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Protecting Above the Neck

Published: 15th Feb 2016


With the ever-rising need to comply with strict health and safety regulations, and increasing numbers of people working in dangerous environments, it’s vital that organisations keep up to date with PPE requirements.

Employers have an obligation to keep employees safe from injuries. From helmets to hearing protection, respiratory products to safety eyewear, Bob Wells explores some of the PPE products available on the market and how employers can be confident in the safety of their employees from the neck up.

What’s new in PPE?

PPE can be defined as “any device to be worn or held by users for protection against one or more health and safety hazards.” From domestic DIY environments right through to heavy industries and fire fighting applications, PPE is vital for safety. To meet legislation requirements in the EU, PPE manufacturers must ensure their products conform to the relevant National, European or International Standard or to a Technical Specification and are CE marked to the PPE Directive 89/686/EEC.

The PPE Directive 89/686/EEC is a fundamental piece of European legislation relating to occupational safety throughout Europe. The PPE Directive was one of the first New Approach Directives and is now over 20 years old. In order to reflect current technologies and processes for developing and bringing PPE to the market, it is being updated. It is also important to bring it in line with other Directives that have undergone a revision in recent years.

The changes mean that the old Directive will now be re-implemented as a Regulation rather than remain in its current status. This means that the new Regulation will not have to be transposed into each Member State’s national law. A Directive is a legislative act that sets out an objective that all EU countries must achieve by a given date. It is up to the individual countries, however, to decide how this is done. In contrast, a Regulation is a binding legislative act and it must be applied in its entirety across the EU without the need for separate national legislation.

The main changes to be aware of:

  • PPE Directive will be replaced by a Regulation
  • A number of types of protection will move from category II (intermediate) to category III (complex) such as hearing protection and life jacketsThere will be a requirement to supply a declaration of conformity with every item of PPE that is placed on the market, or at least a web link as to where it can be found
  • There will be a requirement to supply a declaration of conformity with every item of PPE that is placed on the market, or at least a web link as to where it can be found
  • A five-year certificate of validity is being suggested, bringing the Regulation in line with similar European requirements such as the Medical Devices Directive

The PPE Regulations are mandatory - covering any type of product that falls within its scope. It is a legal requirement for anyone involved in the PPE industry to comply. Previously the PPE Directive focused on manufacturers placing products onto the market, but the new Regulation requires the whole supply chain to be involved. This means when the regulation comes into force that distributors or anyone in the supply and distribution chain should take appropriate measures to ensure that PPE meets standard requirements and that they make available on the market only products which comply with the Regulation.

PPE categories

The PPE Directive groups all products into three categories. Depending on the level of risk in the workplace and the protection, eyewear needs to provide the following in these circumstances.

Category 1 – Simple PPE

Minimal risks are present and employees can identify and assess the level of protection that the product offers. This covers PPE designed to protect against sunlight and includes sunglasses and swimming goggles. In order to fall into this category, eye protectors must comply with the Essential Health and Safety requirements and bear the CE mark.

Category 2 – Intermediate PPE

Neither complex nor simple, protective eyewear in this category includes welding shields and safety spectacles. These products should be certified by an accredited Notified Body to prove that they meet the technical requirements of the PPE Directive’s relevant specifications.

Category 3 – Complex PPE

PPE falling under this category is designed to protect against mortal danger or dangers that may seriously and irreversibly harm health, the immediate effects of which the designer assumes that the end user cannot identify in sufficient time. For example, inhalation of harmful substances or falling from a height. Category 3 PPE also requires some form of on-going assessment to ensure that the quality of manufacture of the PPE remains the same.

What protection is there?


Protective eyewear can essentially be divided into three groups – spectacles, goggles and face shields – with each type of eye protector offering a different level of protection.

In addition to certain design, manufacturing and other basic requirements, eyewear standards also include optional requirements that protect employees from unfavourable conditions. These include resistance to abrasion or fogging, and higher levels of protection against an identified health and safety hazard. Since these standards are hazard based, they incorporate a number of mechanical test requirements that have been developed around the specific fields of protective eyewear use.

Invariably, protective eyewear standards include impact testing (EN 166:2001). EN 166 is just one of numerous eyewear standards that includes an impact test. During this particular evaluation, eye protectors are tested for robustness. The product’s robustness is put to the test by dropping a 22mm steel ball from a height of 1.3m onto the lenses. Lateral protection is evaluated to ensure it covers the eyes adequately. An additional optional test can be applied for eye protection where it is designed to protect against high speed particles. To see if an eye protector would safeguard its user against high speed particles, 6mm-sized ball bearings are projected onto the eyewear at one of three impact velocities, including 45m/s, 120m/s or 190m/s, depending on the level of protection claimed. This test can also be done in extreme temperatures (+55°C and -5°C).

