What is PPE?

Much of health and safety- and industry, for that matter- disappears into a bewildering soup of jargon. “Help!” the uninitiated might cry after scanning a list of onsite regulations. “I haven’t a clue what I’ve just read!” The canny observer might notice a particular acronym appearing time and time again: PPE. “What’s that?” you wonder. “Why is it so important?” PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment- or, to paraphrase the Regulations drawn up in 1992, ‘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 him against one or more risks to his health and safety.’ I don’t know about you, but my immediate mental image is of the builder from the Village People. It turns out there is far more to health and safety regs to that (and, indeed, with that much flesh on show, the builder must be infringing every rule in the land). Forget the nostalgic images of workmen up on several hundred feet of scaffolding, contentedly munching sandwiches, or the Diet Coke man flexing his pecs (where was his safety harness?) PPE is serious business, covering numerous areas of working life.

Why do we need PPE? The 1992 regulations revolutionised the face of modern industry. For the first time, it was a legal requirement for companies to provide their workers with protective equipment. Not only that, it was their lookout to guarantee the equipment was regularly checked, properly maintained and stored, provided with intelligible instructions and used correctly by their employees. Responsibility lay firmly with the employer; they were to provide the equipment to all employees free of charge, including agency workers. Should an ex employee choose to abscond with a piece of equipment, the employer was entitled to deduct the cost from their wages. Before selecting a piece of PPE, the employers should take a number of factors into consideration. Is it appropriate to the task and the conditions? Is it adjustable? Does it take the worker’s state of health into account? Does wearing this item long term affect the worker in any way? Does it clash with other equipment they might have to use- e.g. a certain helmet might not allow you to wear goggles? Above all, employers needed to bear in mind that the protective gear was a ‘last resort’- i.e. every other solution had been eliminated. This meant the worker has to wear the equipment whenever performing the task, not leave it off if the job only “takes a minute!”

The top 3 Industrial hazards

Eyes: If you’re working with corrosive liquids, flying particles, harmful radiation or intense light, eye protection is a must. Though the importance of eye safety is often downplayed, consider this: of the estimated 2,000 eye injuries at work each day, 10-20% will cause temporary or permanent vision loss. Quite a price to pay for carelessness! There’s a worrying tendency to assume that ordinary glasses will serve the purpose; they’re only adequate in low impact situations. This isn’t all the employees’ fault- rather than provide their sight impaired colleagues with prescription safety eyewear, many employers supply overgoggles. As well as marring the worker’s vision, they’re extremely uncomfortable to wear for long periods.

Hearing: If your eyes are the most important tool you’ll ever have, your ears come close behind. As anybody who works in industrial settings will know, they have an extraordinary capacity for noise. Workers who are exposed to high noise levels over extended periods of time risk lasting damage to their ears; it’s in employers’ interests to protect workers in such conditions. According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, workers should not be exposed to noise levels of over 87 dB and a peak sound pressure of 140dB. Again, PPE is only a last resort; if there are other means of controlling the noise levels where you work, employ them.

Falling: Falls are the leading cause of death in construction work. While this is upsetting enough, the worst part is that those deaths could have been avoided. If employees are going to be working at height, it’s their employer’s responsibility to supply them with adequate facilities. Hard hats won’t cut the mustard- they need properly fitting harnesses they’ve been trained to use, tested on a regular basis. The importance of fall arrest equipment can’t be stressed enough.

Want to know more? Follow these great links!

Homzar Ltd: One of the leading providers of PPE Anglia Lifting Equipment: Access and manual lifting equipment specialists. Safer Sphere: Does your project require a health and safety consultant? Safer Sphere will deliver!

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