Personal Protection Equipment

10 examples of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and where they are worn

Personal protection equipment, often referred to as PPE is an essential part of health and safety at work. The intention of PPE is to protect the wearer, either directly or indirectly, from potential harm. It is the responsibility of a company owner or senior management to ensure that, where appropriate, there is a robust policy for the wearing of PPE by all members of staff and that it is strictly adhered to. When we say: ‘where appropriate’, a policy would not be required for an office environment or in a restaurant, but it would be on a building site or in a factory. Much of the legislation concerning PPE is based on the requirements of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, and you can find out more about Commodious courses on H&S or about Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

PPE is a last line of defence

It should be noted that PPE is not there to mitigate the potentially dangerous effects of a working environment. For example, wearing a respirator does not mean that noxious fumes and gases should be allowed to pervade a workspace. Basically, it is an employer’s responsibility to concentrate more on prevention and control measures to minimise risk to employees as opposed to assuming that PPE will provide any necessary protection. Preparing a Method Statement is an excellent way of reducing risk of accidents in the workplace and you can learn more about how to prepare one here. This is a more wide-sweeping report and you can learn about the difference between a Method Statement and a Risk Assessment here.

According to the Trades Union Council (TUC), reliance on PPE can create a multitude of problems, as they state that:

  • PPE protects only the person wearing it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source can protect everyone at the workplace.
  • Theoretical maximum levels of protection are seldom achieved with PPE in practice, and the actual level of protection is difficult to assess.
  • Protection is often ineffective because the PPE is not suitable, incorrectly fitted, not properly maintained, and may be used improperly.
  • PPE is often designed for men, and for women workers this may introduce serious hazards and discomfort.
  • PPE may fail due to poor or uncomfortable fitting. It is often made to standard sizes that don’t take into account the fact that, for example, many workers wear spectacles and many men have beards and stubble.
  • PPE may restrict the wearer by limiting mobility or vision, or by requiring additional weight to be carried, causing musculoskeletal problems. as well as the health and safety problems that this may cause, it can also lead to PPE not being worn because of the discomfort that it can cause, and workers are then blamed for their own exposures.
  • PPE itself may also present chemical hazards to the wearer, such as inducing latex and other allergies or the absorption of harmful substances in plastic and waterproofed clothing.

To learn more about the hierarchy of control read our detailed article here

    Hard Hats / Safety Helmets

    hard hat

    The hard hat, also known as a safety helmet, is one of the most common and easily recognisable forms of PPE. A hard hat is worn to protect the wearer’s head both from falling objects, but also from banging into solid structures, especially those with sharp edges. Hard hats can also provide a certain level of protection of wearers from being injured by operating plant, such as the arm of an excavator. Hard hats are also an excellent means of instantly identifying the hierarchy within a working environment whereby site managers or supervisors will wear a different colour hard hat to general workers, as an example.

    Situations where you will frequently see hard hats worn include but are not limited to:

    • On a building site
    • In a factory
    • In a warehouse
    • In a mine or quarry
    • When tree felling or removing tree limbs
    • Road mending and/or excavations

    Safety Boots / Safety Footwear

    safety boots

    A standard safety boot is designed to protect the wearer’s feet and toes in the event a heavy object falls on them. This is achieved by the insertion of a steel toe cap which can survive a substantial crush impact. However, certain safety boots have a second line of defence, which is a flexible steel insole or footplate running the whole length of the boot. This feature is especially useful for those working on a building site where there is a higher chance of stepping on a nail or other sharp object. The steel insole protects the wearer’s foot from a penetrating wound. The ‘upper’ of a safety boot will invariably be made of a firm and sturdy material and should come up high enough to amply cover the wearer’s ankles. This then provides added stability and support when working on uneven ground, and also protects against knocks. The sole will usually be made of thick rubber with a moulding designed to deal with uneven and often muddy terrain.

    Situations where you will frequently see safety boots worn include but are not limited to:

    • On construction / building sites
    • In factories
    • In warehouses
    • On farms
    • During tree surgery and logging
    • In a mine or quarry
    • Working on electrical installations
    • Landscape gardening and park keeping

    High-visibility Jackets

    reflective jacket

    High-visibility jackets, or high-viz jackets as they are also known, are relatively self-explanatory forms of PPE. They are designed to increase the visibility of the wearer in an environment where it is vital they can be clearly seen. This environment usually involves moving plant and vehicles. The jackets usually come in the form of a sleeveless singlet, but there is a wide range of high-viz products available that include winter jackets and trousers. Many high-viz jackets are fitted with light-reflective strips to increase visibility in poor light or during night times. Similar to hats, some companies have a colour scheme for high-viz PPE to make a workforce hierarchy instantly recognisable.

    Situations where you will frequently see high-viz PPE clothing worn include but are not limited to:

    • Road workers / highway maintenance
    • The emergency services
    • Construction/building sites
    • Transport maintenance crews
    • Airport ground crews
    • Warehouses

    Face / Dust Masks and Respirators

    face mask

    Face masks, dust masks and respirators is an area of Personal Protection Equipment where employers and senior managers must pay particularly close attention. This is because there is a wide variety of face and dust masks available, and their capability/suitability also varies. Unless you are a hermit who has been living in a cave this last two years, you will have become very well acquainted with the basic form of face mask, which is designed to eliminate the passage of a virus through airborne particles – a virus can be everything from a cold, to flu, to COVID-19. Dust masks achieve the same results as face masks do for viruses, but the material they are made from has a much tighter ‘weave’ such that it can also trap minute dust particles, which can be appreciably smaller that airborne droplets. A dust mask can double up as an anti-virus face mask, but a face mask cannot be used as a dust mask. Ventilators are used to avoid the inhalation of toxic fumes or in an environment that is heavily affected by dust particles.

