What does PPE stand for?

  • PPE stands for personal protective equipment.  PPE means any device or appliance designed to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazards. 

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What regulations apply to PPE?

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What about PPE worn in leisure activities  e.g  sports helmets, arm bands etc?

  • PPE used for recreational purposes is under the remit of the National Consumer Agency.

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What types of activities and sectors may require PPE?

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When must PPE be used?

  • The fundamental principle is that personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used as a last resort.
  • The safety and health of employees must be first safeguarded by measures to eliminate workplace risks at source, through technical or organisational means (e.g by substituting hazardous chemical ) or by providing protection on a collective basis (e.g providing scaffolding instead of harnesses).
  • Collective protective measures covering numbers of employees in a workplace must have priority over protective measures applying to individual employees.
  • If these measures are not sufficient, only then should PPE be used to protect against the hazards that are unavoidable.

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Why should PPE only be used as a last resort?

PPE has its limitations because:

  • PPE only protects the wearer.
  • It is ineffective if not working or fitted properly
  • Theoretical levels of protection are seldom reached in practice.
  • The use of PPE always restricts the wearer to some degree.
  • The psychological effect of PPE may be such that the individual wearing the PPE feels more protected than he or she actually is.

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 I have heard people say PPE is the last line of defence. What does this mean?

  •  If PPE is not working or fitted properly, then the person wearing it is exposed to the risk as this is the only (or last) protection the wearer has against the particular hazard.

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What should I do before I buy PPE?

  • The employer has to make an assessment of the hazards in the workplace in order to identify the correct type of PPE to be provided and to ensure that PPE is appropriate to the risk. Care must be taken in selecting PPE as certain types give reasonably high levels of protection while others,  that may appear almost the same, give relatively low levels of protection. The level of risk must be assessed so that the performance required of the PPE can be determined.
  • Selection of PPE must take account of the proper wearing and fitting of the equipment – an employer should take into account that one type of PPE may not fit all.
  • In sourcing PPE, the employer must therefore, select appropriate PPE which is user-friendly and which fits the individual employee correctly, after adjustment if necessary.
  • Special care should be taken where persons suffer from certain medical conditions, e.g. certain types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may not be suitable for employees with asthma, bronchitis or heart disease. Where situations such as these occur, the employer should seek medical advice as to whether the employee can tolerate the use of PPE. Employers should make provision for medical conditions where they are aware of such conditions.
  • Ensure any PPE you buy is ‘CE’ marked and complies with the requirements of the European Communities (Personal Protective Equipment) Regulations 1993 which require PPE to have the appropriate CE mark. The CE marking signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic health and safety requirements.

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Who pays for PPE in workplace?

Section 8 of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 places a duty on employers to supply PPE where risks cannot be eliminated or adequately controlled.

  • Employers cannot pass on to employees any financial costs associated with duties relating to safety, health and welfare at work.  An employer may not ask for money to be paid to them by an employee for the provision of PPE whether returnable (e.g. a deposit) or otherwise.
  • Employers may charge a worker for PPE if the worker is truly self-employed.
  • Where an employee wishes to upgrade to a more expensive item of PPE (e.g employee wants a more fashionable brand), the employer & employee may enter into an agreement whereby the employee makes up the difference between the cost of the original item of PPE & that of the more expensive item, assuming they both give the same level of protection within the workplace.

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Do I have to keep providing PPE when employees say they have “lost” their PPE?

  • Draw up policies in relation to PPE
  • PPE policies should be simple e.g.

a)      Adopt "new for old" system for disposable PPE - gloves, boots etc

b)      Apply signing in / out procedure for special equipment - harness etc

c)       Implement a points procedure for lost equipment as part of the employees' ownership (as part of the disciplinary procedures)

To be successful, time is required to control and monitor PPE and detailed records must be kept.

