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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » PPE in Construction

PPE in Construction

Last updated on 20th December 2023

The construction industry has extremely high numbers of accidents reported each year, a lot of these could be minimised with the use of correct PPE. Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to all equipment (e.g. devices, appliances and associated accessories) that is worn by an individual, in order to provide protection against one or more health or safety risks, whilst at work.

The definition includes –

  • Any equipment that is either worn or held by the individual (e.g. a fall protection rope may be held, whilst a harness is worn).
  • A number of devices or appliances, that have been combined by the manufacturer, in order to protect an individual against one or more potential risks occurring at the same time (e.g. an air-fed respirator could have an in-built visor, protecting the eyes against flying objects).
  • A protective device or appliance, which has the option to be combined with personal non-protective equipment, that is worn or held by an individual, to carry out a specific activity (e.g. a high visibility waistcoat can be worn over ordinary work clothes, when required, such as when operating in a designated forklift handling area).
  • Interchangeable components which are essential for a protective device or appliance to properly function, and which is specifically designed for that equipment (e.g. branded filters fitted to half-mark respirator).

According to the HSE around 9,000 PPE-related accidents are reported each year.

The reasons behind PPE

It is important that these areas of the body are protected. Personal protective equipment (PPE) provides protection from health risks, which can enter the body, via these routes of exposure –

  • The skin (e.g. contact with corrosive chemicals)
  • The respiratory system, such as the lungs (e.g. inhalation of hazardous dust)
  • The eyes (e.g. irritating substances).

The respiratory system and eyes are particularly sensitive areas, and serious damage can be caused, particularly when exposed to very hazardous substances e.g.

  • If the skin comes into contact with a sensitizer, then the effect could be long-term and re-occurring (dermatitis).
  • If a corrosive substance came into contact with the eyes, then an individual could become permanently blind.
  • If silica dust is inhales regularly, then an individual could get lung cancer, and the result could be fatal.

All of these incidents would not only influence any work that the individual may be able to carry out, but it would have a major negative effect on other aspects of their life.

Protection against health and safety risks

Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects individual persons, from risks, which they are exposed to.

Persons include –

  • Employees, agency workers, trainees and work experience personnel
  • Self-employed persons
  • Non-employees, such as visitors and contractors.

It provides protection from health risks, which can enter the body, via various routes of exposure –

  • The skin (e.g. contact with corrosive chemicals)
  • The eyes (e.g. irritating substances)
  • The respiratory system, such as the lungs (e.g. inhalation of hazardous dust)
  • The hearing canal (e.g. loud noises could cause damage)
  • The whole body (e.g. could suffer if exposed to extremes of temperature).

It provides protection, from safety risks coming into contact with the body, and causing a physical injury, e.g.

  • Cuts, abrasions and punctures through the skin.
  • Flying particles entering the eyes.
  • Physical impact or puncture damaging internal organs.
  • Falling objects crushing lower limbs.

Although it is seen as a last resort (i.e. to be implemented after other controls), PPE is often necessary in order to reduce the (low and high) risks to health and safety, and it may form a vital part of a health and safety system in the workplace.

Construction worker putting on his PPE

Requirements of PPE in construction

In order for equipment to fall within the definition of personal protective equipment (PPE), it must satisfy certain requirements.

The device, appliance or accessory must be worn or held, for the purpose or work, e.g.

  • Vehicle helmets (normally covered under other legislation), must be worn, if a vehicle is being operated, for the purpose of work (e.g. farm workers riding motorcycles or All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) should wear crash helmets).
  • Sports equipment (not necessarily worn in other circumstances), must be worn, if for the purposes of work (e.g. life jackets must be worn by professional canoeing instructors, riding helmets must be worn by stable staff, and climbing helmets must be worn by steeplejacks who climb and repair chimneys and steeples).

It also includes –

  • PPE, which protect against the risk of physical violence (e.g. helmets or body armour).
  • Uniforms or clothing, which protects against a specific risk to health and safety (e.g. high visibility clothing worn by the emergency services).
  • Weatherproof or insulated clothing, which is necessary to protect employees against risks to their health or safety (e.g. rain, cold).

What are the different types of PPE in construction?

There are various types of personal protective equipment (PPE), each designed to protect a particular part of the body, against a particular hazard.

