Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) – When do you need to replace it?

12 October 2014

A guide to replacing PPE equipment.


It is of course best practice for employers to buy the best quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but even the best degrades over time. So... when should you replace it?

In this article I look at different types of PPE, what you need to consider when replacing it and where you can access further information.  I’ve also included a handy 6 point PPE checklist to follow.

Why is it important?

It’s an employer’s legal responsibility to provide and train workers with (free) suitable PPE to protect them from workplace hazards.  Failure to do this properly can result in criminal prosecutions, fines and compensation payouts.

When considering replacing PPE, employers must use ‘due diligence’ in their decisions.  This means taking the care and attention that a reasonable person would in exercising all reasonable precautions to avoid harm.  If employers don’t have evidence of this, they may be subject to legal action and compensation payouts following accidents or injury. This applies to choosing and renewing PPE as well as properly training workers on using PPE correctly.

When considering risks diligently there are a number of factors to take into account including:

  • your knowledge and previous experience of working processes
  • specific hazards
  • locations of sites
  • the likelihood of unexpected events occurring.

Here are some common considerations that affect many businesses:

Soiling and wear and tear
PPE can easily become soiled by stains, spills, burns and general wear and tear through daily use and this can reduce the effectiveness of PPE. It’s important to remember that even high quality work wear needs to be monitored and kept in good condition because it needs to stand up to a lot more wear and tear than normal clothes. Disposable single-use items could be worn, if appropriate, to avoid this issue.

Gloves are one of the most widely used items of PPE and it’s often easy to spot when they need replacing due to general wear and tear or when they become affected by the hazards they’re designed to protect against.  However, more specialist gloves that protect against contamination or liquid irritation (for example) can be harder to assess and need careful attention.

Gloves -332172_640 (1)

Gloves must always be fit for purpose.  They may not need to address specific hazards (particularly in sectors such as construction where workers are moving between various sites) but they must always be fit for the task in hand. Gloves should, as a minimum, offer protection against general injury, cuts, burns and rubbing. Specialist gloves which provide extra grip or those that protect against chemicals or thermal hazards may need to be worn depending on the task.

Coveralls, overalls and boiler suits are used in a wide range of industries and cover various uses. They come in a variety of materials from lightweight to heavy duty. Most importantly they must be fit for purpose depending on the task in hand.  For instance, a lightweight overall would be suitable for painting and decorating whilst for other tasks specialist PPE is required, such as flame retardant boiler suits.

Any damage to coveralls is often easy to spot such as tears or holes in the material and should be monitored as these reduce the effectiveness of the PPE. More specialist PPE will also degrade over time with regular exposure to hazards so this needs to be monitored regularly.

Checklist – 6 essential things to remember:

  • PPE is a last resort – you should always try to reduce the risk of hazards as much as possible first.
  • Choosing the right PPE for the job so it effectively protects against hazards – choose products that are CE marked and if more than one item of PPE is worn at a time, ensure that they can be worn together and still be effective. If you’re unsure, speak to your supplier and describe the job to them;
  • Choosing the right PPE for the person – the PPE must fit correctly and be comfortable. Not only will this ensure that it provides effective protection, but it will also encourage workers to wear it.
  • Provide training - Train workers to use their PPE correctly and make sure they’re actually using it.
  • Maintain PPE – it must be properly looked after, kept clean and in a good condition and stored appropriately when not in use.
  • Monitor PPE - for signs of degrading, soiling or wear and tear. Have a procedure that ensures these are regularly reviewed and replaced as needed.

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