Personal protective equipment

Sally Drury explains the legal requirements for PPE and looks at some of the latest kit on the market.

Q: What is PPE and why is it needed?

A: Personal protective equipment (PPE) is defined as all equipment intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects them against one or more risks to their health and safety. It includes items such as safety helmets; eye, ear and respiratory protection; gloves and gauntlets; safety footwear; high-visibility clothing; harnesses for working at height; and all clothing to protect from cuts, stabs, hazardous substances, heat and weather extremes. It also includes sun block to protect skin from exposure to bright sunlight.

In all sectors of horticulture, be it nursery work or grounds maintenance, there are hazardous jobs. Such jobs require special training and may require the use of appropriate PPE.

Q: How do I know what to wear?

A: The items required will depend on the job, the way it is being performed and the conditions at the time. In any situation, the decision to use PPE should come as a result of the risk assessment for that task.

PPE should be used at work wherever risks to health and safety have been identified and cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.

Q: Can you give an example?

A: Suppose you have to saw up some branches: if there are only a few you might be able to cut them with a handsaw. This should be your first course of action because PPE should always be the last resort, never the first choice. Legislation requires that you seek to reduce hazards by means of engineering controls or safe systems of work, or by using less hazardous substances before resorting to the PPE.

If there are sufficient branches to make it appropriate to use the chainsaw, you will need to kit yourself out in full chainsaw-protective PPE. If you do not have the necessary PPE, you should not use the chainsaw.

Q: Who supplies the PPE?

A: PPE should be supplied by employers. Self-employed people are responsible for purchasing their own PPE. It is also important to remember that, as well as being fit for purpose, PPE must also be the correct size for the user. PPE should be regularly inspected, maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions and replaced when necessary or as indicated by the manufacturer. The effectiveness of PPE can easily be compromised if it is damaged, badly maintained or worn incorrectly.

Q: Which PPE is best?

A: Where the risk assessment identifies the need for PPE it is important that items appropriate to the risks are used. PPE must control the risk and be suitable for the task, the user and the environment in which it is to be worn. PPE must also be to an approved standard. Check it has the CE mark.

When purchasing new PPE always ask for a full data sheet so you can be sure of having sufficient information to match the specification to the tasks and the risks involved. If more than one item of PPE is required, say helmet and ear defenders, it is important to check that the items can be worn together.

PPE can be hazardous if it doesn't fit properly. Clothing that is too big may become snagged in machinery and ill-fitting items can cause fatigue. Consider, too, how the PPE should be cleaned.

Q: What's new in PPE?

A: Most of the new equipment is targeted at tree workers. For instance, Husqvarna has introduced a new saw-protection trouser meeting CE Class 2 (24m/s) standards. This lightweight trouser comes with four-way rip-stop stretch material on the front side and contains Aramid fabric - often found in the aerospace industry and military applications - plus Cordura fabric at the rear for its hard-wearing properties.

New from Stihl is the Vent Tree Care Helmet. Designed to meet the needs of arborists, this hard-hat set is based on the Petzle Vertex Vent helmet, with a nylon mesh visor and Peltor ear defenders to provide SNR 28 (108 dBA) noise reduction. The key feature of this helmet is that there is no peak, which makes it a good choice for those working in trees. It costs £80 ex VAT.

Stihl has also added the Extreme hard-hat set to its portfolio. This helmet is made of UV-stablised polycarbonate, meeting EN397 standards. The peak is narrow but without compromising anti-dazzle properties and the steel mesh visor provides three-zone face protection. Completing the set are ear defenders to provide SNR 28 noise reduction. The price is £50 ex VAT. Stihl's other introductions include Standard Boots - featuring steel toecaps and cut-resistant inlays with class 1 protection at 20m/s and tested to EN ISO 17249 - plus a lightweight summer jacket.


- The main requirement of the PPE at Work Regulations 1992 is that PPE be supplied and used at work wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.

- It is the duty of the employer and the self-employed to provide PPE. They should also ensure that it is used, cleaned and maintained, inspected and correctly stored.

- Employees should be provided with the necessary information, instruction and training as to the use, care and storage of the equipment.

- PPE must be replaced as required or as indicated by the manufacturer.

- Employees supplied with PPE should report any loss or damage to the employer.

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