Risk assessment should be used to identify the hazards, and determine the different types of PPE that may be required.

The following type of PPE for construction is available –

  • Skin protection (e.g. protective clothing)
  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
  • Eye protection (e.g. goggles)
  • Head protection (e.g. safety helmets)
  • Ear protection (e.g. earplugs)
  • Foot protection (e.g. steel toecap boots)
  • Hand and arm protection (e.g. gloves)
  • Body protection (e.g. high-visibility clothing)
  • Fall protection (e.g. safety harnesses).

We will cover in detail the different types of PPE. If the risk assessment has deemed the risk to be insignificant, then PPE is not necessary.

If there is no significant risk to be managed, then wearing PPE may be inappropriate (e.g. for the individual, or task being carried out), increasing the overall risk to those involved.

However, in other cases, it may be appropriate to apply a general workplace rule to wear certain types of PPE, e.g.

  • Hardhats on a construction site.
  • Gloves when working with chemicals.

Skin protection

Protective clothing must offer some specific protection to be regarded as personal protective equipment (PPE). If it doesn’t, it is just workwear.

Skin protection may be required to protect the whole body against contact with substances.

Contact with dangerous substances (e.g. chemicals and contaminated dust) –

  • Material must be chemically impermeable.
  • The extent of the protection depends on the nature of the chemical-
    – For small quantities of low-risk chemicals; a splash proof apron would be sufficient.
    – For larger quantities, such as sprays or jets; protective coats and trousers, or coveralls would provide more protection.
    – For large quantities of very hazardous substances; gas or liquid tight suits would be required (as well as associated respiratory protective equipment).

Contact with water (e.g. when working outside in the rain, or cleaning) –

  • PPE would need to be waterproof (e.g. made of use rubber or plastic) or have a water-repellent coating, and be breathable.

Types of skin protection

Skin protection can protect the whole body, as well as just the legs.

There are three main types of whole-body skin protection –

  • Separates – These only cover part of the body (e.g. jackets or trousers).
  • Aprons – These only cover part of the body.
  • Overalls, coveralls, body suits, boiler suits and chemical suits – These cover the whole body, and may be reusable or disposable.

For leg protection (as well as trousers), there is also –

  • Knee pads.
  • Gaiters – These cover the shins.
  • Hard fibre or metal guards, which help to protect against some impact hazards.

For skin protection to be effective –

  • Protective clothing must be suitable for the hazard (e.g. chemical resistance and protection against physical hazards can vary widely).
  • Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed (e.g. do not use chemical resistance for longer than the recommended breakthrough times, and clean as to not damage its effectiveness).
  • Worn or contaminated clothing must be stored separately from clean clothing.
  • Check for surface damage, which could reduce its effectiveness.
  • Do not wear loose clothing near moving machinery, if there is a chance that it could get caught.
Builder putting on his protective wear before starting job

Respiratory protection

The respiratory system consists of internal areas, such as the; Inside of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and lungs.

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may be required to protect the respiratory system against these hazards –

  • Inhalation of dusts (e.g. nuisance and hazardous dust).
  • Inhalation of gases.
  • Inhalation of vapours and mists.

It is important to protect the respiratory system, because the lungs are a major organ, required to sustain life.

RPE may also be necessary to protect the user against oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
In this case, the result would definitely be fatal, of a user was not wearing the correct type of RPE (i.e. breathing apparatus) –

It is important to protect the respiratory system, because the lungs are a major organ, required to sustain life.

RPE may also be necessary to protect the user against oxygen-deficient atmospheres.
In this case, the result would definitely be fatal, of a user was not wearing the correct type of RPE (i.e. breathing apparatus) –

  • A risk assessment would determine if an atmosphere is potentially oxygen-deficient.
  • Testing would confirm any suspicions.
  • The atmosphere may be permanently, or temporarily oxygen-deficient.
  • Emergency procedures and rescue equipment would be required.
  • Rescue personnel would also need suitable RPE.
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Types of respiratory protection

Nuisance dust masks also exist. However, these are not CE marked, are not actually classified as PPE.

They are sold in most Do It Yourself (DIY) shops, and are designed for home use, rather than workplace use (e.g. a home-owner drilling a hole into a wall).

