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Personal Protective Equipment

Equipment and clothing, such as safety glasses and gloves, that is designed to protect someone from harm is called Personal Protective Equipment (often abbreviated PPE for short).  If often forms a barrier between the person and the object or substance that could cause harm.

Note that PPE does not include any clothing worn specifically for food hygiene reasons, or uniforms which are not designed to protect the worker.

PPE - The Last Resort

PPE can be a useful way to reduce risk, although it does have its limitations.  These limitations need to be considered when PPE is being used as a means to reduce risk.  The limitations include the following issues:

Bullet pointA person needs to use the PPE correctly and at the right time.  It if common to find that PPE is not being used properly, if at all, and when it is it might not be on for the whole time when it is needed.  This might be because the PPE is not comfortable, impedes vision or movement or is not compatible with other PPE being worn.

Bullet pointPPE can only protect one person at a time.  While a person who is using PPE is (hopefully) adequately protected, others might not be protected.  It is far better to think about measures that protect more than one person at a time ('collective measures') such as installing scaffolding to prevent falls from a roof, rather than issuing individuals with harnesses,

Bullet pointPPE can be rendered ineffective if it is the wrong type, or if it has not been maintained properly.  Selection of the right PPE for the purpose is paramount, and the manufacturer should be able to provide details of what the product is suitable for.  This is especially important when looking at PPE for use with chemicals and other substances.

Because of these limitations, PPE is often called the 'last resort' and is usually only considered appropriate when all other measures have been put into place and there is still a risk of harm that needs to be reduced. 

PPE is also useful as a temporary measure whilst other measures are being put into place.

PPE Types

The below provides a brief overview of some different kinds of Personal Protective Equipment:

Bullet pointHigh-visibility clothing is useful when working near traffic routes, as drivers are more likely to see someone wearing high-visibility (or hi-vis) work-wear.  Reflective strips improve visibility at night.  Different colours are available, but the ubiquitous fluorescent yellow is ideal for most tasks because this shows up well.

Bullet pointWarm clothing can be worn to protect someone from the cold.  Likewise waterproof clothing can be worn to protect from rain.

Bullet pointGloves can protect against many hazards, from abrasions and sharp objects through to wet working and chemicals.  Correct glove selection is important to ensure that the glove protects the hands and does not absorb harmful substances or introduce any other hazards (caused by reduced dexterity or sense of touch).  In cases where the wrong glove is chosen, it could retain the harmful substance and actually increase the risk of harm to the person.  Gloves are sold to protect against vibration but are seldom effective.

Bullet pointEarplugs can protect a person's hearing.  The plugs are usually made of soft foam, which is rolled and inserted into the ear.  These are adequate for occasional use but earmuffs are a better choice for more prolonged use.  The correct selection of hearing protection depends on the noise that needs to be reduced as some work better than others at certain frequencies (pitches).  For musicians, specialists can manufacture earplugs that are designed to allow the user to listen to the music without there being any significant distortion or muffling usually associated with normal earplugs.

Bullet pointEye protection, in the form of safety face shields, glasses and goggles, can protect the worker against items that might otherwise go into the eye or from harmful radiation (ultraviolet or visible light).  When using some chemicals, eye protection is also required, which is usually part of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) but not always.  People who regularly work outside for long periods in sunny conditions should wear UV protective sunglasses to protect their eyesight from the UV rays given off by the sun.

Bullet pointRespiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is used to protect the lungs, throat and other parts of the respiratory system.  The simplest forms are nuisance dust masks, which are only suitable for non-toxic dusts (as the name suggests, these are to protect against nuisance dusts).  Filtered face masks are available with or without integrated eye protection for a wide variety of substances and the correct selection must be made else it will prove ineffective.  In some situations, such as when working in a confined space, it might be necessary to use breathing apparatus that is fed from an external pump or air canister, because the air cannot be filtered, or is deficient of oxygen.  In any case, the RPE needs to fit the person correctly and this is checked in a process called 'fit testing'.

Bullet pointHead protection is designed to prevent injuries to the head, the most common being bump caps and hard hats.  Bump caps are ideal for protecting against minor bumps and scrapes, and can be used when working in some spaces where there is a risk of head injury such as a bump to the head due to a low beam.  However, when there is a risk that something might fall onto the head, hard hats would be chosen.  Other kinds of helmet are available for specialist uses, such as a helmet worn by a steeplejack when maintenance work is being undertaken at height.

Bullet pointSafety harnesses can be worn by those working at height to either prevent the worker getting too close to hazards, such as a fragile rooflight or roof edge ('work restraint') or to stop someone falling a significant distance ('fall arrest').  These are also used in combination with lanyards, shock absorbers and rescue lines/systems.

Bullet pointSafety shoes can protect the toes (steel toe caps) but can also have other protective features, including anti-slip soles and thermal linings.  Anti-slip soles work best on certain flooring types, and are typically used in the catering industry owing to the possibility of spilt water and cooking oil/grease.  Note that the soles on 'indoor' shoes generally have a different finish to the soles on 'outdoor' shoes - outdoor shoes tend to have larger 'nobbles' on the sole while indoor ones have smaller dimples.

There are many different types of personal protective equipment available to suit many different tasks and requirements and the above is only an overview of the different uses of PPE that might commonly be encountered in a Church or Place of Worship setting.  One type of PPE might be effective at reducing one risk, but might not be adequate at protecting against another so always check with the manufacturer if in doubt.

PPE has to be selected to be appropriate for the risks associated with the task so that it will be effective at controlling the risk.  In doing so, consideration must be given to the user (because each person is different) and each item of PPE must be compatible with any other PPE that is being used.

Storage and Maintenance

All Personal Protective Equipment needs to be properly maintained and stored so that it remains effective and does not get damaged.  Maintenance can include examination, testing, cleaning and with repair and replacement being made where required.

Some kinds of PPE are thrown away after one use, in which case they should not be retained.  For example, earplugs must usually only be used once, should be thrown away after use.  Consider also the contamination that might be present on the PPE and the fact it might be transferred to the wearer as the PPE is being removed, which is a significant issue with gloves.

In other cases, where PPE is reusable, it needs to be stored to prevent degradation.  Some kinds of PPE need specific maintenance, which would be outlined in the instructions that came with the equipment.  Lanyards and harnesses used when working at height must be subject to periodic inspection.

Issuing PPE

When it has been decided that PPE is an appropriate method to control the risk, it needs to be issued to those who need to use it, along with information, instruction and training about how to use it properly.  There must be no charge for any equipment provided to workers for their safety (even if the person repeatedly looses their PPE or needs replacements due to breakages).

The instruction that is provided is important as PPE users need to know how to make any adjustments that might be needed, how to examine the PPE for damage or wear, how to replace any consumable parts and how to report damage or expired PPE.  Likewise training in the use of PPE is necessary to ensure the person uses the PPE correctly, which is often included in other training for specialist tasks such as working at height.

When it is required for reasons of hygiene, personnel should not be expected to share PPE.

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