Employees can be exposed to health and safety risks in the performance of their tasks Often, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used to control these risks and minimize injuries and health damage. However, using this equipment may itself increase health and safety risks if the wrong item is being used or if the right item is being used in the wrong way.
At the UT, PPE is often regarded as a last resort for minimizing work-related dangers. This has led to two important guiding principles for PPE:
- If possible, other solutions should be used to control risks;
- If PPE is being used, the user has to be sure that the item is appropriate for the purpose, that it is of good quality and that it is reliable (see Annex 1 for the general provisions).
The UT may - and in some cases even must - make the use of PPE compulsory if the results of an assessment give rise to this. Employees are obliged to use the PPE made available to them. If the UT obliges the use of specific PPE, the UT is also obliged to monitor this use. In many cases, this will mean that a sanctioning policy will be put in place. However, the UT is also obliged to provide information about the risks employees are exposed to when not using PPE, about the usage regulations in place for the PPE present and about the other rules and regulations relating to the use of PPE at the UT. The agreements not only have to be drawn up in writing, but also have to be discussed orally.
Areas (rooms, workplaces) in which the use of specific PPE is mandatory have to be clearly marked with signs (pictographs). Access to these areas must be limited to authorized employees as much as possible. Annex 2 shows these signs. Annex 5 includes an overview of all the health and safety markings.
Quality requirements and CE conformity marking
PPE can only be used if it meets specific quality requirements. It is important that PPE has CE conformity marking and is provided with directions for use.
The manufacturer must produce a technical file for their product and indicate the safety aspects users may expect it to provide. The requirements the manufacturer must meet depend on how high the risk is that the PPE is to protect against:
- Category I: PPE protecting against low risks. For this type of equipment, no specific knowledge or training is required. The manufacturer is allowed to affix the CE conformity marking themselves if their equipment is in conformity with the basic requirements. Examples include sunglasses and rainproof clothing.
- Category II: PPE protecting against medium-high risks. The manufacturer has to ensure their PPE undergoes type examination. Most PPE falls under this category. Examples include safety glasses and protective helmets.
- Category III: PPE protecting against high risks. PPE grouped under this category has to meet additional requirements. The manufacturing process must fall under a quality assurance system that is recognized by the EU. A compressed air mask is such a category III PPE.
The law stipulates further identification and assessment when the PPE is used. The employer is obliged to conduct a PPE assessment in order to be able to choose the most effective and appropriate equipment to prevent the risks present. Annex 2 describes the requirements to be met for the PPE which is used the most at the UT.
Hazard identification and risk assessment (RI&E)
Before work is commenced - in the framework of which hazardous situations must have been identified which cannot be combated by means other than PPE - the PPE hazard identification and risk assessment (RI&E) must have been conducted. This RI&E is almost always accompanied by other RI&Es, for example sound, hazardous substance or laser identifications.
The PPE identification is the specific assessment of the use of a specific PPE by a specific person in a specific situation. During such an identification, the following needs to be addressed:
I Description of possible non-avoidable risks in the workplace:
- Information about the risks:
Indicate the risks that can arise in a specific situation or when performing a specific task (use Annex 3).
- Information about the workplace:
Indicate in what range (i.e. over which distance or in which area, room or workplace) the risks may still arise.
II Assessment of which equipment should be used/if the right equipment is being used
- Required PPE characteristics:
Describe the characteristics the PPE is required to have to eliminate the risks.
- Information about the level of safety the PPE provides:
If PPE is already being used, it should be indicated to which extent this PPE eliminates or reduces the identified risks.
- Other information:
Any information about the manufacturing date/time in use (days, months, years), inspections or maintenance of the used PPE.
III Assessment of possible risks arising due to:
- The use of PPE in relation to the personal characteristics of the user (men with beards cannot wear all masks, for example).
- Not using PPE: The risk of eye injuries when machining without wearing eye protection, for example.
IV Employees exposed to risk(s)
- Which employees need PPE? Which education do these employees have?
V Action plan (use the checklist, Annex 4)
- Indicate which PPE has to be used in which situation;
- Indicate in which space or workplace the PPE needs to be used;
- Indicate the risks employees are exposed to when not wearing PPE;
- Indicate which technical and organizational measures still need to be taken.
Providing, maintaining and disposing of PPE
When providing the user with the PPE, it is recommended to have them sign a statement of receipt. Every unit is free to decide how the provision is organized (e.g. if everyone receives the same starters' kit or if PPE is provided individually). There also needs to be sufficient disposable PPE in stock.
With the exception of disposable PPE and category I PPE (such as latex gloves), it is always important to clearly indicate matters like times of use, maintenance, overhauls, repairs, cleaning, disinfecting and periodic inspections in the instructions.
Personal PPE needs to replaced every once in a while, too. Therefore, it is important for employees to know about the replacement criteria. Examples of these criteria include exceeding the allowed period of use and damage. Agreements about changing the PPE can be made internally.