They consist of either a –

  • Thin metal plate, which holds a gauze over the nose and mouth (normally attached to a single head strap).
  • Lightweight filter (similar to a disposable dust respirator).

The latter could be easily mistaken for a protective respirator. Therefore, the specification must be checked, if RPE is being purchased in this way.

Eye protection

Eye protection may be required to protect the eyes against certain hazards.

Hazards to eye safety and health include –

  • Projectiles such as; flying or ejected particles, chippings, debris, material or objects (e.g. due to working with machinery, hand tools or abrasive materials).
  • Dust, gas, vapour or liquid mist entering eyes (e.g. from machines, high-pressure cleaning, or using substances under pressure).
  • Dangerous substances (e.g. liquid or chemical splashes) entering eyes, as a result of handling them.
  • Heat or hot materials entering or damaging eyes (e.g. radiant heat, molten metal, hot solids, sparks or hot liquid splash from working in hot conditions), due to hot work (e.g. welding), or working near hot environments (e.g. ovens, furnaces).
  • Radiation (e.g. intense light or other optical radiation emitted at levels that could cause an injury, e.g. arc welding, lasers), damaging eyes.

It is important to protect the eyes because they are required to function in all aspects of life.

Worker ensuring his eye protection is fitted correctly to prevent accident

Types of eye protection

Eye protection must be managed correctly, in order to ensure that it is effective.

This involves –

  • Ensuring that the eye or face protection fits the user (e.g. if it is too big, it could fall off).
  • Consider the risk of eyewear steaming up, and where necessary, use; ventilated eye protection, or anti-mist or de-fogging sprays.
  • Keep eyewear clean and protect from scratches, which could reduce visibility.
  • Use antistatic fluids where required.
  • Replace when required (e.g. following damage that can affect the fit or visibility).
  • It is vital that eyewear protects against the hazards (e.g. the correct level of protection against; impact, dust or liquid splashes).

Foot protection

Footwear may be required to protect the feet and lower limbs against certain hazards. It is important to protect the feet because users may rely on them to carry out stand-up tasks.

Physical hazards to lower limbs include –

  • Falling objects could crushing the feet and toes (e.g. when handling heavy loads, either by hand, or equipment).
  • Impact, causing cuts and abrasions.
  • Punctures (e.g. standing on pointed or sharp objects on the ground, which pierce the shoe, causing cuts and wounds to the sole of the foot).

Types of foot protection

Safety boots or shoes –

  • These are the most common type of safety footwear.
  • They may be secured by laces, or by other means (e.g. Velcro straps, or simply elasticated) if the laces could pose a risk.

Wellington boots –

  • These are suitable for working in wet conditions.
  • Wellington boots are usually made of rubber.
  • They are useful in jobs where the footwear needs to be –
    – Washed to reduce risks (e.g. boots worn in quarries need to be washed, to avoid the dirt from becoming dry, and spreading silica dust around internal areas).
    – Disinfected for hygiene reasons (e.g. in the food industry and the chemical industry).

Most safety shoes and boots (waterproof and not) normally have protective toecaps, and may also have other safety features built-in, including, such as –

  • Slip-resistant soles.
  • Penetration-resistant midsoles.
  • Insulation against extremes of heat and cold.
  • Metatarsal protection built-in (metatarsal shields covers can be attached to this footwear afterwards, but they are not as effective).
Pair of safety boots that workers will wear to protect their feet

Clogs and specialist footwear

There are two less common types of foot protection, which are suitable for certain applications.

Clogs –

  • These can also be used as safety footwear.
  • They are commonly used in kitchen environments, for gardening, and in medical surgeries.
  • They are traditionally made from beech wood and can be fitted with steel toecaps and thin rubber soles for quieter tread. However, more lightweight materials are now available.

Specialist footwear –

  • This is footwear, which has been designed to protect against the hazards associated with specific tasks.
  • These protect against hazards such as; boots for working in foundries, and boots for chainsaw use).

Other accessories include –

  • Gaiters – Which protect the shins.
  • Spats – Which cover the ankle.
  • Leggings.

Hand and arm

Hand and arm protection are required to protect against certain hazards.

