Read this excellent summary of the world of personal protective equipment, by Matthew Judson, Director – Respiratory & Technical Support, JSP
Personal protective equipment (PPE), a blanket term familiar to all health and safety professionals, covers a large variety of equipment essential to protect workers against injury and ill health in hazardous situations where risks cannot be avoided, controlled or eliminated by any other means.
Effective and suitable PPE has to cover all the vulnerable areas of the head and body, and may include helmets, face and eye protection, hearing protection, respiratory protective equipment, safety clothing, gloves and footwear and personal fall protection.
Integration of PPE
However, it is important not to consider each piece of protective equipment in isolation, since the failure of one kind of PPE may lead to the failure of another, or the use of one item may render another ineffective, putting a worker’s safety in jeopardy. Safety managers and consultants, or those tasked with selecting and procuring the relevant PPE for their organisation, need to take a holistic approach to the issue.
Integration is currently the most talked-about topic in the PPE world and is fast becoming a buzz-word in the industry. Integrated PPE gives high-end protection using separate items of PPE at the same time and avoids the risks of compromising one piece to get the correct fit with another, and of having to decide which is the most important area to be protected.
Taking an integrated approach is becoming easier, since manufacturers and suppliers are working hard to offer items of PPE that are already integrated, such as safety eyewear that combines respiratory and eye protection, or combined head and ear protection, in one integrated PPE unit. Integrated PPE gives a much higher level of personal protection than individual items worn separately at the same time. For example, under the British Standard EN 529, a powered filtering device incorporating a hood or helmet is given an assigned protection factor in the UK of 40, as opposed to a disposable dust mask, which has a protection factor of only 20.
In the case of eye and breathing protection, in achieving a perfect fit for both items of PPE and ensuring they work smoothly together, an integrated product solves the often-seen problems of leaky masks, fogging lenses, and wearer discomfort, and provides complete protection to the wearer. Although both mask and eye protection work independently, they also work in harmony to reduce the risk of accidents.
Another example of an integrated innovation now on the market are bump caps which, combined with a visor and a battery-powered positive-air unit, create a head, face and respiratory-protection product that constantly feeds the wearer cool, filtered air.
Such new and ground-breaking products provide more complete protection to the worker and lessen the onus on the procurer to take into account the integration of separate pieces of PPE they buy in order to ensure their workers are completely and consistently protected. If PPE is integrated, this also increases the likelihood of it being worn at all, and worn properly.
PPE manufacturers are extremely conscious that integrated PPE must not restrict the worker’s sightline or movement or their ability to do the job in hand, or they will be reluctant to wear it, so defeating the whole point. Manufacturers and suppliers of PPE will have considered how the two, or even three, pieces of PPE interface together easily and seamlessly, so that the wearer does not have to worry about their compatibility.
Whether integrated or not, employers have a legal duty to provide suitable PPE for their workers and to ensure it is used correctly.
The use of most types of PPE in the workplace is governed by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, apart from respiratory protection, which comes under various Regulations including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 and the Control of Asbestos at Work (CAW) Regulations 2006.
The main requirement of the PPE at Work Regulations 1992 is that PPE must be supplied and used at work wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.
These regulations also specify that PPE must be:
• properly assessed before use to ensure its suitability
• maintained and stored properly
• provided with instructions on how to use it safely
• worn correctly by the user
Costs of not using PPE
Enormous suffering and misery are caused by injuries and fatalities that occur as a result of the appropriate PPE not being provided or worn. Apart from this, there are also huge costs to business and organisations in not using it correctly.
According to the HSE, around 9,000 PPE-related accidents are reported each year. Of the £252m annual costs of these accidents, hand/arm protection (£75m) and foot protection (£85m) are the most significant. Failure to consider PPE resulted in costs of around £49m, whilst not using PPE provided resulted in costs of around £65m.1
Organisations may be prosecuted in court by the HSE, environmental health officers, or police and may incur large fines and imprisonment and even possible prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. In addition, non-compliance may directly affect a company’s shares, public image, and morale, with possible compensation having to be paid, and consequent loss of brand reputation.
Selection of the correct PPE and its safe use
All this makes the correct selection of PPE even more vital. PPE is designed to protect the wearer in almost every area of industry, particularly in areas such as construction, which has the largest number of fatal injury accidents and one of the highest fatal injury rates in the UK, manufacturing, foundries, chemicals and agriculture.
