Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a critical tool for preventing work-related injuries in a variety of sectors. From logistics and warehousing, through to waste management and construction, PPE can help keep workers safe and reduce the risk of accidents.

Whether you’re looking for general everyday protection, specialised industry materials, or something specifically tailored to your needs, understanding the various types of PPE can make all the difference. In this blog, we explore six types of PPE and how they prevent work-related injuries.

1. Head protection

PPE for the head, commonly known as head protection, is crucial for safeguarding workers in hazardous work settings. Head protection includes a wide range of products such as hard hats, welding helmets, and bump caps, all of which are intended to minimise the risk of head trauma if an accident were to take place. Let's take a closer look at the different types of head protection available.

Safety helmets (hard hats)

The most recognisable form of head protection is safety helmets (also referred to as hard hats) which provide protection against impacts, such as falling objects, bumps, and other collisions. They are constructed of a sturdy plastic shell with internal padding for cushioning and are available in different colours to allow for easy identification by employers.

There are two primary circumstances in which employees are required to wear safety helmets:

  1. Falling objects – when there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects, employers must ensure that each employee wears a safety helmet. This could include situations where employees are working below other employees who are using tools or materials, as well as working around or under machinery that could cause objects to fall.
  2. Electrical hazards - if an employee operates in proximity to exposed electrical conductors that could come into contact with their head, the employer must guarantee that the employee wears a protective helmet to minimise the danger of electrical shock.
Two workers on scaffolding wearing safety helmets

Bump caps

Bump caps are a less invasive, lighter, and more breathable alternative to safety helmets. They are used to protect against smaller impacts that a worker may incur when bumping into or knocking against a stationary object, rather than for the protection against anything falling.

Applications generally include mechanics working in, around and under vehicles or baggage handlers in the holds of airplanes. Essentially, any jobs that involve moving in and around confided spaces, bump caps can be extremely beneficial.

2. Eye protection

Eye protection (or eyewear) is deigned to protect the mucus membrane of the eyes, as well as help reduce the risk of foreign objects entering the eyes and causing damage. The relevant standards are BS 7028 (Guide to Selection of Eye Protection for Industrial and Other Uses) and BS EN 166 (Specification for Eye Protectors).

Whilst all PPE must be regularly cleaned, this is especially important in the case of eye protection as dirty lenses lead to poor vision and may contribute to accidents.

When it comes to the types of eye protection available, there are three main categories:

  1. Safety spectacles - Created with safety frames, tempered glass or plastic lenses, temples, and side shields to offer eye protection from moderate impacts and particles that arise during job tasks like carpentry, woodworking, grinding, and scaling. Safety spectacles are available in prescription form for those that require corrective lenses.
  2. Safety goggles – With the rim of the goggles in contact with the face, these are effective at protecting the eyes from all angles.
  3. Face shields – These can be worn with prescription glasses underneath and are designed to protect the whole face as well as the eyes.
Man wearing eye protection inspecting

3. Safety footwear

Proper safety footwear is one of the most important pieces of PPE an employee can wear – especially for those on their feet throughout the day. Not only can appropriate safety footwear protect against falling objects and prevent slips but provide comfort and reduce fatigue through adequate support.

There are two main types of safety footwear, which are:

  1. Safety boots and trainers – used across many sectors and job types, safety boots and trainers often come with slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant midsoles and steel or composite toe caps for everyday protection.
  2. Wellington boots – suitable for those who work in wet conditions, Wellington boots are usually made from rubber. They are designed to prevent water from getting into the boot and typically come with slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant midsoles and protective toe caps.
Worker in hi vis overalls putting on safety shoes

4. Hearing protection

Evaluations performed under the 'Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005' will establish whether personal ear protectors are necessary in the workplace and the degree of noise attenuation required. The applicable standard for ear protectors is BS EN 352 Part 1.

Chosen hearing protection will need to be compatible with other types of PPE (e.g some safety helmets and eye protection may not be compatible or comfortable with ear defenders).

The three common types of hearing protection include:

  1. Ear defenders – Sometimes referred to as earmuffs, ear defenders work to block out noise by completely covering the outer ear. Some include electronic components to help users communicate or to block impulsive noises.
  2. Ear plugs – Where some workers may have difficulties using ear defenders due to heavy beards or wearing glasses, ear plugs offer a great alternative. They work by blocking the ear canal and due to their smaller size, are much more convenient to carry.
  3. Ear bands – Thin of these as ear plugs, just with a banded design that is worn over the head or behind the neck. Ear bands can be conveniently worn around the neck when not in use, reducing the likelihood of misplacing your ear protection.
Worker in hi vis wearing ear defenders around neck

5. Respiratory protection

Respiratory protective equipment is a form of PPE used to prevent hazardous substances being inhaled in the workplace. Substances like dust, mist, gas, and fumes can all be protected against, preventing workers from sustaining long-term harm to their lungs.

There are two main types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), which include:

  1. Respirators (air purifying) – Respirators eliminate contaminants from the workplace air, and there are three types of respirators available: simple filtering facepiece respirators (disposable masks), respirators (full-face or half-face reusable masks), and power-assisted respirators.
  2. Breathing apparatus - These are utilized during high-risk work activities where inhaling contaminated air could be lethal, as well as when there is a possibility that the air could lack sufficient oxygen.
Close up of man wearing respirator

6. Safety gloves

Where jobs require a certain level of manual dexterity, the hands are often exposure to a variety of hazards. Risks include cuts, abrasions, heat, cold, chemical contamination, needle punctures, vibration, burns, infection, skin irritation, and dermatitis.

Safety gloves provide the main form of hand protection against a range of industrial hazards, but other forms of PPE such as wrist cuffs or armlets may also be necessary.

 There are several types of safety gloves available, including:

  1. Disposable gloves - These gloves are designed for single-use purposes and are made from latex, vinyl, or nitrile. They are commonly used in healthcare settings or food service industries to prevent the spread of germs or to avoid cross-contamination.
  2. Chemical-resistant gloves - These are made from rubber or other materials and are designed to protect the hands from chemical exposure. They are commonly used in industries where chemicals are handled, such as laboratories, chemical plants, or oil refineries.
  3. Cut-resistant gloves - These gloves are designed to protect the hands from cuts and lacerations. They are made from materials such as Kevlar or steel mesh and are commonly used in industries where sharp objects or tools are handled, such as construction, manufacturing, or meatpacking.
  4. Heat-resistant gloves - Made from materials such as leather or Kevlar and are designed to protect the hands from high temperatures. They are commonly used in industries such as welding, metalworking, or foundries.
  5. Electrically insulated gloves - These gloves are designed to protect workers from electrical shock when working with live wires or other electrical components. They are made from materials such as rubber and must meet specific electrical safety standards.
  6. Anti-vibration gloves - Designed to reduce the effects of vibration on the hands and fingers. These gloves are commonly used in industries such as construction, manufacturing, or mining where workers are exposed to high levels of vibration from power tools or machinery.
worker wearing green chemical gloves

Create a safer workplace with PPE from SMI

At SMI, we’re on a mission to provide more affordable and more sustainable PPE products for the workplace. With an extensive range of head protection, eye protection, safety footwear, safety gloves and so much more, we have all your company’s PPE needs covered.

For more information on how SMI can support your business, get in touch with our expert team today – we’re standing by and happy to answer your PPE-related questions.