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.
Neck Up Protection
Now that you’ve got your admin together, you’ve spoken to your workers, you’re ready to choose your PPE ready for issue. As the title of this article suggests, we are going to have a look at “Neck Up” protection and look at some of the options which are available to you.
As we look through some of these options, we will discuss considerations which need to be made and how these can impact on your decisions.
Most commonly when people think about PPE, a hard hat is one of the first things they think of. Traditionally, these are found within the construction industry, however, these items of PPE can be relevant across different industries too. Wherever there is a risk of an item striking someone from above (be that an item falling, a low ceiling or a similar type of hazard), hard hats are a great choice.
When you are purchasing hard hats, give some consideration to:
- Ensure that the hard hat meets British standard EN397:1995. This ensures that it is made to the required standards. Without this certification the hard hat may not be of the correct quality and standard.
- Consider how this hard hat interacts with other PPE which may be required. If, for example, ear defenders need to be worn as well as the hard hat, it is worth trying to procure an option which means that the hard strap for the ear defenders doesn’t interfere with the wearing of the hard hat.
- While colour is not the first consideration for a hard hat, brighter colours are better. This increases the level of visibility of the wearer and helps them to be seen more easily. Generally speaking, white or yellow hard hats are the most visible.
- Chin straps should be considered as these help to secure the hard hat to the head of the wearer. If the worst was to happen, this will help to protect the wearer.
- Visors – where there is a need for eye protection, visors which are built into the hard hat are a viable option. Check these to make sure that they reach the correct standards (see Eye Protection below) as the bands can, again, interfere with the security of the hard hat.
- Adjustable sizing – hard hats do not come in a “one size fits all”. Inside the hard hat, the strap which goes around the head of the wearer should be adjusted so that the hat fits snuggly on the head.
- Extruding Visors/Bills – the peak of a hard hat should be present, again to assist when looking up to block out the sun and help to protect the eyes.
- Vents – vents help to circulate air around the head of the wearer. On hot days this helps to keep the wearer cool and prevent heat exhaustion, excessive sweating, or hyperthermia.
With all PPE it is important that employees do not modify the hard hat. Some of the ways that workers modify hard hats are:
- Stickers – it isn’t unusual for workers to use stickers to denote a name, or a position or role on a site. While it is incredibly unlikely that the adhesive on the stickers will affect the integrity of the hard hat, the manufacturer will not guarantee it if stickers have been put onto it. If you do want to denote roles on site, seek advice from the manufacturer and follow their guidance to ensure ongoing protection.
- Modifications to Peaks/Bill – some workers will cut into the peak of the hard hat to change its shape. Again, this modification can affect the integrity of the hard hat and should not be carried out.
- Wearing a hat under the hard hat – although this is not strictly speaking a modification, it is something that we see a lot. Wearing a woolly hat (or any type of headwear) underneath the hard hat will mean that it is not fit to the head and therefore is not being worn properly, which greatly reduces the effectiveness of the hard hat.
Conditions such as nausea, headaches, vomiting, and tinnitus are common where workers do not wear proper hearing protection.
Generally speaking, there are two types of hearing protection – in ear protection and over ear protection. In some environments, where the risk posed from loud noises are high, these can be worn together. Standard EN352 governs the requirements of hearing protection and when purchasing any hearing protection, you should ensure that this standard is met.
Whichever type of hearing protection you wear, you should ensure that it is newly issued to workers. Particularly with inner ear protection, you should not share hearing protection for hygiene reasons. Make sure you also give consideration to:
- Sizing – there are different sizes of inner ear protection. Make sure that inner ear protection is chosen based on the sizes that the workers will need. Over ear defenders should have an adjustable strap to allow them to be sized as needed.
- Security – with inner ear protection, try to procure buds which have a cord attaching the buds together. This means that they are harder to lose and if they do fall, they will not hit the ground and become contaminated.
- Use with other PPE – consider how these will interact with other PPE, like hard hats and eye protection, as they may impact on the effectiveness of each other when worn together. Get hard hats which allow the ear defenders to be attached directly to the hat, rather than a band which goes underneath the hat (as we discussed in the hard hat section).
