Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Last reviewed on 29/04/2013 13:46

This page gives advice on the selection, use, associated training, storage and maintenance of safety equipment designed to protect the health of the wearer in the workplace.

You will also find details of legal duties and requirements around PPE and links to further information.

Quick links:

Types of PPE:

What is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

PPE is defined in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations as: ‘All equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work which protects them against one or more risks to their health and safety’.

PPE includes equipment such as safety footwear, hard hats, high visibility waistcoats, goggles, life jackets, respirators and safety harnesses.

Waterproof, weatherproof, or insulated clothing is subject to the Regulations only if its use is necessary to protect employees against adverse climatic conditions that could otherwise affect their health and safety.


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Legal duties and obligations around PPE

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 These regulations seeks to ensure that where the risks cannot be controlled by other means, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is correctly selected and used.

The Regulations do not apply where requirements are detailed in other regulations e.g. respirators in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).

To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.

In addition, a number of other regulations have specific requirements for the provision, maintenance and use of PPE including:

Under the general requirements of The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employees cannot be charged or be expected to contribute for the provision or maintenance of PPE.


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Who should pay for PPE?

If items of Personal Protective Equipment are required they must be provided free of charge by the employer.


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When to use PPE

PPE must always be regarded as a ‘last resort’ to protect against risks to safety and health. Engineering controls and safe systems of work must always be considered first.

For example, it may be possible to do the job using methods that will not require the use of PPE.

If this is not possible, more effective safeguards should be put in place. For example, fixed screens could be provided rather than individual eye protection.

There are a number of reasons why PPE must be considered as a ‘last resort’:

  • PPE only protects the person wearing it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source protect everyone in the workplace
  • theoretical maximum levels of protection are difficult to achieve and the actual level of protection is difficult to assess. Effective protection is only achieved by selecting suitable PPE and if it is correctly fitted, maintained and used
  • PPE may restrict the wearer to some extent by limiting mobility or visibility, or by requiring additional weight to be carried. Thus creating additional hazards.


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Assessing and choosing PPE

The need for PPE must be identified through Risk Assessment.

For example, a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) risk assessment may show that gloves are required when using the substance being assessed. As with all risk assessments, those carrying them out must be competent to do so.

In addition to identifying the need for PPE, it is essential that the right type and grade of PPE is specified and provided.

The various standards for PPE (e.g. hard hats EN397) are too numerous to list here on this website. Within the standards there may also be various subdivisions to denote the standard of protection or type (e.g. ear muffs/defenders EN352-1, ear plugs EN352-2, helmet mounted muffs/defender EN352-3).

Since 1 July 1995, all new PPE must be ‘CE’ marked. The CE mark signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic/minimum safety requirements.


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Suitability of PPE

To be able to choose the right type of PPE, the hazards involved in the task or work environment must be considered carefully. PPE must also meet the needs of the individual.

The following factors should be considered when assessing the suitability of PPE:

  • is the PPE appropriate for the risk involved and conditions at the place where exposure may occur? e.g. goggles are not suitable when full-face protection is required
  • does the PPE prevent or adequately control the risks involved without increasing the overall risk? e.g. gloves should not be worn when using a pillar drill, due to the increased risk of entanglement
  • can the PPE be adjusted to fit the wearer correctly? e.g. if a person wears glasses, ear defenders may not provide a proper seal to protect against noise hazards
  • has the state of health of those using it been taken into account?
  • what are the needs of the job and the demands it places on the wearer? How long will the PPE need to be worn? What are the requirements for visibility and communication?
  • if more than one item of PPE is being worn, are they compatible? For example, does a particular type of respirator make it difficult for eye protection to fit properly?


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Fit-testing of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) facepieces

To ensure the wearer has the correct device, the initial selection of RPE should include fit-testing. RPE should have a tight-fitting facepiece (filtering facepieces are usually known as disposable masks, half and full-face masks).

Repeat fit-testing will be needed if anything changes. For example, if the model or size of facepiece is changed or there are significant changes to the individual wearer’s facial characteristics due to weight gain/loss or dentistry.