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Do I need training in use of PPE

  • Where PPE is provided employees must be informed of the risks against which they are being protected by the PPE.
  • Employees must also be provided with suitable information, instruction and training (including training in the use, care or maintenance of PPE) to enable them to make proper and effective use of any PPE provided for their protection.
  • PPE users must be trained as regards the wearing, proper use and any limitations of PPE.
  • Managers and supervisors should also be aware of the reasons for providing PPE, its proper use and, in particular, the level of protection afforded.
  • Training, both theoretical and practical, should also cover persons involved in the selection, maintenance, repair and testing of PPE.
  • The level of training provided will vary with the level of risk involved and the complexity and performance of the equipment. For instance, the use of respirator equipment will require a comprehensive degree of training with regular refresher courses, whereas the training for using protective gloves for dealing with hazardous substances may require demonstration only. The frequency of the refresher courses required in the case of PPE for high-risk situations will depend on the nature of the equipment, how frequently it is used and the needs of the employees using it.

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As an employee, do I have to wear PPE

There is a duty on employees, having regard to their training and instructions, to make correct use of PPE. Employees should:

  • Use PPE properly whenever it is required to be used.
  • Report any defects in or damage to the PPE immediately.
  • Participate in any training or instruction provided on PPE.
  • Inform their employer of any medical conditions they have that might be affected by the use of the PPE provided to them

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As an employer, how do I ensure employees wear their PPE?

  • Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, there is a duty on employees to wear PPE provided.  Where this is not being adhered to, you should ask the employees why the PPE is not being worn in case there is a genuine difficulty being encountered by the wearer.
  • Employers could consider including persistent non wearing of PPE into their disciplinary procedures.

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Does PPE have to be tested and inspected?

  • PPE must be thoroughly examined regularly by competent staff according to manufacturer’s instructions. As a general rule, simple maintenance may be carried out by the user, provided that he or she has been adequately instructed and trained (e.g. lens cleaning on goggles or replacing helmet straps).
  • The examination, maintenance and repair of PPE used in high-risk situations (e.g. PPE used by firemen) should be carried out by properly trained staff who manufacturer or supplier (or both). Those involved should have the necessary tools and materials to carry out proper repairs.

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How should PPE be stored?

  • PPE must be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  This is extremely important as leaving PPE lying around increases the risk of parts deteriorating by exposure to dirt, oil, UV rays, sunlight etc.

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Do I have to share my ear muffs with my colleagues?

No. Regulation 129(1)(a) of the 2007 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations requires  the provision of individual hearing protectors”

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What do I do with asbestos PPE after it has been used?

  • Every employer shall ensure that protective clothing provided is either disposed of as asbestos waste or adequately cleaned. The cleaning shall be carried out either on the premises where the exposure has occurred, where those premises are suitably equipped for such cleaning, or in a suitably equipped laundry.
  • Every employer shall ensure that protective clothing which has been used and is to be removed from the premises (whether for cleaning or disposal) is securely packed, before removal, in a suitable container and adequately labelled as a product containing asbestos whether it is intended for cleaning or for disposal as asbestos waste .  Where, as a result of the failure or improper use of the protective clothing provided, asbestos is deposited on the personal clothing of an employee, that personal clothing shall be treated as if it were protective clothing

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How often should PPE be replaced?

  • There is no legislation or Code of Practice stating the life expectancy of any PPE. In general it is recommended you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  The manufacturer must give the obsolescence deadline or period of obsolescence of PPE or its components. The date of obsolescence is the date from which the PPE becomes useless for its intended use or is no longer fit  for its purpose. (Requirement under  Annex II Article 1.4e, of  EU PPE Directive 89/686, transposed in Ireland as European Communities (Personal Protective Equipment) Regulations 1993).
  • The manufacturer must provide all information necessary so that the user can determine a reasonable period of obsolescence.  However, the manufacturer is not obliged to affix the date of manufacture on the product or on the instructions for use, although some may do this.
  • In general, manufacturers do give information on how to identify the “end of life”, a limiting date of use or a maximum service time.

