PPE includes anything someone can use or wear to mitigate the threats that workplace hazards pose to health and safety.
Depending on the tasks and environment, workers use PPE such as:
Helmets, hardhats and facial protection
The nature and purpose of these equipment pieces vary between jobs and worksites. For example, workers in the oil and gas industry need gloves that protect against crushing and pinching. On the other hand, glass-handling gloves help the wearer properly grip glass to prevent cuts and strains.
Employers typically use PPE as a final measure to protect employees against apparent dangers, whereas hazard-control techniques – such as substituting faulty equipment – are a first-line of defense.
The answer to this question depends on where you work. Country to country and region to region, it can greatly vary.
In Canada, for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations state that employers must provide PPE to each employee who needs it. But this does not explicitly mean the employer must purchase equipment for each worker.
Furthermore, the regulations do not clarify which pieces of equipment employers must provide. Many construction and factory workers buy their own hardhats and steel toe boots. Equipment that’s not as widely sold is typically given to them.
So, who pays for PPE can depend on equipment-by-equipment and workplace-by-workplace bases.
Generally, this is not an issue you should face.
In the aforementioned Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, many employers interpret the rule to provide PPE as a requirement to purchase it for workers.
If this is not the case and you cannot afford to buy a certain piece of PPE, discuss the issue with your boss.
In the United States, OSHA mandates that employers must pay for all PPE. This rule has been in effect since 2008, also requiring that employers make sure that any employee-purchased PPE provides adequate protection.
Employees must use PPE as outlined in their workplaces’ guidelines, which should largely follow government protocol.
In this respect, employers should mandate the use of the PPE as a:
Last Resort: There are no other control measures to mitigate risks
Back-up Measure: PPE supplements other, more-effective control measures
Temporary Policy: An effective control measure is currently being implemented
Most work environments mandate the use of PPE as a back-up measure, protecting employees from danger if other defense mechanisms fail.
However, speak to your employer if you feel the PPE you are required to use is not effective in this sense.
The standard of PPE which you must follow depends on where you’re located, as well as company-specific procedures.
Governmental acts and standards in English-speaking countries include:
Occupational Safety and Health Act (United States)
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Canada)
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (United Kingdom)
Model Work Health and Safety Act (Australia)
The Health and Safety in Employment Act (New Zealand)
Without violating the relevant act or standard, companies may have unique PPE rules which workers must follow. For example, certain worksites may call for use of a specific piece of safety equipment.
As an employee, you are obligated to follow these rules to minimize risks you may face.
Your employer, in accordance with the above-mentioned act or standard, should decide the kinds of PPE you should wear for a specific job.
If you feel you need another – or different – piece of PPE, talk to your manager.
Choosing the right PPE for the job is another task that’s largely the responsibility of your employer, and is based on a variety of factors.
For example, OSHA mandates that PPE selection must follow workplace assessment results.
Specifically, employers must identify and analyze workplace hazards that would call for the use of PPE. But before selecting PPE to match a given hazard – such as using Kevlar® Steel or Dyneema® Steel gloves to protect against cuts – they must determine if they can effectively address the hazard another way. For example, can the hazard be mitigated by guards?
If employers cannot do so, they must choose the right PPE for affected employees.
Yes. Each kind of PPE plays a role in workplace safety, but all help contribute to worker safety.
Consider that 8.1% of fatal work injuries in the US are caused by being struck by an object, according to a 2014 United States Department of Labor study. What’s more, 8.2% of fatalities were electrocutions.
In many cases, the damage could have been lessened with appropriate PPE such as hardhats and electrical gloves.
There is no single answer to this question, as the correct response depends on:
The nature of your job.
The types of hazards in your workplace.
If PPE is used as a last resort for certain hazards and not others.
For example, if handling sharp material is a crucial part of your role, using cut-resistant gloves may be the only way to prevent injuries. In this case, the gloves may be the most necessary piece of PPE.
If different pieces of PPE are used as last safety resorts, one may not be more important than another.
Not normally. Using or wearing PPE is typically a final, not first, course of action for safety.
Although PPE plays an important role, your employer should prioritize hazard-control measures to protect your livelihood. Because of such measures, most workplaces mandate PPE as a back-up or temporary safety method.
However, in the case that there are no other ways to stop or mitigate apparent risks, using PPE can act as a first action for safety.