There are two forms of fit-testing – qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative fit-testing is usually adequate for disposable filter facepieces and half-masks. This can be done as a simple pass/fail based on the wearer’s subjective assessment of the fit and leakage. This method is not suitable for full-face masks.

Quantitative fit-testing provides a numerical measure of the fit known as a 'fit factor'. These tests give an objective measure of face fit. They require specialised equipment and are more complicated to carry out. These methods are recommended for full-face masks.

RPE suppliers can advise on the type of testing required. A number of suppliers can carry out testing for customers.


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Information, instruction and training on PPE use

Where PPE is provided, employees must be provided with adequate information, instruction and/or training on its use.

The extent of information, instruction and/or training will vary with the complexity and performance of the kit. For example, a full Breathing Apparatus kit will require more training to use properly than a disposable face mask.

Information and instruction should cover:

  • the risk(s) present and why the PPE is needed
  • the operation (including demonstration), performance and limitations of the equipment
  • use and storage (including how to put it on, how to adjust and remove it)
  • any testing requirements before use
  • any user maintenance that can be carried out (e.g. hygiene/cleaning procedures)
  • factors that can affect the performance of the equipment (e.g. working conditions, personal factors, defects and damage)
  • how to recognise defects in PPE, and arrangements for reporting them
  • where to obtain replacement PPE,

In addition to initial training, refresher training may be required from time to time. Supervisor checks on the use of PPE may help determine when refresher training is required.


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Maintaining PPE

An effective system of maintenance of PPE is essential to make sure the equipment continues to provide the degree of protection for which it is designed. Therefore, the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (including recommended replacement periods and shelf lives) must always be followed.

Maintenance may include; cleaning, examination, replacement, repair and testing. The wearer may be able carry out simple maintenance (e.g. cleaning), but more intricate repairs must only be carried out by competent personnel.

The costs associated with the maintenance of PPE are the responsibility of the employer.


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Storage for PPE

Where PPE is provided, adequate storage facilities for PPE must be provided for when it is not in use, unless the employee may take PPE away from the workplace (e.g. footwear or clothing).

Accommodation may be simple (e.g. pegs for waterproof clothing or safety helmets) and it need not be fixed (e.g. a case for safety glasses or a container in a vehicle).

Storage should be adequate to protect the PPE from contamination, loss, damage, damp or sunlight.

Where PPE may become contaminated during use, storage should be separate from any storage provided for ordinary clothing.


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Provision and replacement of PPE

Some organisations and departments operate central stores that deal with the provision of PPE.

In most cases, individual units/service areas are responsible for arranging the supply of required PPE to staff.

Regardless of the arrangements for supply, it is a management responsibility to ensure the provision of correct PPE.

When considering arrangements for providing replacement PPE it must be remembered that unless a task requiring PPE can be stopped, avoided or delayed until new PPE is obtained, replacement PPE must always be readily available.


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Duties of employees regarding PPE

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations place duties on employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that PPE provided is properly used.

The Regulations also place the following duties on employees:

  • PPE must be worn and used in accordance with the instructions provided to them
  • employees must take all reasonable steps to ensure that PPE is returned to the accommodation provided for it after it has been used (unless the employee may take PPE away from the workplace e.g. footwear or clothing)
  • PPE must be examined before use
  • any loss or obvious defect must be immediately reported to their supervisor
  • employees must take reasonable care for any PPE provided to them and not carry out any maintenance unless trained and authorised.


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Self-employment and PPE

The self-employed also have a duty to obtain and use the appropriate PPE wherever there is a risk to their health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled by alternative measures.

The only exception to this is for those who are classified as self-employed for tax reasons, but who otherwise work in an employee-employer relationship. In this case it will be for the employer to provide suitable PPE.


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Types of PPE

Hearing protection

There are three main types of hearing protection:

  • earmuffs/defenders, which completely cover the ear
  • earplugs, which are inserted into the ear canal
  • semi-inserts (also called canal-caps), which cover the entrance to the ear canal.

