What does PPE stand for?
Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garment designed to protect the wearer's body or clothing from injury by blunt impacts, electrical hazards, heat, chemicals, and infection, for job-related occupational safety and health purposes, and in sports, martial arts, combat, etc. body armor is combat-specialized protective gear.
In British legislation the term PPE does not cover items such as armour. The terms "protective gear" and "protective clothing" are in many cases interchangeable; "protective clothing" is applied to traditional categories of clothing, and "gear" is a more general term and preferably means uniquely protective categories, such as pads, guards, shields, masks, etc.
PPE can also be used to protect the working environment from pesticide application, pollution or infection from the worker (for example in a microchip factory). The protection may be important in both ways, as with the use of disposable gloves by surgeons and dentists.
Do Employers have to provide personal protective equipment (PPE)?
The relevant regulations are the Personal Protective Equipment at Work
Regulation 4 states:
Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is
provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or
safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been
adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.
The accompanying guidance states:
Employers should, therefore, provide appropriate personal protective equipment
(PPE) and training in its usage to their employees wherever there is a risk
to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled by other means.
In order to provide PPE for their employees, employers must do more than
simply have the equipment on the premises. The employees must have the equipment
readily available, or at the very least have clear instructions on where they
can obtain it.
By virtue of Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, no
charge can be made to the worker for the provision of PPE which is used only
at work. Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states:
"No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his
any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific
requirement of the relevant statutory provisions". Section 9 applies
to these Regulations because they impose a 'specific requirement' - i.e. to
A short guide to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations -free leaflet (PDF) [101kb]
Charging for providing PPE
An employer cannot ask for money from an employee for PPE, whether
it is returnable or not. This includes agency workers if they are
legally regarded as your employees. If employment has been terminated
and the employee keeps the PPE without the employer’s permission, then,
as long as it has been made clear in the contract of employment, the
employer may be able to deduct the cost of the replacement from any
What to consider
Consider the following when assessing whether PPE is suitable:
- Is it appropriate for the risks involved
and the conditions at the place where exposure to the risk may occur?
For example, eye protection designed for providing protection against
agricultural pesticides will not offer adequate face protection for
someone using an angle grinder to cut steel or stone.
- Does it prevent or adequately control the risks involved without increasing the overall level of risk?
- Can it be adjusted to fit the wearer correctly?
- Has the state of health of those who will be wearing it been taken into account?
What are the needs of the job and the demands it places on the wearer?
For example, the length of time the PPE needs to be worn, the physical
effort required to do the job and the requirements for visibility and
- If more than one item of PPE is being worn, are
they compatible? For example, does a particular type of respirator make
it difficult to get eye protection to fit properly?
The hazards and types of PPE
Hazards: chemical or metal splash, dust, projectiles, gas and vapour, radiation.
Options: safety spectacles, goggles, faceshields, visors.
Hazards: impact from falling or flying objects, risk of head bumping, hair entanglement.
Options: a range of helmets and bump caps.
Hazards: dust, vapour, gas, oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
Options: disposable filtering facepiece or respirator, half- or full-face respirators, air-fed helmets, breathing apparatus.
Protecting the body
Hazards: temperature extremes, adverse weather, chemical or metal
splash, spray from pressure leaks or spray guns, impact or penetration,
contaminated dust, excessive wear or entanglement of own clothing.
Options: conventional or disposable overalls, boiler suits,
specialist protective clothing, e.g. chain-mail aprons, high-visibility
Hands and arms
Hazards: abrasion, temperature extremes, cuts and punctures, impact,
chemicals, electric shock, skin infection, disease or contamination.
Options: gloves, gauntlets, mitts, wristcuffs, armlets.
Feet and legs
Hazards: wet, electrostatic build-up, slipping, cuts and punctures, falling objects, metal and chemical splash, abrasion.
Options: safety boots and shoes with protective toe caps and penetration-resistant mid-sole, gaiters, leggings, spats.
Make sure of the following:
- Make sure anyone using PPE is aware of why it is needed, when it is to be used, repaired or replaced and its limitations
- Train and instruct people how to use it properly and make sure they are doing this
Because PPE is the last resort after other methods of protection have
been considered, it is important that users wear it all the time they
are exposed to the risk. Never allow exemptions for those jobs which
take ‘just a few minutes’
- Check regularly that PPE is being
used and investigate fully any reasons why it is not. Safety signs can
be useful reminders to wear PPE
Make sure equipment is:
Also make sure that suitable replacement PPE is always readily available.
- Well looked after and properly stored when
it is not being used, for example in a dry, clean cupboard, or in the
case of smaller items, such as eye protection, in a box or case;
Kept clean and in good repair - follow the manufacturer’s maintenance
schedule (including recommended replacement periods and shelf lives).
Simple maintenance can be carried out by the trained wearer, but more
intricate repairs should only be done by specialists.
Ensure any PPE you buy is ‘CE’ marked and complies with the
requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. The
CE marking signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic safety
requirements and in some cases will have been tested and certified by
an independent body.
The PPE at Work Regulations do not apply where the following six
sets of regulations require the provision and use of PPE against these
hazards. For example, gloves used to prevent dangerous chemicals
penetrating the skin would be covered by the Control of Substances
Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (or Control of
Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 (as
amended)). The regulations are:
- The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 (or Control of Lead at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003)
- The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (or Ionising Radiations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000)
- The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 (or Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003)
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as
amended) or Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
(Northern Ireland) 2003 (as amended)).
- The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 (or Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1990).
- The Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 (or Construction (Head Protection) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1990).
Key points to remember
Are there ways (other than PPE) in which the risk can be adequately
controlled, e.g., engineering controls? If not, check that PPE is
offered and if it is that:
- It offers adequate protection for its intended use
- Those using it are adequately trained in its safe use
- It is properly maintained and any defects are reported
- It is returned to its proper storage after use