PPE – The Last Defence?

Most of us in roles which require the deployment of PPE as part of the broader safety kit tend to think of protective gear as being a front-line defence to stave off the risk of injury. After all, PPE tends to be the items which come between us and everyday job-related hazards – hand protection stands between our skin and risk of cuts, eye protection comes between our face and potential contaminants or debris – and so on.

However, in our industry, we tend to refer to PPE as being ‘The Last Defence’ – something which should only be deployed as the last resort. Why? Read on to find out more!

Why PPE isn’t the primary route to safety

Despite the fact that we use PPE daily, protective equipment is only useful when it’s deployed within a broader culture of safety in the workplace. This is because any safety product alone is not sufficient to keep operatives safe. Think, for example, of a heavy-duty glove which is being used by an arborist. The glove can afford protection when it’s used properly according to manufacturer requirements, but it will provide little mitigation against critical risks such as a faulty chainsaw chain.

However, if potential risks such as these are removed from the workplace before the gloves are used, then minor hazards can be managed perfectly when the gloves are being worn.

This is why PPE should be the very last element of workplace protection. The problem is, daily use of routine PPE may provide false confidence, leading managers and/or operatives to forgo some of the critical elements of hazard assessment in favour of the quick PPE fix.

Elimination of risks at source

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) warns strongly against relying purely on PPE to stay safe on the job. They recommend that employee safety must always first be safeguarded through measures to eliminate potential risks at source. This includes using technical or organisational means to address risks, for example through substituting hazardous materials for non-hazardous, or providing protection collectively (through, for example, use of scaffolding as opposed to individual safety harnesses).

The efficacy of source risk elimination is incontrovertible, and should always be prioritised over individual safety through the use of PPE. Only in the event that a risk has been considered and is unable to be prevented through technology or the firm’s safety management approach, should PPE be considered to preserve safety.

Why PPE alone cannot uphold workplace safety

PPE used outside the context of a workplace safety culture always has limitations. It only provides protection for the wearer (hence the ‘personal’ element of the acronym) and is rendered useless if it is ill-fitting, or not working as it was intended. Often, use of poorly-designed PPE can actively restrict the wearer, creating additional risks to the one being considered, and low-calibre PPE can often fail to attain the levels of protection promised when it’s put into practice in the workplace environment.

Above all, though, the H&SE stresses that the psychological protection which PPE affords can often be misleading, leaving operatives taking uncalculated risks through the use of certain types of protection.

Why PPE is the ideal last defence

All that said, PPE is imperative for a number of reasons. When used as the very last defence against risk, it provides a critical and valuable level of protection for any operative facing risk in the workplace. High-quality PPE provided by firms such as SMI can be relied upon to enhance workplace safety, when used in a responsible manner, within a broader culture of risk assessment and prevention.

Still not convinced? Why not get in touch with one of our friendly team today, to discuss your safety needs and find out just how we can protect you and your team from unnecessary workplace risks.