the option to wear no mask is available to the scientist, or if in a busy lab they could opt for a 3-ply surgical mask to protect themselves and others from spreading any viruses such as Covid-19

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

Electrician

Coveralls

Working as an electrician can result in being in small spaces that may be dirty and cold. Therefore, overalls or coveralls are essential to keep the worker clean and warm, as well as allowing them to store items in, as some work areas may not be big enough to fit their toolbox.

The Portwest Texo Contrast coverall has many pockets of different shapes and sizes to give the worker the option of storing their kit on their persons for easy access.

Gloves

Anti-static gloves are an essential for an electrician to avoid electric shocks that can be caused by static. The gloves work by diverting the static electricity away from the wearer. These antistatic micro dot gloves are light and comfortable and are compatible with most touch screen devices.

Knee Pads

A PPE item that has the potential to be overlooked is the knee pad. Usually made from a foam or gel substance these pads protect the knees from sharp and hard ground by cushioning the knee. Knee matts are also a good option for those jobs that take a bit longer, or for people who have transportation that they use to visit multiple locations. Take a look at the Ultimate Gel Knee Pad

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

Construction Worker

Masks / Respirators

In the construction industry there can be lots of dust onsite therefore the safety of the lungs should be considered. The best PPE for the lungs is a mask. RPE devices such as the FFP2 valved respirator masks work by filtering the air and ensuring that the wearer breathes in only the smaller, safer particles.

FFP2 and FFP3 masks should always be fit tested by a trained fit tester before they are worn, this is so that the mask is worn properly and tightly enough to do its job as an item of PPE.

More advice on fit testing can be found here: Guidance on respiratory (hse.gov.uk)

Helmets

A helmet is a must have item of PPE in any workplace where there is the potential of falling hazards, to fall off something, tight spaces where the head may bump the celling and near machinery that the head could knock into. There are of course other scenarios where this may also be required.

PPE such as visor helmets and bump caps may be useful, however on a construction site a sturdy helmet such as Portwest’s Expertbase safety PRO helmet is a fantastic choice. Inner webbing on the helmet ensures that a tight fit can be found and a foam headpiece keeps the all-day comfort of the wearer in mind.

Hi-vis workwear

A large number of people working on a construction site means that many different activities will be happening at the same time. This makes it vital that workers can be easily seen at all times to avoid any accidents occurring. The PPE that can’t be missed – hi-vis garments.

As the winter months are approaching, we want to highlight the hi-vis mesh lined fleece. This hi-vis jacket is a staple item for the construction worker to bring out when the weather becomes that little bit colder. Its reflective strips add extra levels of protection, and the warm fleece material ensures warm comfort all day long.

Not forgetting the bottom part of the body, take a look at the hi-vis rain trousers. Also, a good option as the weather changes, they can be worn over the top of other comfortable trousers to keep them dry in wet conditions and are easily removed to swiftly air out.

For more specific information about hi-vis workwear and how it works see our previous blog: We need to talk about Hi-Vis clothing: It’s not to be missed (rapidfiresupplies.co.uk)

Safety Boots / Safety Shoes

Holding us up all day, everyday the feet are another area that needs to be considered in the construction industry. With similar reasons to the helmet e.g. bumps or falling objects. To get the highest level of protection we recommend a toe capped safety shoe or boot that has a level of sole protection too. The enhanced sole protection keeps the foot safe incase the worker steps on a sharp object that could penetrate the shoe and the foot thereafter.

The Steelite All Weather boot is our favourite, in sizes 5-13 it is suitable for men and women alike. A protective steel toe cap, 100% water resistance and heat resistant outsole are just some of the fantastic features of this particular boot.

To learn more, have a look at our blog all about the top safety shoes available Top 10 Best Safety Boots 2021 – Rapid Fire Supplies Review

Earmuffs / Ear plugs

We don’t want to forget about the importance of protecting the hearing. On construction sites there is a lot of noise from machinery and building work etc. and over time these noises can take their toll. There is also the risk of sudden loud noises that can seriously damage the hearing in no time at all, that is why we are happy to present our large range of hearing protection devices.

Earmuffs and earplugs both have their value depending on the workplace.

For a construction worker we recommend an option such as these clip-on earmuffs.

Learn more about which PPE is best suited to you here: EARMUFFS VS EARPLUGS: Which one is the best at protecting hearing? (rapidfiresupplies.co.uk)

Safety Glasses

Let us not forget about providing PPE for the eyes! On a construction site the eyes are most regularly at risk to the same dust particles that pose a threat to the lungs; however, they can also be damaged by flying objects and over-exposure to UV light.

For construction workers we recommend wearing a pair of safety glasses. These offer protection to the eyes, can be scratch resistant and have anti- glare coatings that not only protect the eyes from UV light, but prevent any glare distracting or dazzling workers. One of our favourite pairs are the Saint Louis safety glasses, as not only do they offer premium eye protection they are also incredibly stylish.

Related: 10 Things you should know about Eye protection

Compatibility and size

When purchasing and wearing PPE, no matter what industry, it is vital for the wearer/the person providing the PPE for their workers to always consider how compatible the PPE will be. One of the worst occurrences is when the chosen PPE obstructs the other PPE that is being used. For example:

  • A helmet can obstruct earmuffs.
  • A mask can obstruct safety goggles.
  • PPE clothing that does not properly fit can get caught and snag on other PPE items.

There are, of course, other instances where PPE obstruction can take place so be sure to get the correct size for you or the person wearing the PPE, and think about how different forms of PPE may affect each other.

Conclusion

There we have it! PPE is far more than just surgical masks. It is used across all sorts of industries and there are a huge variety of different types of PPE available for specific jobs or activities. We hope you discovered something helpful, new, or interesting in our PPE blog and that you use it to stay safe in the future.

Get in Touch

The Rapid Fire Supplies customer care team are available to answer any questions that you might have about PPE. Please call us between 8:30 and 19:00, Monday to Friday on 03330 150 330 or alternatively leave us a message.

Additional info/Sources

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (hse.gov.uk)

(PPE Suppliers) BSiF Accredited. CE & UKCA Marked UK & EIRE Delivery (rapidfiresupplies.co.uk)

Designated standards: PPE – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

BSIF | British Safety Industry Federation

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