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What is the Life Expectancy of Hard Hats (additional Information to above)

  • Hard hats are normally supplied with an information tag attached giving advice & lifetime expectancy. Some manufacturers say 3 years, others say an in use life of up to 5 years. Obviously how much exposure that they have had, how they have been stored, how many knocks they have had will determine the replacement interval.    
  • Generally the following advice will apply:
  • Safety helmets need to be changed when damaged, when they have been involved in an accident, when affected by sunlight and so forth. Hard hats will need replacing when the harness is damaged or if it is likely that the shock absorption or penetration resistance has deteriorated. For example, when the shell has received a severe impact, or if deep scratches occur (i.e. to a depth greater than 25% of the shell thickness) or if the shell has any visible cracks. Good maintenance will also keep the hat in good working order and prolong its life. Assuming they have been well maintained & none of the above apply , replace  according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Safety helmets should:

(a) be stored in a safe place, e.g. on a peg or in a cupboard on site;
(b) not be stored in direct sunlight or in excessively hot, humid conditions because long-term exposure can weaken the shell;
(c) be checked regularly for signs of damage or deterioration;
(d) have defective parts replaced (if the model allows this). Parts from one model cannot normally be interchanged with those from another;
(e) have the sweatband cleaned regularly or replaced.

  • Certain chemicals can weaken the plastic of the shell leading to rapid deterioration in shock absorption or penetration resistance. Chemicals that should be avoided include aggressive cleaning agents or solvent based adhesives and paints. Where names or other markings need to be applied using adhesives, advice should be sought from the helmet manufacturer.

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What is the Life Expectancy of Fall Arrest Systems:

  • Many companies in the past had stated the life expectancy of the product as 5 years after first use and a general rule of thumb seems to have developed both in UK and Ireland on this.  However, it is recommended you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the life expectancy as fall arrest systems vary.

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Can I use nuisance dust masks to protect me against dusts?

  • People who work with harmful dusts should not use nuisance masks.  They may also be called comfort masks or hygiene masks
  • Nuisance dust masks are not protective devices – they perform badly and do not meet basic health and safety requirements.
  • Nuisance dust masks are not classified as PPE and so are not CE marked.
  • They should not be used for protection against fine dusts, welding fumes, fine sand, paint spray, gases, vapours or aerosols.  They are also unsuitable for protection against grain and flour dust, hard or softwood dust, fumes from rosin- based solder flux or any substances with a maximum exposure limit.
  • They should only be used when dusts are not hazardous to health.
  • They may consist of a thin metal plate that holds a piece of gauze over the nose and mouth or a lightweight filter that looks similar to a disposable dust respirator.  They often have only one head strap.

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Are Anchor Devices considered PPE?

  • Regulation 3 of the European Communities (PPE) Regulations 1993set out what products are covered by the legislation. It was originally accepted that anchor devices for protection against falls from a height were systems placed on the market in conjunction with PPE for its connection to another, additional device. However this acceptance was subsequently questioned and the issue became confused.
  • The European Commission has advised that class A, C and D anchor devices (see Classes in EN 795:1997)  should not be classed as PPE. This means that these products will not need to meet the requirements of the European Communities (PPE) Regulations 1993 and subsequent amendments.
  • The information given here will be updated if the position changes.

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Can you recommend where to buy PPE?

The HSA do not recommend individual suppliers or companies.  Here are a few guidelines to help you purchase the correct PPE:

  • Hardware/DIY stores and specialised PPE suppliers (see phone directory)generally  sell PPE
  • Specialised PPE suppliers will usually have a broader range of PPE specifically for use at work

·        It is important the person you are seeking advice from knows what they are talking about e.g.

  • Do they know which disposable gloves can cause an allergic reaction
  • Do they know what the signs and symbols on the piece of equipment mean
  • Do they know what type of mask or respirator is suitable for the job you are doing
  • Remember that you want the PPE to do the job right and protect you or your employees, so make sure you are happy with the advice you are being given.  Otherwise, it may cost you more money in the long run.

Where can I get further guidance on the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations?

Download the relevant Personal Protective Equipment Guidance to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007.

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