Personal protective equipment: definition, applications and types

When performing different professional duties, we should be provided with personal protective equipment. It is among the key conditions to maintain OHS rules at an enterprise. In this article, we will answer the following questions: what is personal protective equipment, why is it important and what does it consist of?

Published: 5-12-2022

What is personal protective equipment?

Personal protective equipment has been used for years at large and small enterprises, but also in other employment establishments. Its definition is stated in the Regulation of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of 26 September 1997 on general provisions of occupational health and safety. As the act indicates, personal protective equipment means:

  • any OHS protective measures designed for protecting humans against dangerous and harmful factors which may exist individually or jointly in the work environment.

The protection of the life and health of employees is the duty of employers. It is them who must arrange safe infrastructure in the workplacet. They must provide their personnel with appropriate amounts of suitable personal protective clothing and other measures to protect limbs, head, ears, eyes, etc.

OHS personal protective equipment: types

Information about the classification of personal protective equipment can be found in Polish Standards. It is divided into 9 basic groups, such as:

  1. personal protective clothing,
  2. protectors for lower limbs,
  3. protectors for upper limbs and knees,
  4. head shields,
  5. protective measures for eyes and eyelids,
  6. protective measures for ears,
  7. protective measures for the respiratory tract,
  8. general protective equipment,
  9. protective measures used during work at height.

It is worth noting that the above list of employee’s personal protective equipment does not cover working clothes or uniforms. Personal OHS equipment should also not be mistaken  for means of collective protection, for example supply-exhaust systems installed in rooms.

Examples of personal protective equipment

Today the range of professional OHS protective equipment is extremely broad. It includes protectors, overalls, masks or footwear designed for work in adverse conditions. Personal protective equipment additionally covers:

  • specialised helmets and light protective helmets,
  • goggles (tinted, colourless, yellow),
  • protective cords for working at height,
  • strengthened protective gloves,
  • earmuffs, stoppers and earplugs.

A very important group among the said OHS measures is protective clothing. This includes:

  • trousers made of materials resistant to high temperatures, fire or electric shocks,
  • impermeable vests with fluorescent stripes,
  • specialised explosion-proof suits,
  • acid-resistant working clothes,
  • antistatic clothing.

Which personal protective equipment should be used at the workplace?

As results from the Civil Code, exclusive responsibility for the selection of personal protective equipment rests with the employer (or any person he may designate). According to the law, protectors must be assigned compulsorily and free of charge. Company regulations and standards include information on which personal OHS equipment should be applied in a particular work station.

Regardless of the type, any protective equipment made available to employees must meet international standards. In addition, protectors should be new and free of any manufacturing defects. It is not allowed to share personal protective equipment at work, and gloves, goggles or overalls may not be worn after other employees. The employer must adjust clothing or other protective equipment to the specific nature of the job.

Why personal protective equipment should be used?

Not so long as 50–100 years ago, accidents at work and occupational diseases would occur on a daily basis. This pathology was eliminated by modern OHS guidelines (including the standards developed by the European Union and the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)). Global institutions particularly emphasize the fact that OHS personal protective equipment is one of the most effective ways to keep employees healthy (and alive!). Helmets or overalls protect the sensitive human body and reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents.

Failure to use protective equipment at a company is a proof extreme irresponsibility. Thus, why is personal protective equipment important at the workplace? It reduces the risk of poisoning, burns, mechanical injuries, or wounds. OHS measures vary in their intended use: they protect our hearing, sight as well as internal and external organs such as skin or nails.

Summary: the irreplaceable OHS personal protective equipment

Protective measures are irreplaceable at any company where there is a risk to the employees’ life or health. Today, no industrial plant or construction company could efficiently operate without protective equipment packages! Goggles, helmets, earmuffs and overalls provide top safety and quality of work.

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