Why Is PPE Important in the Workplace?

by ReAgent Chemicals

Why is PPE important in the workplace? Well, using personal protective equipment, or PPE, depends on the degree of hazards. The type of PPE used should be according to the danger posed.

For instance, if you are working as a welder, you should wear a welder mask or at least goggles. The mask or goggles can protect you against intense bright light and welding sparks. You should also wear welder gloves to be protected against heat and high voltage electricity.

What are the various examples of PPE?

The specific type of PPE varies depending on the work you’re doing, but it generally includes gear that protects different parts of the body – from head to feet – against injuries. Examples include:

  • Helmet/hard hat
  • Goggles
  • Earplugs or earmuffs
  • Breathing mask or gas mask
  • Gloves or gauntlets
  • Aprons and overalls
  • Safety boots

More specific types of PPE like hazmat suits are used in an extremely hazardous workplace, such as a biomedical laboratory handling extremely deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus. Those who work in chemical laboratories and factories wear different levels of protection.

The type of PPE you might wear if you were coming into contact with infectious diseases
The type of PPE you might wear if you were coming into contact with infectious diseases

The types of work-related hazards and their corresponding PPE can be classified into the following categories:

  • Construction
  • Fire fighting
  • Bomb disposal
  • Chemical
  • Biohazard
  • Radioactive
  • Search and rescue
  • Spillage clean-up

Different countries, territories, and regions (e.g. the European Union) may have slightly varying safety regulations for PPE. In some cases, there are regulatory contradictions between the local regulations and international standards.

Firefighters have specialised PPE

Companies requiring employees to wear PPE in the workplace can use their own discretion in going above the minimum standards to ensure the safety of their workers. However, it can’t go the other way.

Companies can be fined or even criminally charged if they violate the minimum safety standards. PPE regulations are meant not only to protect employees but also to limit company liability. For instance, if an employee is injured because he or she neglectfully forgot to wear protective gear, the liability of a company could be reduced.

How to use PPE properly

The importance of PPE in the workplace cannot be understated, especially when it comes to hazardous materials like corrosive chemicals. The proper use of PPE depends on several factors:

  • Governing regulations – regulations may vary depending on the country or territory. These regulations set the standards for specific types of PPE
  • International standards – countries usually follow international standards such as those recommended by the World Health Organisation
  • The industry – various industries have varying needs for PPE. Some industries, such as the chemical manufacturing industry, for instance, may require certain workers to wear masks or gloves
  • The type of hazard – examples of hazards in the workplace include construction debris, electrical sparks and high voltage wires, toxic substances like asbestos, corrosive chemicals, pathogens, and radioactive substances. These different hazards require specific types of PPE
  • The degree of hazard – various levels of hazards require corresponding PPE. For instance, hazmat suits might be necessary to protect against highly infectious pathogens. On the other hand, a medical face mask might be sufficient for those working in hospitals

Is it a legal requirement to wear PPE?

Here in the UK, the pertinent regulations on PPE are contained in Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations of 1992. Employers are required to provide the suitable PPE for their employees.

Based on Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, employees will not be liable for the cost of their personal protective equipment. According to the provision of the law:

“No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions”.

Other related but more specific regulations for certain industries include the following:

  • Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002
  • Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999
  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989
  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

The main implementing agency for these regulations is the Health and Safety Executive office of the UK government. Employers who violate the regulations and standards for PPE may suffer penalties and criminal charges. Employers can even be charged on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007.

What types of protective equipment can you use to handle chemicals?

Handling chemicals can be very hazardous depending on the type of chemicals. Volatile, flammable, corrosive, and toxic chemicals should be handled with care when manufacturing, storing, and transporting them. Although large portions of certain jobs can be covered by using machines and robots, there are of course times when human presence is needed.

The type of PPE you might wear in a chemical lab
The type of PPE you might wear in a chemical lab

PPE for handling chemicals may fall under these categories:

The degree of hazards should be identified – you can find this information on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product being handled, or by speaking to the manufacturer or supplier. For instance, when working with small amounts of low-hazard chemicals for laboratory experiments, a lab gown might be enough. On the other hand, overalls might be necessary if you are working on the mass production of corrosive chemicals.

What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?

The type of gloves that you should use should be suitable to the chemicals you are handling. It will largely depend on the type of chemical. Corrosiveness is a primary consideration. Check out this list of a few glove materials and their suitable uses:

  • Latex – this is good for handling water-based and biological materials but not good for organic solvents
  • Nitrile – can be used for handling organic solvents, oils, acids, and bases
  • Butyl rubber – you can use this for handling esters and ketones but not hydrocarbons
  • Neoprene – good for most hazardous chemicals like acids, bases, alcohols, peroxides, hydrocarbons, and phenols. Not good for aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Norfoil – excellent for handling most of hazardous chemicals but has a poor fit
  • Viton – used for handling chlorinated and aromatic solvents, but is expensive and not suitable for ketones

The question “Why is PPE important in the workplace?” is best answered by understanding the different types of PPE and how they are used.


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