Physical hazards include –

  • Cuts and abrasions, from handling sharp objects.
  • Impact injuries.
  • Punctures, from handling pointed objects.
  • Cold environments, due to working in cold workplace, or outside in cold weather (e.g. on a building site). Hands must be kept warm, in order to maintain manual dexterity.
  • Hand arm vibration (e.g. when operating pneumatic hand tools). Hands must be kept warm, in order to reduce the risk of vibration white finger, as this can occur more often and more severely when the hands and fingers are cold.
  • Electrical hazards.
  • Contact with dangerous chemicals or substances, due to handling them.
  • Radioactive materials, due to handling them.
  • Contact extreme temperatures (e.g. due to handling hot or cold materials).
  • Skin infection and disease, due to contamination or biological agents.
  • Prolonged immersion in water.

Main types of hand and arm protection

It is important to protect the hands and arms, because users are likely to rely on them to carry out their work, as we as in other aspects of their life.

There are four main types of hand and arm protection –

  • Gloves – These protect the hands only.
  • Gloves with a cuff – These protect the hands and the wrists.
  • Gauntlets, sleeves and long gloves – These are longer, and provide protection for the hands, wrists and part of forearms.
  • Sleeves and arm protection – These provide protection for either part of the arms, or the whole of forearms and/or upper arm.

Other types of protection for the upper limbs include –

  • Mittens
  • Wrist-cuffs
  • Armlets.
Worker wearing gloves to protect his hands from injury

Body protection

High visibility workwear is available in many different colours, and clothing types.

There are three classes of high visibility clothing –

  • Class 1 – This is the least conspicuous (e.g. waistcoats and most trousers), and therefore provides the lowest level of protection.
  • Class 2 – This is more conspicuous than class 1 (e.g. waistcoats, jackets and some trousers).
  • Class 3 – This is the most conspicuous (e.g. jackets and coveralls), and therefore provides the highest level of protection.

For high visibility clothing to be effective –

  • The class of high visibility clothing must be suitable for the task, and the level of risk.
  • The bright coloured, and the reflective parts must be kept clean, in order to remain clearly visible at all times.
  • Choosing dual-purpose clothing is beneficial because it protects against other hazards present (e.g. cold weather), since many types of clothing are also available with a high visibility option.
  • Suitable cleaning materials must be used, to avoid damaging the reflective part.

Fall protection

Personal protection systems

Personal protection systems are worn by individuals (e.g. via a harness). They allow a user to fall, but also facilitates their rescue.

The two types of personal protection systems are –

Rescue systems –

  • This allows a person to rescue either themselves or others, by pulling, lifting or lowering.

Fall arrest systems –

  • These allow a fall to be arrested, preventing the user from colliding with the ground or structure.
  • The system absorbs the energy of a fall, whilst minimizing the forces exerted on the human body, to a maximum of than 6 kilonewtons (kN).
  • Examples of Fall arrest systems include; energy absorbing lanyards and inertia reel devices secured to an anchor point directly above the user, or lead climbing using dynamic rope.

Selection and safe use

For fall protection and personal protection systems must be suitable and used safely, in order to be effective.

When selecting equipment, the following elements must be considered, in order to ensure that it is suitable –

  • The maximum descent height and load required.
  • A sufficient number of suitably located anchor point, which are safe and secure.
  • A sufficient number of ropes and lanyards, of suitable length and type.
  • Ascender/descender devices with suitable specifications.
  • A system for recovery after a fall.

Safe use –

  • It is vital that the individual is suitably trained and instructed. If they are not, then a fatal or very serious accident could occur.
Worker using fall protection system to prevent any accidents

Safe equipment

For fall protection and personal protection systems must be safe, in order to be effective.

Equipment used for lifting or lowering people must be safe. 

  • This is legal requirement under Regulation 5 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).

The equipment must be inspected at regular intervals.

  • This is legal requirement under Regulation 9 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
  • If it is exposed to conditions which could cause it to deteriorate, with the potential to result in a dangerous situation (i.e. is utilised), then it must be examined every six months, by a competent person.
  • Special care should be taken when inspecting components made from webbing and rope because these materials deteriorate.
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About the author

Eve Johnson

Eve Johnson

Eve has worked at CPD from the start, she organises the course and blog production, as well as supporting students with any problems they may have and helping them choose the correct courses. Eve is also studying for her Business Administration Level 3 qualification. Outside of work Eve likes to buy anything with flamingos on it, catching up with friends, spending time with her family and occasionally going to the gym!

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