What is PPE?

There’s been no escaping the acronym during this pandemic.

PPE equipment

Have we enough PPE? Where can we get PPE from? Is it the correct PPE? Are we wearing it in the right way? How do we dispose of PPE?

So many questions…

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It can mean different things to different people in different trades; however, loosely defined, it represents a barrier of some sort – to protect one or all of the following: our skin, our lungs, our orifices, our feet, our heads, our eyes…our whole body if needed.

PPE for workers on a building site would differ to PPE used on a hospital ward. If a builder was demolishing a brick wall, he may wear industrial gloves to protect his hands from blisters and cuts whilst using specialist tools and equipment. He would wear a hard hat, in case masonry accidentally falls onto his head. He’d wear clear goggles to prevent any stray stones or chips getting into his eyes. Steel toe-capped boots would protect his feet if they got in the way of falling bricks, and a dust mask to filter any rubble dust in the air.

Medics, during the pandemic, have worn masks, disposal gowns, protective visors and gloves at the very least, though some may have donned even more than this – right up to a full HAZMAT suit, which is impermeable, i.e. nothing gets through to the person wearing it, which is why they’re worn by people in labs who work on live viruses and vaccines, etc.

Contrast this with a professional cricket player, who would wear a cricket guard or ‘box’ over their groin to protect against wayward cricket balls flying at their crown jewels at 100mph. Though protective against severe bruising, a box wouldn’t give you much protection against Covid-19.

All of this equipment could be considered PPE, and it explains why getting the right protective gear is important. Think about what it is that you’re protecting yourself from, and which parts of your body are the most vulnerable to this threat. It may be that you need different PPE for different tasks.

Most PPE is disposable, for one-use only. This is usually down to preventing cross-contamination or the material of the equipment. Steel toe-capped boots, for example, are obviously meant for long-term, repeat use.

Employers, by law, should pay for/provide the relevant PPE for your job. However, if you’re self-employed/a tradesperson, it’s your responsibility to kit yourself out appropriately.

On occasion, it may appear superfluous to wear the full kit for what might be a two-minute job, or an unnecessary expense if work is scarce; however, you don’t know what’s round the corner and should an accident happen, the longer-term financial implications will likely impact you far more than the cost of a pair of gloves, or a box of disposable masks. It’s just not worth taking the risk.