The role of personal protective equipment in the workplace

Jun 1, 2022

The employer must provide personal protective equipment whenever a task or workplace poses an environmental risk to an employee. Personal protective equipment protects the employee from direct harm and lowers the cost of accidents, workers’ compensation premium increases, and employee downtime due to avoidable injuries.

Personal protective equipment refers to any wearable equipment an employee would use to protect themselves while working. This can include anything from gloves and an apron for a cook to a full-body Nomex suit for a firefighter. In addition, personal protective equipment may consist of helmets, eye protection, body protection, foot and hand protection, and any other equipment that serves the same purpose, depending on the nature of the work. Employers are also responsible for training employees on using required personal protective equipment and ensuring compliance.

Types of personal protective equipment

Because personal protective equipment varies by industry, specific types of equipment are appropriate for certain types of work. For example, construction workers require helmets and steel-toed boots.

Eye protection

Goggles and protective glasses are the most common personal protective equipment for the eyes and surrounding facial area. In addition, eye protection is required in laboratory work where there is a risk of flying debris or splashing.

Head and neck protection

Head and neck personal protective equipment is frequently associated with vehicles, planes, and modes of transportation that have the potential to throw the employee around violently and suddenly. Racecar and test drivers, for example, frequently wear a lot of head and neck protection. However, many industries only require a helmet to prevent head injuries from falling debris.

Ear protection

Employees must be provided with ear protection where there is a high level of sound exposure. Some employers may use foam earplugs, but high noise levels necessitate professional earmuffs covering the entire ear. This can be seen in various settings, including airport tarmac work, mining, and driving large, loud vehicles.

Hands and arm protection

Armguards and gloves are frequently used to protect limbs. But, of course, people must continue to work, and leather protective material is commonly used to prevent cuts and burns.

Legs and feet protection

Personal protective equipment for feet includes boots with protective soles, hard toe protection, and thick layer construction to prevent cuts or temperature exposure.

Lung protection

Breathing apparatus is required in environments where employees are exposed to hazardous materials that can be inhaled. This can be as simple as a mask with filters or as complex as a complete breathing system with an oxygen tank connected. Furthermore, training is required for operation, and the breathing apparatus must be tested regularly to ensure that it is fully functional.

Whole-body protection

Continuous or repeated exposure to hazardous environments necessitates complete body protection. When entering a burning building, firefighters, for example, must be provided with body protection in the form of a full suit and breathing equipment. Even on a grass fire, personal protective equipment consists of a full suit, gloves, boots, helmet, goggles, face shroud, and a personal shelter for emergency protection from a fire blast.

Professionals who wear personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment is required in various industries and workplaces.


Military personnel are frequently outfitted with helmets, body armour for rough terrain and bullet impact, and high-quality suits to protect them from the elements.


Law enforcement officers in full uniform wear bulletproof vests, proper footwear, and elastic, long-lasting uniforms. They also have personal protective equipment for carrying their gear and communication devices.


A municipal firefighter wears a full personal protective equipment outfit to shield against heat exposure from head to toe. The wildland firefighter wears a similar, lighter outfit for heavy manual work in high heat and rural terrain. Both wear critical, life-saving equipment to get out of harm’s way in an emergency.

Factory workers, miners, and construction workers

Due to the high risk of limb and head injury, these three workers almost always wear gloves, helmets, goggles, ear/sound protection, and high-quality work boots.

Laboratory workers

Given the close contact or adjacent exposure, lab work frequently necessitates complete contamination protection. Lab workers must wear goggles, gloves, and breathing protection to avoid splash and inhalation harm.

The advantages of investing in personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment has numerous advantages for employers aside from immediate health protection. While there is a cost to providing it and maintaining compliance, employers must remember that a single employee’s serious injury can often cost much more than the total cost of workplace personal protective equipment for a year. Accident avoidance is thus a critical financial goal to keep in mind when evaluating personal protective equipment procurement.

Reduced workplace injury

The best way to reduce workplace injury costs is through prevention, and personal protective equipment is a key, tangible way to do so. An injury that never occurred incurs no costs like medical bills or higher workers’ compensation plan premiums. Companies save thousands, if not millions, of Rands through prevention.

Reduced staff turnover

Companies can benefit from increased productivity due to improved experience and performance by trained workers who know their jobs by reducing staff turnover from injury absence. In addition, trained workers with no downtime due to injuries make fewer mistakes on the job.

Reduced sickness absence

Downtime due to illness is a significant financial loss. Injured or sick employees must still be paid, which means lost payroll costs with no productivity return. More payroll time is spent productively by reducing injuries and sickness with personal protective equipment.

Avoid prosecutions, fines, and legal fees

The most significant savings come from avoiding lawsuits and legal fees from injured employees seeking compensation. Furthermore, if a serious injury occurs, there will be a regulatory investigation into the matter, resulting in penalties for the company. These can harm the accounting bottom line.

Legal requirements for personal protective equipment

In essence, businesses must protect their employees from preventable harm. Of course, this varies by industry. For example, a computer programmer will not be given a helmet and gloves, but proper ergonomic desk equipment may be appropriate. The legalities are based on what is considered standard protection for the given industry. In some cases, specifics are provided. For example, government agencies like police and fire departments must provide specific personal protective equipment. Private companies must operate in a much more ambiguous environment.

Choosing the proper personal protective equipment for your company

Whatever personal protective equipment package is appropriate for a company should be viable, durable, and functional to serve the protective purpose effectively. For example, it’s crucial that personal protective equipment fits comfortably and does not become a source of injury like ill-fitting trousers that cause tripping. Numerous industry standards for various professions can be used as guidelines for basic minimum personal protective equipment requirements.

Ensuring long-term use

Employees may fail to maintain their equipment or continue to use personal protective equipment that needs to be replaced. The employer’s responsibility is to inspect provided personal protective equipment regularly and replace it as needed.

Equipment should be customised for each employee

Employees should not share personal protective equipment from one shift to the next. While this may save money, it can increase the risk of injury due to faster wear and tear and ill-fitting changes. Instead, every employee should have their own allocation of job-specific personal protective equipment.

Equipment should be maintained in orderly condition

Employer-provided personal protective equipment must be inspected regularly. This entails physically inspecting and testing equipment to ensure it is not broken, worn, cracked, torn, or otherwise losing function. In addition, equipment should be replaced every two years or when it shows signs of wear.

Employees must be educated

It is not enough to provide employees with personal protective equipment. They must also be taught how to use, fit, and wear personal protective equipment. This entails providing instructor-led training with visual guidance on properly using the personal protective equipment.

Annual audits to check equipment

The best way to accomplish personal protective equipment safety and compliance checks is to schedule annual equipment audits and visual assessments. However, these checks should not be announced in advance to allow inspectors to get an accurate picture of compliance and where improvements in personal protective equipment or training are needed.

Contact Procon Marketing for details

Contact our team today for more information about our personal protective equipment. Alternatively, please browse our website to find the right solution for your needs.

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