Replacing PPE To Ensure Worker Safety

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is any garment or device that is worn or used by a worker to protect them against health or safety hazards. An employer is responsible for providing and replacing PPE. But when should these items of safety equipment be renewed?

Maximum Periods of Use

The most common types of PPE have the following recommended maximum periods of use.

  • Hard hats: up to 5 years
  • Boots: 6 to 12 months
  • Eye protection: up to 3 years
  • Ear protection: 6 to 8 months

However, these are the maximum amounts of time personal protective equipment may last. How well it lasts depends on how a worker uses it and the environment in which it is used. For example, extreme amounts of heat, cold and dust can reduce the effectiveness of PPE.

The ability of equipment to keep a worker safe should be the deciding factor when evaluating PPE. If any part of the equipment has become defective or damaged, it should be considered no longer safe and must be replaced. Some protective gear is designed for single or low use. Equipment like earplugs, gloves, dust masks and respiratory filters should be disposed of after use.

Common Reasons for Replacement

The most common reasons for replacing personal protective equipment are due to the item being:

  • damaged, defective, worn or torn
  • eye protection with an excessive amount of scratches that impedes vision
  • ill-fitting
  • subjected to excessive exposure to extreme heat/cold, dust, sunlight/UV, humidity or chemicals
  • heavily soiled
  • about to exceed its recommended shelf life

You can lengthen the shelf life of PPE by maintaining and cleaning the equipment regularly, storing it properly, and inspecting it before use or, if it is not routinely used, on a schedule.

Hard Hats

The hard hat is one of the most critical pieces of safety equipment in the construction industry. It is crucial in protecting workers from injuries caused by falling objects or collisions with stationary objects.

The law states that employers are required to provide hard hats to their workforce and ensure they are worn wherever there is any risk of head injury. In the UK hard hats must be produced to the correct British Standard and should be thrown away and replaced when damaged.

Hard hats can last up to 5 years if they are taken care of, though the material the hat is made of can deteriorate over time and become ineffective. However, given the hazardous nature of work that requires hard hats to be worn, in practical terms, it is recommended they are replaced every two to three years or immediately if they sustain an impact. Once a hard hat has suffered a blow it will no longer act as adequate protection for your head. Include storage time before use when calculating the shelf life of a hat. A hard hat should have a manufactured date stamped inside to make this calculation possible.

When inspecting a hard hat always ensure the hat fits properly and can be worn correctly. Look at the suspensions – the plastic webbing that sits on your head when the hat is worn. Replace suspensions every 12 months. Inspect the hard hat for signs of cracking, flaking or gouging. This type of wear and tear means the hat is no longer fit for purpose and must be replaced.

Avoid using marker pens or adhesive labels on hard hats as this can also cause the material to deteriorate. Daily use will reduce the shelf life of hard hats, though you can prolong this by washing and air drying them after use.

Eye Protection

Goggles and safety glasses can last up to three years, but working conditions and wear and tear can affect their usefulness. Eye protection can become scratched over time when used in high-dust conditions, for example where there is a lot of sawdust or metal grinding. Scratching to glasses and goggles is often tolerated for too long. Possibly because the eyewear can still protect the eyes from debris and dust, however, reduced visibility can still be a safety concern.

Replace protective eyewear that is scratched, pitted, broken, or ill-fitting, and always replace eyewear after three years, whatever its condition.

High Visibility Clothing

High visibility clothing is made of luminous fluorescent materials and often has reflective tape. Ultraviolet rays react with the material to make it appear to glow.

Hi-vis material should be visible at a distance of up to 300 metres when normal visibility is no more than 50 metres. Replace the clothing if it does not meet this requirement under all conditions. The clothing may fail this test if it has become faded, dirty, soiled, worn, torn, or defaced.

The expected shelf life of high visibility garments is six months, though if it is used infrequently, it can last up to 3 years. The material and reflective tape work best when their surfaces are clean, so regular cleaning is essential. Any clothing believed to be unsuitable for use should be cut up to ensure it is not worn again.

All PPE should be “CE” marked and comply with the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. The CE mark means the equipment meets certain basic safety requirements and in some cases will have been tested and certified by an independent body. The manufacturer of PPE has a legal duty to provide instructions on safe use, maintenance and inspection.

Personal Protective Equipment will last longer if it is cared for properly and checked regularly. To ensure the highest degree of safety for employees any equipment that no longer works to provide safety to the wearer must be replaced, irrespective of any quoted shelf life.

New Broom Training

New Broom Training offer Health and Safety training and Consultancy Services. We are qualified and experienced in a wide range of industry types as far as Health & Safety is concerned and can offer effective advice and solutions in all areas. