June 13, 2024

Personal Protective Equipment — Getting It Right for Your Staff 

Insights UK Regional Division
Risk Management

When your risk assessment reveals a hazard that can only be managed using personal protective equipment (PPE), as an employer you are legally obliged to supply PPE for your workers to protect them from any risks associated with that hazard. 

If the PPE is a misfit for their physical shape and is uncomfortable to wear, they may very well try to avoid wearing the PPE and consequently put themselves at risk of harm. 

Apart from suitability for the task, there are other important factors that you may need to consider when purchasing and supplying PPE to your workers. 

Getting the Fit Right 

Major UK safety equipment supplier Arco has recently given its support to Emma Hardy (Member of Parliament for Hull West & Hessle) in raising awareness of the need for inclusivity in workplace PPE and putting the onus on employers to ensure PPE provided to people with certain protected characteristics is suitable for their needs. This means that well-fitting PPE should not just be seen as good practice, but the minimum standard. 

The following are two examples of this: 

Women: For several decades more women have been entering industries traditionally dominated by men. Yet PPE specifically suited to women has only been available for approximately the last 6 years and, even then, many industries are still unaware of its availability. Wearing PPE totally unsuitable for their body shape, women have had to put up with not only the discomfort, and often pain, of ill-fitting clothing and footwear designed for men, but wearing such PPE can result in a whole range of health and safety issues. 

For example, safety boots which don’t fit correctly are a trip hazard and can also lead to health issues like tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma. The baggy calves of trousers can get snagged and lead to trips and falls, and wearing gloves that are too big can make it difficult to grip on handrails and ladders, and to operate machinery. Some women then remove the gloves, which can lead to burns and other injuries. 

High visibility clothing also has to be the right size, or else it can limit movement and cause real discomfort. Ill-fitting safety glasses steam up or, at worst, fall off. Safety harnesses can be hard to adjust to make them fit for women, so this can create situations where women could fall out of the harness, suffer suspension trauma, or even have their circulation cut off. 

Safety clothing suppliers such as ARCO have ranges specifically for women. 

Religious requirements: Whether it’s wearing certain headwear or having a beard for religious reasons (or as a personal choice), neither is conducive to wearing standard protective headgear and/or masks. Beards, for example, make it difficult to achieve a tight seal with most standard face protection devices. A quick internet search will present a number of options to help with this. 

For further guidance see PPE and Respiratory Protective Equipment at Work for an HSE practical guide or go to the HSE website

When Temperatures Rise 

Staying cool in high temperatures whilst wearing PPE can be a challenge — but not insurmountable. 

Cool Clothing 

In warmer weather, try and opt for clothing made from lightweight and breathable fabrics, such as bamboo, that allow air circulation and promote ventilation. Look for moisture-wicking properties to help keep sweat away from the body. Light colours reflect sunlight and heat, helping to maintain cool temperatures (darker colours absorb the heat). Or go one step further and look for products which include certified UV protection to guard against damaging rays. 

Advise workers of the dangers of melanoma and to wear sunscreen at all times — and ensure they do not remove their tops while working in hot weather. 

Protecting Eyes 

When the sun’s out the body part most susceptible to damage (and 10 times more sensitive than our skin) are the eyes. Overexposure to some UV rays can lead to cataracts or age-related macular degeneration as well as other eye conditions, so choosing the right safety eyewear is key to protecting against long-term damage. 

Getting a Grip 

The hands have more sweat glands than any other part of the body. It’s important therefore to choose safety gloves that allow hands to breathe while still providing appropriate protection levels. Look for those that offer reliable grip coatings, some of which have an open pore structure to help enhance breathability, as well as a glove liner with moisture-wicking or absorbing properties, e.g. those incorporating bamboo. This has quick moisture absorption properties, helping to keep skin cool, dry and comfortable when compared to synthetic or even cotton equivalents. It is also naturally hypoallergenic, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin and boasts antibacterial properties, thus making it ideal for physically demanding tasks. 

Fit Feet 

Ill-fitting footwear can make feet feel hotter so it’s essential that footwear fits properly. Not only are hot feet uncomfortable and distracting, but they are also more susceptible to blisters and fungal infections. To help combat this, insoles should be removed from footwear after use to allow both to dry. Choose footwear where the upper material and lining allows air circulation and ventilation to help release heat and moisture. This will help ensure feet remain comfortable throughout the day. 

Ear Defenders 

Exposure to excessive noise is generally considered to be the second most common cause of hearing loss. For daily noise levels reaching 85 decibels and beyond, the law requires that ear protection is not only provided, but it must also be worn. 

Ear defenders may not always be the answer, however. Typically, when temperatures rise, heat can build up within the ear defender causing discomfort, so may be discarded by the worker, putting them at risk. Also, when ear defenders are used in conjunction with other PPE such as helmets and eyewear, they may not offer full protection. Ear plugs may therefore be a better alternative. 

In Conclusion 

You will find a wealth of information and guidance on the above in the Arch Risk Management site content and document downloads. These include PPE — Issue Record — in Safety Checklists and a PPE Policy — in Policy Documents. 

All of which can help manage the distribution and use of PPE all year round. 

This article is supported by our risk management partners, Arch Risk Management. For more information, please visitwww.archriskmanagement.co.uk. Registration is free for existing Arch policyholders. If you require more information, please contact your local Arch branch manager.