Hearing protection must be worn by anyone who is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the Exposure Action Level set by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

For more information, see our page on Noise.


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Head protection

There are three widely used types of head protection:

  • industrial safety helmets (hard hats), which are designed to protect against materials falling from height and swinging objects
  • industrial scalp protectors (bump caps), which are designed to protect from knocking against stationary objects
  • caps/hair nets, which protect against entanglement

Tasks where head protection may be required include:

  • construction
  • building repair
  • work in excavations and tunnels
  • work with bolt driving tools
  • driving motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, etc.

Turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from the requirement to wear hard hats on construction sites by virtue of The Employment Act 1989.


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Eye protection

There are several types of eye protection:

  • safety spectacles: these are similar to regular glasses but have a tougher lens. They can include side shields for additional protection.
  • eye shields: a frame-less one piece moulded lens, often worn over normal prescription glasses
  • safety goggles: these are made with flexible plastic frames and an elastic headband
  • face shields: heavier and bulkier than other type of eye protector, face shields protect the face, but do not fully enclose the eyes so do not protect against dusts, mists or gases.

Tasks where eye protection may be required include:

  • handling hazardous substances where there is a risk of splashing
  • work with power driven tools where materials are likely to be propelled
  • welding operations
  • work with lasers
  • using any gas or vapour under pressure.


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Foot protection

There are a number of types of safety footwear:

  • safety boots or shoes. Normally have steel toe-caps but can have other safety features (e.g. steel mid-soles, slip resistant soles, insulation against heat and cold)
  • Wellington boots, which can be supplied with steel toe-caps
  • anti-static and conductive footwear. These protect against the build-up of static electricity.

Tasks where foot protection may be required include: construction, demolition, building repair, manual handling where there is a risk of heavy objects falling on the feet, work in extremely hot or cold environments, work with chemicals and forestry.

Where there is a risk of slipping that cannot be avoided or controlled by other measures, attention must be given to the slip resistance of soles and replacement before the tread pattern is overly worn.

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Hand and arm protection

Hand and arm protection comes in a variety of forms, including:

  • gloves and gauntlets (leather, nitrile, latex, plastic coated, chain mail, etc.)
  • wrist cuffs and armlets, e.g. used in glass cutting and handling
  • barrier cream may sometimes be used, where gloves cannot practicably be used.

Tasks where hand and arm protection may be required include: the manual handling of abrasive, sharp or pointed objects, work with vibrating equipment such as pneumatic drills and chainsaws, construction and outdoor work, work with chemicals and other hazardous substances (e.g. bodily fluids) and work with hot or cold materials.

In order to eliminate the risk of ill health through exposure to latex, a number of organisations have phased out the use of latex gloves replacing them with nitrile.


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Body protection

Types of body protection include:

  • overalls, aprons and coveralls (protection against hazardous substances)
  • clothing for cold, heat and bad weather
  • clothing to protect against machinery, e.g. chainsaws
  • high visibility clothing (e.g. jackets, vests)
  • harnesses
  • back supports
  • life jackets.

Tasks where body protection may be required include: work with hazardous substances, work next to the highway or other areas with moving transport or vehicles (e.g. construction sites), outdoor work, forestry and grounds maintenance work.


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Respiratory protection

There are two main types of respiratory protective equipment:

  • respirators that filter contaminated air or clean it as it is breathed in
  • respirators that supply clean air from an independent source.

Work with harmful dusts, fumes, vapours can require respiratory protective equipment. Tasks where respiratory protection may be required include; welding, work with harmful substances, work in areas where large amounts of nuisance dust is present, work that creates dust (e.g. disc cutters).

For more information on substances that can affect breathing and respiratory health, visit our page on Skin and Respiratory Sensitisers.


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Your questions on Personal Protective Equipment

My boss has asked me to pay for my work boots, is this right?

Further information on PPE

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note - all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:


→ View The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (external site)

This webpage available in other languages



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