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The importance of PPE in construction

The importance of PPE in construction
The importance of PPE in construction

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a crucial aspect of site management in any construction setting, as one of the sectors with the highest volume of annual reportable incidents that could be reduced, and in some cases prevented, with the correct usage of PPE.

PPE refers to any device, item of clothing, equipment or accessory that a worker uses or wears to prevent an accident or protect themselves from a health and safety risk – such as a hard hat or high-vis clothing.

Every construction site is different, so the exact PPE required (read more about PPE detection and compliance here), for which individuals, and at what stages of the project relies on a thorough risk assessment and careful planning to ensure the correct provisions are in place.

Note that the information below isn’t intended to be legal advice. Should you need legal advice on the use of PPE in Construction, please contact a legal professional. 


The Importance of PPE in Construction

The presence of HGVs, industrial machinery, heavy materials such as concrete, cement and brickwork, and the nature of construction itself means there is likely a myriad of risks on each site, including:

  • Working at height during demolitions or developments.
  • Heavy moving objects, vehicles, and overhead lifting equipment.
  • Uneven terrain, ditches, and trenches in the ground.
  • High levels of noise with repetitive and prolonged exposure.
  • Vibrations from equipment.
  • Manual handling and material exposure risks.
  • Airborne fibres, dust, and chemicals.
  • Collapses, landslides, and unstable foundations.
  • Electricity during cable laying and from overhead power lines.

PPE can protect against both immediate hazards, such as falling from a height without a safety rope, and long-term health impacts, such as inhaling dangerous particles that can potentially cause respiratory disease in later life.

Asbestos is the best-known example, once commonly used in multiple areas of the construction sector, and now known to cause life-limiting and fatal conditions.

Therefore, construction site managers need to consider the presence of all materials and chemicals on-site, alongside practical hazards such as workers adjacent to moving vehicles.

Employers or managers responsible for health and safety must ensure that all employees, trainees, apprentices, agency workers, contractors, visitors and passers-by are protected from harm, putting in place appropriate PPE where necessary.

Health and Safety Requirements for Construction Site PPE

Before creating a robust PPE policy and sourcing safety equipment and devices, site managers must first risk assess the site, looking at which risks appear, which can be removed, and which require PPE to mitigate the threat to worker safety.

PPE provides an additional level of protection where other safeguards cannot remove the hazard entirely. It is only one element of the manager’s responsibility to protect their staff and any site visitors. Read more about PPE responsibilities here.

For example, safety ropes and hard hats should be used and subject to rigorous checks and training for all construction workers at height – but these are supplementary to existing safety nets that should prevent a worker from a serious fall.

Because the risk cannot be eliminated, the additional harnesses and ropes support the presence of the safety netting and further reduce the potential outcomes of a fall from height.

Regulatory Requirements

PPE legislation and regulations specific to the construction sector also have requirements that site owners and managers must be able to demonstrate:

  • All accessories, devices, or appliances must be worn for the duration of any work or activity exposed to a hazard. Vehicle operators must wear high-visibility clothing and helmets when operating a vehicle, even if they are stationary.
  • Where a risk of violence or aggression exists, workers should be provided with PPE to protect against this, including uniforms, helmets, and/or body armour.
  • Appropriate PPE should be provided when environmental risks are present, including insulated and waterproof clothing when working in adverse weather conditions.

Multiple types of PPE could be required for a construction site, each of which is designed to protect against a hazard, threat or health and safety risk.

Construction site PPE could include protective clothing, respiration equipment, goggles, safety helmets, ear plugs and ear defenders, steel toe-capped boots, gloves, hi-vis clothing, and safety harnesses as a few of the standard provisions.

More advanced PPE requirements, or where hazards are greater, could include security bodycams or helmet-mounted cameras, lone worker devices or panic alarms to ensure construction workers can call for immediate backup if their safety is at risk.

In fact, there are a number of PPE detection and compliance to ensure that staff are compliant with PPE requirements to protect your staff and mitigate risks.

Selecting the Right PPE for a Construction Site

No two sites are the same so no one set of PPE will be suitable for every construction site or worker, and the risk assessment process is essential to evaluate the risks present and decide what mitigation action to take.

Managers need to select PPE while considering the following:

  • Maximum load weight
  • Maximum working heights
  • Equipment specifications
  • Employee training
  • Cleaning, maintenance and storage
  • Daily safety checks

Even the best PPE will be ineffective if the user does not know how to use it properly, does not have appropriate training, or chooses to disregard site health and safety policies.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) instructs construction site managers to make basic PPE, such as head protection, a strict site rule, requiring all managers and supervisors to always wear hard hats and to conduct regular checks to ensure all workers are compliant.

Basic Guidance on Construction Site PPE

It is imperative that every site manager and health and safety supervisor conducts their own risk assessment or works with an independent advisor to ensure they have documented the process, evaluated the risks properly, and implemented a sufficient PPE system to mitigate hazards.

However, some basic provisions should be present on all construction sites, regardless of the size of the project or duration.

In almost every case, head protection is mandatory. Managers must also minimise head injury risks by, for example:

  • Using protective equipment such as toe boards on scaffolding.
  • Erecting safety netting or debris chutes.
  • Installing brick guards.

Every worker should be issued with a hard hat compliant with the Personal Protective Equipment and Construction (Head Protection) Regulations. Suitable head protection must be in good condition, be worn by one individual only, and be sourced from a reputable manufacturer.

Likewise, safety footwear with steel toe caps and midsole protection are standard requirements, with all PPE CE marked to adhere to health and safety legislation.

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