Thanks to a certain global pandemic going on around us, the term “PPE” has become one of the true buzzwords of the last 12 months. Suddenly, safety wear has become a necessity in all of our lives, for most of us primarily outside of the professional sphere. However, PPE’s roots lie firmly in providing relevant professionals from all sorts of industries with the correct safety workwear, so what are the essentials to know on the subject?
Here’s a brief guide to all things PPE, and an insight into how and where it helps out most.
What is PPE?
PPE stands for personal protective equipment, and is a term used to describe the clothing and equipment that’s been specifically designed to help industry professionals protect themselves against the hazards and potential injuries involved in their day-to-day work. Right now, we know PPE best as the surgical and industrial masks many of us use for our trips to the shop, but it can be anything from safety boots and goggles through to specialised work clothes – but more on that below.
How does it relate to UK health and safety law?
The UK Health & Safety Work Act of 1974 establishes the general safety duties that:
- employers have towards employees and members of the public
- employees have to themselves and to each other
- certain self-employed have towards themselves and others
While those are three rather broad headline goals, PPE naturally plays an essential part within them, both for employers and employees. In dangerous industries especially, employers must ensure safeguards are in place to protect their staff efficiently. PPE is a fundamental part of that, alongside the likes of machine safety, training and on-site regulations.
The industries where PPE is most essential?
PPE is most prevalent in industries such as:
- Hospitals and laboratories
- Industrial settings
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it displays the diverse range of working environments where PPE plays a part. Of course, the clothing and equipment required in security work is going to be vastly different from that found in a medical laboratory, but PPE is a broad term that covers all safety gear found across all industries.
Fundamental PPE items
As we’ve established, PPE comes in many different forms, however there are some basic PPE types found across many industries that make up the basics:
- Safety boots and safety trainers are typically toe capped and essential to prevent foot injuries.
- Specialist fabrics for a given industry can include breathable materials, flame retardant fabrics and hard-wearing fabrics to protect against abrasion.
- Respiratory protection is the mainstream star of PPE currently, however many of the masks we use in our day to day lives are taken directly from construction sites where dust, debris and gases are present, or labs and medical settings where surgical masks are required for preventing transfer of air particles.
- Gloves and hand protection are essential for preventing injury to our hands, which are both sensitive and instrumental to most day-to-day work.
- Headwear such as helmets for protection and warm gear such as beanies.
- Sensory protection, such as goggles to protect our eyes and noise cancelling ear defender headphones.
We might not see PPE for too much longer in our general lives, however, while we might be pleased to see the back of it as life gets back to normal, it will retain its role as a key part of modern health and safety in the workplace.