Types of personal protective equipment

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Head protection

Safety helmet to help protect against head injury

Safety helmets must be worn at all times, except when you are in an area declared as a safe area by site management.

A safety helmet is worn to protect you from falling objects or bumping your head. Your safety helmet will be most effective when you follow the guidelines below.

  • Wear it the right way round (peak at the front).
  • Adjust it so it fits snug and square on your head.
  • Make sure it is fitted and worn with a chin strap if there is a risk of it falling off while working.
  • Make sure it is fitted with a proprietary liner for cold weather (do not wear it over your woolly hat).

Do not cut drill holes, paint or apply unauthorised stickers to your safety helmet as this can severely reduce its capacity to protect you in an incident.

Do not wear hoodies or beanies under your hard hat. If extra comfort is needed to keep you warm an approved manufacturer’s lining should be used.

Dropping your safety helmet from height onto a hard surface can reduce the strength, even if there is no obvious damage. If this happens it should be replaced.

Foot protection

Safety footwear must be worn at all times on site and should have protective toe-caps and a steel mid-sole or other form of protection to protect from puncture injuries (such as standing on a nail).

  • Some offer better ankle support.
  • Some offer good grip on slippery surfaces (such as safety trainers).
  • Some offer increased comfort and are more suitable to trades (such as floor layers) who repeatedly kneel and bend their feet.

High-visibility clothing

  • All staff and visitors on site should wear a high-visibility vest or coat as a minimum.
  • There are three classes of high-visibility clothing.
    • Class 1 – low visibility (tabards and waistcoats) suitable for general sites.
    • Class 2 – medium visibility needed when working on or near A and B class roads or heavily trafficked sites.
    • Class 3 – high visibility needed when working on or near dual carriageways, motorways or airports.

Body protection

Protective clothing can be used to protect against the following.

  • Strong oils and chemicals (for example, cement).
  • Rough or sharp surfaces.
  • Ignition and burning (fire retardant).
  • Extreme cold (thermal clothing) or heat (long-sleeved, lightweight clothing).
  • Extreme (wet and windy) weather.

Hearing protection

There are two main types of hearing protection.

  1. Ear defenders or earmuffs.
  • These are worn around the shell of the ear and have to be a snug fit to be properly effective.
  1. Earplugs.
  • These are inserted into the outer ear.
  • Make sure your earplugs are inserted properly. They should not feel loose or fall out.
  • Do not reuse disposable earplugs, as this can cause infection.

Eye and face protection

The three main types are shown below.

Eye injury sustained as a result of not wearing eye protection

Safety glasses and other forms of low-impact eye protection are not designed for tasks where high-impact eye protection should be worn (such as when using cartridge tools, grinders or disc cutters).

  • Different types of eye protection protect you against the following.
    • Flying debris and objects.
    • Chemical splashes.
    • Airborne dust.
    • Molten metal and sparks.
  • Eye protection needs to be regularly cleaned and stored to protect it from scratching.
  • You need to be able to see through your eye protection for you to be able to work safely.
  • If your eye protection is scratched or mists up then you need a suitable replacement.
Safety glasses are only classed as low-impact eye protection and will not withstand an impact from flying debris when using grinders, disc cutters, cartridge tools, and so on. You are only ever going to have one pair of eyes – make sure you look after them.

Hand and skin protection

  • Gloves should be suitable for the hazards and task. Using the correct type of gloves will protect your hands.
  • If using chemicals the gloves should be impervious (the chemical should not go through the glove onto your hands).
  • It is important that gloves are regularly cleaned or replaced.

Barrier creams are no substitute for gloves but can offer some extra protection. Using hand soap, hand cleaners and after work creams to replace oils lost from your skin will help in prevention.

Never use solvents or spirits to clean your hands. These strip the protective oils from your hands leaving you more prone to skin damage.

5%—10% of construction workers working with cement, mortar and concrete are affected by dermatitis.

Protection from sun exposure

You should be careful whilst working outdoors in summer, particularly in the three or four hours around midday when the sun is most intense. You should try to protect yourself from too much sunlight; using protective clothing to cover up is one of the main ways to avoid the danger. Some other ways are listed below.

  • Wear close-woven fabrics (such as jeans) and long-sleeved shirts, which will help to protect you from UV rays.
  • Try to work and take breaks in the shade.
  • Wear a hanging flap on the back of your hard hat to protect your neck.
  • Keep a shirt or other top on.
  • Use sun block on exposed arms, face and neck.
  • Check your skin for signs of change or damage.

Fall protection

Worker using fall restraint to undertake maintenance work

Items of equipment that are used by a person to prevent that person falling from height (as in the examples below) are also classified as PPE.

  • Safety harness.
  • Fall-arrest or restraint lanyard.
  • Inertia reel fall-arrest block.

All employer and employee duties that apply to other types of PPE also apply to this type of equipment.

A major consideration for planning and the use of this type of PPE is the quick rescue of anyone who has fallen and is suspended in a harness. If a worker has fallen and their fall has been arrested, any delay in rescuing them could result in suspension syncope or fainting. There are many kits available to rescue those suspended at height.

Personal flotation equipment, including lifejackets

  • If you have to work on, over or near to water there is a risk of drowning and you should be provided with personal flotation equipment (such as a lifejacket). This should be worn properly at all times that you are at risk of falling into the water.
  • Falling into water wearing your work clothing and boots, or even your tool belt, will drag you under or sap your energy quickly, especially in cold or fast moving water.
  • Self-inflating lifejackets automatically inflate and turn you onto your back, even if you are unconscious, allowing your airway to open, helping you to breathe.
  • Other, more basic but equally important equipment (such as lifebuoys, life-rings or throwing lines) may also be provided.
  • Where strong currents or fast flowing water are present there may be a need for other equipment (such as manned rescue boats).