Why Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Should be your Last Resort: Although it’s still important!

Say the words “Health & Safety” and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking of people wearing hi-vis vests.  The teacher at my children’s school even wears one to collect the rubbish around the playground.

And while hi-vis clothing, hard hats and ear defenders all provide valuable protection, they should be the last control you consider, here’s why:


Managing Health and Safety Risks

Health & Safety Risk Assessments have got a bad name and are often associated with excessive paperwork and fun prevention.

But if you take risk assessments back to basic principles, they are a great way to rationalise activities.

We are confronted by risk every single day, from crossing the road to taking a bath, but we don’t stop doing those things.

Instead we ‘risk assess’ and decide:

  • Firstly, is the activity worth the risk and
  • Secondly, if it is, how can we do it I the safety way.

So, this might mean we wait for the green man before crossing the road, or we hold the side of the bath when getting in/out.


Hierarchy of Hazard Controls

This brings us on to the hierarchy of Hazard Controls, as follows:


1. Elimination

Do you need to take the risk, can you remove the risky part of an activity?


2. Substitution

Can you change any part of an activity, change a tool or process for something less risky but producing the same results??


3. Engineering Controls

Is there a technical or mechanical solution that takes humans away from the risk?


4. Signage / Warnings

Can you inform or change the habits of people who might be harmed?


5. PPE

And lastly, if after all the above there is still risk, is there some Personal Protective Equipment that will prevent or minimise the impact of an incident occurring?


Using PPE

So that’s why all other ways of avoiding the risk, changing the work process, utilising technology and so on, should be explored before relying on PPE.

Don’t take the lazy option.

Of course, PPE has many benefits.  It is cheap and usually easy to apply to an activity even when the risks are relatively low.

Issuing PPE also sets an expectation that safety is taken seriously and complying with health & safety rules is important.


So Why Does a Teacher Collecting Rubbish need a Hi-Vis?

Well he probably doesn’t.  It’s unlikely a hi-vis vest reduces any identified risk significantly, even in a playground full of the rowdiest of children.

It’s more likely to be an attempt to increase the appearance of his authority, which brings us full circle to health & safety’s bad reputation.


What Next?

ISO 45001 is the first international standard for Occupational Health & Safety Management and provides a full management system framework which can be certified by a UKAS Accredited Body.

However, certification is not mandatory, and Assent can also help you with the basics including a Health & Safety Policy, Risk Assessments and Training.

Contact us for Health & Safety Assistance.

Robert Clements
Robert Clements
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