If the eyewear shows any major fractures, signs of penetration, or separation of the lens from the frame after testing then it has failed to meet the required standards – and would not be safe enough to use in the workplace. Other testing includes checking the eyewear for its resistance to ignition and the strength of spectacle frames.

To make sure eyewear does not interfere with the user’s vision while performing their tasks, the lenses (oculars) are tested for the following types of optical power:

•  Spherical or overall magnification

•  Astigmatic or difference in the focus of two planes

•  Prismatic difference which measures how far an object appears to be from its actual position when viewed through each lens – the difference in this shift should be balanced to reduce eyestrain

Hearing protection

Excessive noise is prevalent in many industries as well as in personal pursuits. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places the level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones at 85 decibels (average/daily exposure). The level at which employers must make a workers' risk assessment and provide information and training is now 80 decibels. There is also a ceiling of 87 decibels (taking into account hearing protection) above which workers should not be exposed.

There is a wide range of hearing protection equipment to ensure compliance with the Personal Protective Equipment Directive 89/686. Typical testing includes: physical tests, active attenuation (using a test panel to see how effective the hearing protection is), insertion loss, and passive attenuation. Some of the ear protection products include:

•  Earmuffs

•  Earplugs

•  Earmuffs on safety helmets

•  Level dependent earmuffs

•  Active noise reduction earmuffs

•  Earmuffs with electrical audio input

•  Level dependant earplugs

Helmets and head protection

From industrial safety helmets to helmets for fire fighters, there is a huge range of head protection products out there. All helmets should undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they meet the minimum safety requirements and can display CE marking. Headwear is usually placed onto a ‘headform’ and tests are carried out to check if a helmet stays on the head during an impact.

In the impact test, a headform is dropped from a specific height onto an anvil which simulates the helmet hitting a hard surface. Although this may cause the helmet some damage, the important part of this is ensuring that it would protect the user’s head in the event of an accident.

Other helmet tests may include: Retention strength and effectiveness, penetration resistance, lateral crush and flammability.


Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) needs to offer protection against a wide range of hazards, from smoke and dust inhalation to vapours and oxygen deficiency. The protection factors provided by RPE are laid out in the BS EN529: 2005 guide to implementing an effective respiratory device programme. Respiratory products might include dust masks, half or quarter masks, powered hoods, helmets, and full face masks, as well as equipment for professions such as fire fighting, pharmaceutical applications, the petro-chemical industry and the like. Fire fighters’ breathing equipment undergoes a flame engulfment test to simulate a flash over in a building to ensure it can still function after this extreme environment.

All respiratory equipment must undergo type examination using a Notified Body before CE marking can be affixed. Some of the testing includes breathing resistance, prevention of CO2 build up, dust clogging, field of vision and measurement of inward leakage. Where the respiratory device is incorporated with headwear, eyewear or hearing protection, or incorporates electronic devices, testing should be carried out on all elements.

Investing in PPE

To keep employees safe in the workplace and reduce health risks, it is up to employers to invest in the right protective equipment. So what should they look for?

CE marking

CE marking on a product is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product complies with the essential requirements of all the Directives that apply to it. It indicates to the appropriate bodies that the product may be legally offered for sale in their country. The requirements for CE marking differ across all the Directives and may also vary for different products within a Directive. Depending on the product, CE marking may be as simple as formulating a technical file, or as complex as having to submit your products to regular independent scrutiny. Third party testing, systems assessment and technical file assessments may be mandatory, but sometimes the manufacturer’s unverified claim is all that’s asked for.


These days there is some fantastic protection available on the market, but there are also numerous products that aren’t up to scratch. When it’s the lives of your colleagues at risk, make sure the protection in your workplace meets, if not exceeds, all the standards.

Workplaces can be dangerous, so it’s important that employees wear the correct personal protective equipment whenever risk may be present. Don’t throw them to the wolves in equipment that will fail when they need it most.

Published: 15th Feb 2016 in Health and Safety International

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Bob Wells has been working in the product certification field for over 25 years. He started out at BSI as a laboratory test engineer and later became a manager testing mechanical products prior to their certification. In 2010, he returned to BSI and has been l...