Personal Protective Equipment (or PPE as it is more commonly referred to), is a key part of managing health and safety within a variety of organisations, but it is important to understand what makes up PPE and where it fits within the bigger Health and Safety picture to ensure that it is as effective as possible.
What is PPE?
PPE is a term used to group together any equipment which is issued to an individual to protect them against risks which can be found. PPE can take the form of hard hats, goggles, gloves, overalls, trousers, ear defenders and many other things. For the purposes of this however, we are going to focus on PPE which protects the head.
The Hierarchy of Controls
In the health and safety world, it is important to understand how to control risk (defined as the likelihood of a hazard causing a “loss event” or near miss, alongside the severity of this), and how to most effectively reduce this risk. To do this, we use a little tool called the Hierarchy of Controls1 (the HSE have information to help with this too).
“in the health and safety world, it is important to understand how to control risk”
Interestingly, you will notice that PPE is at the bottom of this hierarchy and is classed as the least effective control. While we won’t be exploring this hierarchy in depth in this article, we need to understand that PPE is only in place to manage residual risk.
Residual risk is the risk that remains once all other controls are in place. This means that PPE should not be the go-to for managing employee safety and should only be put into place once every other option has been considered, or to control the risk posed should other controls fail.
This is a phrase that every business should be aware of – and should have written down if you employ five or more people. Within these risk assessments we explore the hierarchy of controls. For example, if a worker is on a scaffold and we highlight the risk of an item being dropped from the scaffold we need to consider our Hierarchy of Controls. Above is an example of how this might look:
This shows how PPE fits into the bigger picture, it is not the first and last port of call and should be used alongside all other controls.
Issuing Personal Protective Equipment
Once we have identified the need for PPE, we need to think about how we are going to issue this to our workers. It does not matter if you are on a construction site, a factory, a workshop, or any other place of work, if the need for PPE has been identified you will need to issue this in the same way.
Firstly, you absolutely must consult with your workforce. This does not mean that you need to interview everyone and if they agree that they do not want to wear PPE you do not need to issue it, instead you are thinking about exploring some of the below with your workers:
>How will the PPE impact on them completing their work – will they be able to continue working while wearing the PPE?
>Do they have any specific needs which may stop them from being able to wear the PPE (for example, for medical or religious reasons)? This discussion should go on to explore how this can be overcome and how they can remain protected.
>Do they think that there is anything you can do as the employer to reduce the level of risk which they are exposed to?
Once you have spoken to your workers about this, consider their responses and review your risk assessment accordingly.
When you have decided what level of PPE will be required, you will need to provide this – free of charge – to your employees. The PPE should be fit tested, and you should also ensure that the workers understand that it is a requirement for them to use and wear this, as well as reporting any defective PPE so that it can be replaced. Often, the best way to do this is to get them to sign for the PPE as this also gives you a receipt for the issue of the equipment.
Try to remember: Consult, Consider, Choose.