PPE Overkill?

Ear Protection (photo by George Rudder, freeimages #1421385)One of the things that keeps popping in in conversations is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Often used at the 'cure all' for any risk assessments PPE is habitually used as the 'bootstrap and braces' approach.

Don't get us wrong, PPE has its place and can be highly effective. The HSE states that making the workplace safe includes providing instructions, procedures, training and supervision to encourage people to work safely and responsibly. Even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, some hazards might remain. These include injuries to:-

  • Lungs, eg from breathing in contaminated air
  • Head and Feet, eg from falling materials
  • Eyes, eg from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids
  • Skin, eg from contact with corrosive materials
  • Body, eg from extremes of heat or cold

In all these cases PPE is required to reduce the risk. However, we should only be suggesting PPE as a 'last resort' not as a coverall. PPE is often inappropriately assigned as part of a risk reducer. You need to think about the task and recommend the appropriate PPE. For example, a surveyor looking around a lift shaft location would not need the super heavy duty boots that would, most likely, be required for actual construction workers repairing the lift. For the surveyor a lesser level of boot could be recommended. When selecting the PPE you should ask yourself, who is exposed to what? How long as they exposed for? How much are they exposed to? You need to make you selection of PPE appropriate.

Although PPE is there to help reduce the risk there are downsides and health risks to 'long time' wearing of some PPE. For example boots that are heavily steel toe-capped force the worker to walk a certain way, often not being so good for their long term posture. Additionally heavy boots can also weaken workers ankles and also give them issues when bending their feet as it damages tissue and bone.  Therefore, we are suggesting that you take a little time when selecting any PPE, make sure it's appropriate for the work but only use as necessary for the job that is being carried out.

The HSE have advice and guidance on PPE, for more information visit HSE PPE.

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