In the year 2020/21, there were an estimated 14,000 workers with work related hearing problems. As part of this number there were 95 cases of occupational deafness. If we look back over the figures for occupational deafness from 2010, there have been 1125 new cases of occupational deafness. This is a significant figure, and hearing protection can play a significant part in reducing this number.
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
This is a subcategory of PPE and is responsible for looking after the breathing of workers. This is quite an involved topic with various categories of RPE available, so we are going to take a look at what is available. It is vitally important that you properly consider the type of RPE which you are going to use. The HSE recommend using the RPE selector tool from Healthy Working Lives2 to help you to work out which type of RPE you need for the work being carried out.
Whichever type of RPE you use, there are some key rules which should be followed:
- Never share RPE. Especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, RPE should not be shared from person to person without it being properly cleaned first (if it is designed for multiple uses).
- All RPE must be face fit tested (either through a qualitative or quantitative test). This is a test where the user goes through a number of tasks to make sure that the RPE is suitable for them. There are so many factors which can impact on the effectiveness of RPE (including face size, shape, hair, nose size, piercing, glasses – the list goes on!) that a face fit test is a requirement. These are not particularly arduous and can be booked quite easily, but do form a vital part of ensuring the effectiveness of the RPE.
- One use RPE really should be one use – do not fall into the trap of using disposable RPE multiple times over if it is only designed to be used once and thrown away. With the continued use, disposable RPE will become damaged and less and less effective.
- Consult your COSHH data – information held about the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) will help guide you in relation to the type of RPE which you should buy. COSHH data forms a vital part of RPE and protection against respirable particles.
- Always wear RPE properly, securing the tightening straps and ensuring that this is in place properly to allow for maximum protection.
As we are continuing to fight our way through the COVID pandemic, face coverings have become something of a hot topic. While these are classed as PPE, they do not provide the levels of protection required in many occupational settings. However, the RPE provided for occupational settings will provide the protection needed and meet the requirements of face coverings under COVID guidance. As such, if there is a requirement to wear a face covering and RPE, you do not need to double mask. Just wear the RPE provided for the occupational controls, and you will also be reducing the impact and spread of the COVID particles.
“all PPE, regardless of type, should be fit tested to ensure that it fits”
RPE is a complicated topic and there are lots of ins and out. You can consult the HSE website for more guidance on RPE and how it should be managed3.
When it comes to eye protection the first consideration to make is whether to employ wrap around eye protection (goggles) or glasses. Understanding what hazards the workers will be exposed to is key to making an informed decision on the type of eye protection which is needed. Generally speaking, we should be looking at three key areas:
Light Transmission – in other words how much light is let through the lenses. This needs to be considered as excessive light can obviously cause damage, but the time of year may also play a part in this. In the summer months, you might decide that eye protection which has a higher light transmission rating may provide better protection for workers. The below information gives quantitative ratings for light transmission protection:
Radiation Protection – radiation protection will help to protect the eyesight of workers. This is another example of where you need to understand the work which is being undertaken before you can make an accurate decision on the type of radiation protection which you will need. Below is the information that you will see to help you identify the level of radiation protection:
Impact Resistance – the impact resistance is important to understand for works which may involve debris or objects which could strike the PPE and damage it, or even come through the PPE and damage the eyes. Again, the below table gives an indication of the strength of PPE when it comes to impact ratings:
All of these ratings come from different EN standards and are universal, so should apply to any type of eye protection which can be purchased. The information above does not expect you to know exactly how fast the debris might be travelling, or the exact levels of light radiation protection that would be needed but do provide a guide to enable you to make an informed decision. There may be occasions where you do have this information, and if you can reasonably obtain the information, then of course you should use it.
PPE is often overlooked as a quick fix, but the truth is there is a lot more that comes with PPE which needs to be considered. All PPE, regardless of type, should be fit tested to ensure that it fits and should be checked regularly by the user to ensure that is defect free. Remember that defective PPE should be replaced as soon as possible, and it should not be used if it is not of good condition. Lastly, don’t forget about perception. If your workers turn up with PPE that fits, is in good condition and is of the right standard, your workers look great. By extension, your client, or anyone looking at your workers, will immediately be able to see your commitment to protecting your workforce while they work.