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Personal Protective Equipment What are they and what are they for?

Personal Protective Equipment PPE » ProSalud

The employer has duties in relation to the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace – Article 16 – Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155)

PPE is equipment that protects the user from the risk of accidents or adverse health effects. May include items such as hard hats, gloves, eye protection, high visibility clothing, safety footwear, safety harnesses, and respiratory protective equipment.

Why it is important to use PPE

Making the workplace safe includes providing instructions, procedures, training and supervision to encourage people to work safely and responsibly.

Even when safe mechanical controls and safety systems have been applied, some hazards may prevail. For example, the danger of suffering from conditions in:

  • the lungs (for example, from breathing contaminated air);
  • the head and feet (for example, from falling objects);
  • the eyes (for example, due to the presence of airborne particles or splashes of corrosive liquids);
  • the skin (for example, from contact with corrosive materials), and
  • the body (for example, from exposure to extreme heat or cold temperatures).

In these cases it is necessary to use PPE to reduce the risks.

What should the employer do

  • Use PPE only as a last resort.
  • If PPE is still required after other control measures have been taken (and there will be cases where this is the case, for example head protection, as on most construction sites), the employer must provide it free of charge. for the worker.
  • You must choose equipment carefully (see details for PPE selection below) and ensure that workers have received the necessary training to use it correctly, and know how to detect and report any failures.

Selection and use

The employer should ask:

  • Which people are exposed and to what they are exposed.
  • How long does the exposure last?
  • To what extent are they exposed?

When selecting and using PPE, it is advisable

  • choose products to protect against residual risks that are suitable and comply with established standards. Suppliers can advise on this;
  • Choose equipment that adapts well to the user, taking into account the size, shape and weight of the PPE. If users participate in the choice, they are much more likely to use them;
  • ensure that more than one item of PPE can be worn at a time (for example, safety glasses can disrupt the seal of the respirator, causing air leaks), and
  • Provide training so people know how to use them (for example, how to remove gloves without contaminating skin). Explain why they are necessary, when to use them and what limitations they have.

Other tips on PPE

  • The employer should never allow any exceptions to the rule of wearing PPE, even if it is for jobs that 'only take a few minutes'.
  • The employer should check with the supplier which PPE is appropriate, after explaining what task it is intended to be used for.
  • If in doubt, the employer should seek the opinion of a specialist advisor.


PPE should be properly maintained and stored when not in use (e.g. in a clean, dry closet). If reusable, PPE must be cleaned and maintained in good condition.

The employer and workers should think about

  • use suitable replacement parts that correspond to the original (for example, respirator filters);
  • have spare parts of PPE available;
  • designate a person to deal with maintenance and how maintenance should be carried out, and
  • Have an adequate supply of disposable clothing for dirty work, for example for visitors requiring protective clothing, if laundry costs are too high.

Workers must properly use PPE and report its loss or destruction or if it is defective.

The employer should carry out checks and reviews and

  • regularly check if PPE is used. If they are not used regularly, you need to find out why;
  • Posting safety signs to remind you to use PPE can be helpful, and
  • Note any changes in equipment, materials or methods that may require revision or updating.

Types of PPE that can be used

For the eyes
Splashes, dust, projections, gases and vapors, and radiation from chemicals or metals

Safety glasses, goggles, face masks, face shields and visors.

Ensure that the eye protection chosen has the appropriate combination of protection against impacts, dust, splashes and molten metal particles for its intended task and properly fits the user.
For the head and neck

Impact of falling or projected objects, risk of suffering a blow to the head, hair becoming tangled in the machine, receiving drops or splashes of chemical products, climate or temperature.

Safety helmets professionals, shockproof caps, hairnets and firefighter helmets.


  • Some safety helmets have or may be equipped with special eye and hearing protection.
  • Don't forget about neck protection (e.g. scarves to wear during welding work).
  • Any defective head protection must be replaced.

For the ears
Noise: A combination of sound level and duration of exposure, very loud sounds are a danger, even if their duration is short.

Earplugs, earmuffs and semi-insert headphones.


  • Provide the appropriate hearing protector for the type of work, and ensure workers know how to adjust it.
  • Choose protectors that reduce noise to an acceptable level, while allowing you to work safely and communicate.

For hands and arms
Abrasions, extreme temperatures, cuts and punctures, impacts, chemicals, electrical shocks, radiation, biological agents and prolonged immersion in water.

Protection gloves, gloves with protective cuffs, long gloves and covers that cover all or part of the arm.


  • When working with certain machinery, such as bench drills, avoid wearing gloves as they can get caught.
  • Some materials absorb chemicals very quickly. This is important to keep in mind when selecting PPE.
  • Protective creams are unreliable and cannot be used as a substitute for appropriate PPE.
  • Wearing gloves for long periods of time can heat your hands and make them sweat, which can lead to skin problems. The use of cotton inner gloves can prevent them.

For feet and legs
Moisture, heat and cold, electrostatic discharge, slipping, cuts and punctures, falling objects, heavy loads, flying metal waste and chemical splashes, vehicles.

Safety footwear with protective, penetration-resistant toe caps, rubber mid-sole boots and specific footwear (for example, foundry boots and protective boots for working with chainsaws).


  • The type of sole and materials the footwear is made of can vary to help prevent slipping in different conditions (for example, they can be non-slip and resistant to oil or chemicals). They can also be antistatic, conductive or thermally insulated.
  • Appropriate footwear must be selected for the risks that have been identified.

For the lungs
Atmospheres with a lack of oxygen, dusts, gases and vapors.

Options – respiratory protective equipment

  • Some respirators are used to filter contaminating particles from the air in the workplace, such as simple masks, filter respirators, and mechanical respirators.
  • The person wearing respiratory protective equipment must ensure that it fits properly, particularly for tight-fitting respirators (filtering respirators, half masks and full masks).
  • There are also types of breathing apparatus that provide an independent supply of breathing air, such as fresh air hoses, compressed air line breathing apparatus, and self-contained breathing apparatus.


  • The appropriate type of respiratory filter must be used, as each filter is only suitable for a limited range of substances.
  • Filters have a limited life. In case of lack of oxygen or danger of loss of consciousness due to exposure to high levels of harmful gases, only breathing apparatus should be used, never air filter cartridges.
  • Respiratory devices should be used in confined spaces or if there is a risk of lack of oxygen in the work area.

Respiratory protective equipment at work: A practical guide (see the 'More information' section of this section).

For the body
High temperatures, flying metal particles or chemical splashes, spraying from pressure leaks or spray guns, impacts or penetrations, and wear or snagging of clothing.

Conventional or disposable work overalls, gowns, aprons and chemical protective clothing.


  • There are flame retardant, antistatic, wire mesh, chemically impermeable and high visibility materials.
  • It should be noted that there are other protections such as safety harnesses or life jackets.

Emergency equipment

Careful selection, proper maintenance and regular, hands-on training of operators are necessary for proper use of emergency equipment, in particular compressed air breathing apparatus, respirators, and safety ropes and harnesses. .

author avatar
Jorge Camargo

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