The different types of PPE used must be related to the types of hazards arising from the organisation’s activities that require PPE to be worn. The appropriate PPE can only be identified by a thorough and apposite risk assessment process.
The following are steps that should be taken in the correct selection of PPE to ensure its safe use:
• Select according to the task in hand and its environment
• Select according to each wearer
• Understand the form of the hazard(s) involved in the situation.
• Understand how the hazard was created and how it could affect the person
• Work out how it can be stopped without further endangering the user and allowing them to undertake the task safely
• Make sure the PPE fits the wearer properly
• Make sure different forms of PPE are compatible. This is where integrated PPE comes into its own
There is no point in supplying PPE, even if it is suitable for the job, if the user does not know how to wear and care for it properly. Training of both health and safety officers and individual wearers in safe PPE use is an essential task to ensure they know why and when they need to wear it.
Every individual must fully understand:
• Why they are wearing PPE – this must be done before anything else to increase the chances of them actually wearing it
• The risks of not wearing it
• How to fit and wear it properly every single time it is used
• When to wear it
• How to carry out the task in hand when wearing it
• How to clean, maintain and store it properly – this is very important
Both employers and employees have responsibilities around PPE. All employers should:
• Reduce the hazards by all possible means
• Provide suitable PPE
• Provide suitable training
• Motivate the use of PPE through training
• Educate workers about the potential risks to their health
• Encourage a workplace culture of using PPE
In their turn, employees should:
• Understand the need for wearing PPE
• Actually wear it
• Not make DIY modifications to it
• Look after it
• Consider their co-workers and motivate each other to wear PPE
• Take responsibility beyond the workplace in terms of the potential effect of not wearing protective items on their families
Industrial safety products are being developed all the time and manufacturers are constantly striving to make improvements, such as in the integration of hearing protection with safety helmets.
As discussed above, integration is the current name of the game and manufacturers are experiencing increased demand for products that are designed as integrated from the start, rather than being put together piecemeal. Integration offers a one-stop-shop in terms of all the equipment needed for a particular task supplied in one complete unit that conforms to all the relevant EN and BS Standards.
For instance, PPE is now available that feeds air from a powered filtering device into a range of different types of hoods or helmets, while eye and hearing protection can be mounted on a helmet that also provides access to respiratory protection, making it possible to achieve complete above-the-neck protection in one go.
Products are being developed with various modules that can be fitted depending on the job to be done. For example, if a helmet with both hearing and eye protection is required, then the relevant protection can be added when needed in complete certainty that they will all work together.
Although integrated PPE is currently more expensive than buying cheap individual items that may only just fulfil the legal obligations around PPE, a much higher level of protection is offered by these new integrated devices, making them ultimately more cost-effective. In addition, cheap PPE does not fulfil the moral obligation of keeping people as safe as it is humanly possible. People’s health should not be put at risk for longer than is necessary when more effective equipment is available.
The following are real-life situations where the use of integrated PPE greatly lowers risk and improves safety. During the strimming of grass verges, a helmet worn with a properly integrated eye shield mounted on it will ensure that if a stone is thrown up by the device, or rebounds from a tree, it will bounce off the helmet or eye shield, so affording full head, as well as face, protection.
A similar situation but with the added problem of noise can occur in road working, such as in the replacement of Victorian cast-iron water mains. In this case, ear defenders are needed as well as a helmet and goggles because of the noise generated by drills and machinery. If the various items are not integrated, the ear defenders may get pushed off by the goggles; the defenders in turn could affect the seal of the goggles and the presence of two other items of PPE on the head may lead to the helmet not being in the correct position, leading to lack of head protection.
People who work in foundries need silver suits (heat-resistant overalls) as well as face protection designed to withstand very high temperatures. A gold-plated visor facial system that fits on a high-temperature-resistant safety helmet can be integrated with the protective helmet when needed.
All these examples demonstrate very clearly how useful the development of integrated PPE has become. It can only become more so in the future.
Healthy Working Lives free PPE advice line 0800 0192211
HSE Guide to the PPE Regulations http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg174.pdf
1 http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr419.htm. HSE report on study into PPE-related accidents