Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, are the tools that ensure the basic health protection and safety of users. PPE is any device or appliance designed to be worn by an individual when exposed to one or more health and safety hazards. PPE includes all clothing and other work accessories designed to create a barrier against workplace hazards, and using PPE requires hazard awareness and training on the part of the user. Employees must be aware that the equipment does not eliminate the hazard; if the equipment fails, exposure will occur. To reduce the possibility of failure, equipment must be properly fitted and maintained in a clean and serviceable condition.

Employers are required to assess the workplace to determine if hazards that require the use of head, eye, face, hand, or foot protection are present or are likely to be present. If hazards or the likelihood of hazards are found, employers must select, and have affected employees use, properly fitted PPE suitable for protection from these hazards. Before doing work requiring the use of PPE, employees must be trained to know when PPE is necessary, what type is necessary, how it is to be worn, and what its limitations are, as well as its proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal.

Head Protection

Protective hats for head protection against impact blows must be able to withstand penetration and absorb the shock of a blow. In some cases, hats should also protect against electric shock. Recognized standards for hats have been established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Each type and class of head protector is intended to provide protection against specific hazardous conditions. An understanding of these conditions will help in selecting the right hat for the particular situation.

The wearer should be able to identify the type of helmet by looking inside the shell for the manufacturer, ANSI designation and class. Protective hats are made in the following types and classes:

  • Type 1 - helmets with full brim, not less than 1 and 1/4 inches wide;
  • Type 2 - brimless helmets with a peak extending forward from the crown.

For industrial purposes, three classes are recognized:

  • Class A - general service, limited voltage protection;
  • Class B - utility service, high-voltage protection; and
  • Class C - special service, no voltage protection.

Hats and caps under Class A are intended for protection against impact hazards. They are used in mining, construction, shipbuilding, tunneling, lumbering, and manufacturing.

Class B utility service hats and caps protect the wearer's head from impact and penetration by falling or flying objects and from high-voltage shock and burn. They are used extensively by electrical workers.

The safety hat or cap in Class C is designed specifically for lightweight comfort an impact protection. This class is usually manufactured from aluminum and offers no dielectric protection. Class C helmets are used in certain construction and manufacturing occupations, oil fields, refineries, and chemical plants where there is no danger from electrical hazards or corrosion. They also are used on occasions where there is a possibility of bumping the head against a fixed object.

Foot and Leg Protection

According to one survey, most of the workers in selected occupations who suffered foot injuries were not wearing protective footwear. Furthermore, most of their employers did not require them to wear safety shoes. The typical foot injury was caused by objects falling fewer than 4 feet and the median weight was about 65 pounds. Most workers were injured while performing their normal job activities at their worksites.

For protection of feet and legs from falling or rolling objects, sharp objects, molten metal, hot surfaces, and wet slippery surfaces, workers should use appropriate footguards, safety shoes, or boots and leggings. Leggings protect the lower leg and feet from molten metal or welding sparks. Safety snaps permit their rapid removal.

Aluminum alloy, fiberglass, or galvanized steel footguards can be worn over usual work shoes, although they may present the possibility of catching on something and causing workers to trip. Heat-resistant soled shoes protect against hot surfaces like those found in the roofing, paving, and hot metal industries.

Safety shoes should be sturdy and have an impact-resistant toe. In some shoes, metal insoles protect against puncture wounds. Additional protection, such as metatarsal guards, may be found in some types of footwear. Safety shoes come in a variety of styles and materials, such as leather and rubber boots, oxfords, and even tennis shoe models.

Safety footwear is classified according to its ability to meet minimum requirements for both compression and impact tests. These requirements and testing procedures may be found in American National Standards Institute standards. Protective footwear purchased prior to July 5, 1994, must comply with ANSI Z41.1-1967, USA Standard for Men's Safety-Toe Footwear. Protective footwear purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with ANSI Z41-1991, American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Footwear.

Eye and Face Protection

Suitable eye protectors must be provided where there is a potential for injury to the eyes or face from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, potentially injurious light radiation, or a combination of these. Every protector shall be distinctly marked to facilitate identification of the manufacturer and must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Provide adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they are designed
  • Be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions
  • Fit snugly without interfering with the movements or vision of the wearer
  • Be durable
  • Be capable of being disinfected
  • Be easily cleanable
  • Be kept clean and in good repair.

Ear Protection

Exposure to high noise levels can cause hearing loss or impairment. It can create physical and psychological stress. There is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss, so the prevention of excessive noise exposure is the only way to avoid hearing damage. Specifically designed protection is required, depending on the type of noise encountered and the auditory condition of employee.

Disposable earplugs should be used once and thrown away; non-disposable ones should be cleaned after each use for proper maintenance. Earmuffs need to make a perfect seal around the ear to be effective. Glasses, long sideburns, long hair, and facial movements, such as chewing, can reduce protection. Special equipment is available for use with glasses or beards.

Arm and Hand Protection

Burns, cuts, electrical shock, amputation and absorption of chemicals are examples of hazards associated with arm and hand injuries. A wide assortment of gloves, hand pads, sleeves, and wristlets for protection from these hazards is available.

The devices should be selected to fit the specific task. Rubber is considered one of the best materials for insulating gloves and sleeves and must conform to ANSI standards (copies available from ANSI, 1430 Broadway, New York, NY 10018). Other glove and clothing materials such as latex, nitrile, butyl rubber, neoprene, etc. are available. Each material is thoroughly tested and rated against specific chemical compounds. You need to know what hazard you are protecting against to choose the correct material.

Torso Protection

Many hazards can threaten the torso: heat, splashes from hot metals and liquids, impacts, cuts, acids, and radiation. A variety of protective clothing is available, including vests, jackets, aprons, coveralls, and full body suits. Fire retardant wool and specially treated cotton clothing items are comfortable, and they adapt well to a variety of workplace temperatures. Other types of protection include leather, rubberized fabrics, and disposable suits such as those made from tyvek.

Respiratory Protection

Information on the requirements for respirators to control the development of occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, and vapors is available in the Respiratory Protection part of our website.

Information Resources

Tutorial on the basics of PPE choice related to hazard exposure