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Why is PPE a Last Resort?

A female technician wearing PPE for safety whilst using machinery

Protective clothing and equipment is a topic which is covered in numerous health and safety courses as it is an extremely important subject which could mean the difference between life and death. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE for short, is provided to protect a person from harm when it has not been possible to make their job role safer.

It can be a common misconception amongst both employees and management alike that Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE for short, can be issued to prevent harm coming to workers, and that by doing this they have satisfied their health and safety requirements. In fact, as anyone who has received health and safety training will be able to attest, the issuance of Personal Protective Equipment should be done only as a last resort when it has proven to be impossible or impractical for the potential hazard itself to be removed. In other words an employer must tackle the situation itself and endeavour to make a task or the workplace safer before resorting to protective equipment or clothing to protect the worker from coming to harm.

This is because no protective equipment can be guaranteed to be effective 100% of the time. For starters a worker may fail to wear or use the provided clothing or equipment, either at all or doing so in an incorrect manner (e.g. wearing a protective hardhat backwards). This can be accidental through little or no proper training in how to use it correctly or the importance of doing so, or deliberately by a person choosing not to make use of it either to save time, because they could not be bothered or to try and show off to their fellow colleagues, particularly amongst young or inexperienced employees (Related Article: Health and Safety Induction Courses).

Not only should the hazard itself be addressed before considering the issuance or use of Personal Protective Equipment, but this equipment or protective clothing itself could also present further dangers to the health and safety of workers. This is particularly the case when machinery is involved as loose protective clothing such as gloves or overalls can become entangled or drawn into a machine and so have the potential to cause a serious injury to the wearer.

Protection of the Feet

Protective equipment often involves items of clothing which are designed to provide protection for the wearer. One area of the body which often needs protecting is the foot, as there are a number of potential causes of injury for feet and toes.

A major cause of injuries to the feet is from items being dropped onto them, particularly the toes which can easily be broken by an item that is dropped due to poor manual handling techniques or try to pick up a load which is too heavy. Appropriate footwear needs to be worn when there is a risk of sharp objects penetrating through the sole and causing a sharps injury to the person. There is also a danger to those who have the potential in their job role or work environment to stand in wet concrete as this can cause severe corrosive burns if it were to come into contact with a person's skin.

One of the industries in which workers have the potential to encounter all three of the above hazards is the construction industry. This means that construction workers must wear the correct footwear at all times, and it is up to the site manager to ensure that everybody working on site is complying with this. The syllabus of construction courses and qualifications such as the CITB Site Managers SMSTS, Site Supervisors SSSTS and the NEBOSH Construction Certificate courses will cover Personal Protective Equipment and staying safe on a construction site to avoid injury and accidents.

Protection of the Eyes

The eyes are one of the most delicate and vulnerable parts of a person's body, and as such it is imperative that suitable protection is in place whenever there is a risk of injury to them. These injuries can come in a variety of forms; typically either an impact of some sort, burns from hazardous substances, or damage from abrasive dust or other contaminants.

Eye protection, when used correctly and in the correct form (goggles, full face mask etc) is extremely effective at preventing such injuries. As an accident involving the eyes can have an extreme impact on a person's quality of life if it caused full or partial blindness, it is vital that eye protection is worn and employees trained in its correct use, along with instilling the importance of protecting themselves.

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (as amended) makes it a duty of the employer to perform a risk assessment and identify the potential risks to eyes. If that risk cannot be controlled by other means, such as altering the process to eliminate the risk of eye damage, then the employer needs to supply suitable eye protection and ensure that it is well-maintained, as well as providing health and safety training on how to use it correctly.

Although an employer must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the supplied eye protection is worn, it is also the responsibility of the employees themselves to use the supplied protection and follow the instructions and training on its use. They should also report any defects they find straight away, rather than simply returning it after use, as it may pose a risk to the next person who doesn't realise it is defective and may not provide the necessary protection to avoid a serious incident.

When such serious consequences can be prevented by a simple and often inexpensive piece of equipment, there really is little reason why anybody should have to suffer an injury to their eyes at work. The provision of protective equipment, in combination with common sense and suitable health and safety courses will help to keep accidents down to an absolute minimum and allow workers to stay safe in the workplace.

Selected Courses

Please see below for a selection of health and safety courses and qualifications which you may be interested in:

NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is the flagship NEBOSH qualification, and is the first UK vocational qualification to be developed specifically for health and safety professionals.

The NEBOSH National Diploma provides the core health and safety knowledge (transferable across industry, commerce and the public sector) which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an occupational health and safety practitioner.

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NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate is one of the most popular and widely-held health and safety qualifications in the UK. It is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who require an understanding of general health and safety issues.

The NEBOSH General Certificate covers the main legal requirements for health and safety in the UK, along with the identification and control of workplace hazards, and the practical application of this knowledge. The general content of the NEBOSH General Certificate syllabus means it is suitable and relevant for those working in virtually any industry, and is often used as a solid foundation for those going on to further study and specialising in a particular area such as construction site health and safety or fire safety.

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IOSH Managing Safely Course

The IOSH Managing Safely course is designed for managers and supervisors of organisations in virtually all industry sectors, in order to give them all they need to know to effectively manage health and safety in the workplace.

Recently updated, the new high impact programme covers key health and safety issues, and includes references to international case studies.

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CITB Site Management SMSTS Course

The Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) is one of the most popular health and safety training courses, and is intended for construction site managers, project managers and senior supervisors, as well as proprietors of smaller companies.

Client-based personnel would also benefit from attending the SMSTS course.

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