    Situations where you will see face masks, dust masks and ventilators in use include but are not limited to:

    • In a hospital (face masks)
    • In a nursing home (face masks)
    • In a joinery (dust mask)
    • Grain storage (dust mask)
    • Automobile paint spraying repairs (ventilator)
    • Chemical manufacturing plant (ventilator)
      You will also find our article here on Welding Fumes extremely useful reading, as is the Commodious article on Dust Control here.

    Hazardous Material / Hazmat Suit

    hazmat suit

    A hazardous material suit, or hazmat suit as it is also known, is a debatable form of PPE or Personal Protection Equipment. This is because it not only protects the wearer, but it is also a form of ‘workwear’ for those whose work requires them to frequently wear a hazmat suit. A hazmat suit is impervious to the ingression of any substance, whether it is in the form of a solid, liquid and for certain hazmat suits, a gas. Invariably white for easy identification of the user, a hazardous material suit is often worn in conjunction with a respirator and in extreme circumstances, is an all-encasing suit that covers the wearer from head to toe.

    Situations where a hazmat suit will usually be worn as PPE include but are not limited to:

    • The site of a toxic chemical spill
    • Workers operating in a toxic environment
    • Members of the emergency services responding to a chemical threat
    • Emergency medical technicians attending a contamination
    • Certain elements of scientific research
    • Site clearance of contaminated land/premises


    Protective Gloves

    protective gloves

    Just as with face masks, there are numerous types of glove used as Personal Protective Equipment. Aside from the physical nature of the task that involves the wearing of gloves, the reason for wearing them can also differ. Gloves can be worn to either protect the wearer from harm, or they can be worn to protect a third party from being contaminated / infected by the person wearing the gloves. As a consequence of the wide variety of uses for gloves as PPE, the materials they can be made from also varies considerably, from latex and neoprene to rubber, leather and even chain-link steel.

    Situations where gloves will usually be worn as PPE include but are not limited to:

    • Hospitals (nurses, surgeons, etc.)
    • Food preparation
    • Use of strong chemicals (industrial cleaning, manufacturing)
    • Butchery and fish filleting (steel mesh glove worn on holding hand)
    • Deep freeze warehouse storage
    • At the hairdressers when dying hair

    Earplugs / Ear Defenders

    ear plugs ear defenders

    Because the physical damage noise can do to your hearing is unseen, protection against noise is an area of Personal Protection Equipment that gets overlooked. After all, we seem to happily cope with loud noises in our day to day life and we will happily attend a rock or classic music concert where sound levels easily exceed 100dB without wearing any ear protection. However, the major difference where work is concerned is that the destructive elements of noise are experienced daily, and for long periods of time each day. It is a well-documented fact that continuous exposure to noise of 85 dB or more can severely damage your hearing. If noise levels cannot be reduced, then the only other option is to use either in-ear plugs or ear defenders / earmuffs.

    Situations where earplugs or ear defenders will usually be worn as PPE include but are not limited to:

    • Operators of noisy plant, such as a jackhammer or pneumatic drill
    • Operating noisy machinery in a factory
    • Using a ride-on lawnmower or open-cab tractor
    • When using a chainsaw
    • Working as a riveter in a shipyard
    • Working in the engine room of a ship

    Protective Eyewear

    eye protection construction

    Sufficient emphasis on the importance of protective eyewear can never be placed. Our eyesight is so important to us and unlike so many other parts of our body, if damaged, it cannot be repaired. Consequently, very close attention should be paid to when and where protective eyewear should be worn as PPE. Protective eyewear should perform two functions, either individually or in combination. It should protect the eyes from foreign objects causing physical damage, and it canalso protect the retina of the eye from excessively and dangerously bright light.

    Situations where protective eyewear will usually be worn as PPE include but are not limited to:

    • When welding
    • When grinding metal
    • When using a stonecutter
    • In an iron foundry
    • When performing cosmetic laser surgery
    • When using a garden strimmer

    Face Shields / Visors

    face shield visor

    In a dual role, face shields can be used to protect both the face and also the eyes. Face shields can vary considerably in style and construction depending on the principal task required and the environment in which they are being used. Recently, face visors have been an essential part of doctors’ and nurses’ PPE in hospitals during the pandemic. These shields are lightweight Perspex in construction and are simply intended to shield the wearer from airborne particles containing the virus in the breath of infected patients. Lumberjacks, tree surgeons, and landscape gardeners will often be seen wearing a ‘three-in-one’ form of PPE which is a hard hat to which is connected a set of protective earmuffs and a mesh, metal face shield to protect the wearer from flying debris. Finally, there is the type of visor worn by a welder which is extremely heavy duty, made of metal with a tinted and toughened viewing panel.

    Safety Harness

    safety harness

    It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and the safety harness is a classic example of this. The harness was designed for one specific purpose, to save the wearer from coming to any harm should they fall from height. A safety harness is attached by a safety rope to a secure point such that if the wearer loses their footing, rather than plummeting to the ground and severely injuring or killing themselves, instead they will remain suspended in mid-air. From there they may be able to regather their position, or they could be ‘rescued’ from their predicament.

    Situations where a safety harness will be worn as PPE include but are not limited to:

    • Cleaning windows on skyscrapers
    • When performing tree surgery
    • Working on electrical pylons
    • Working on bridges like the Severn Suspension Bridge
    • When using a ‘cherry picker’ hydraulic platform
    • When carrying out maintenance work on a church steeple

    You will find our article on working at height extremely useful and you can access it here.

    Here at Commodious we specialise in providing online courses that cover many aspects of Health & Safety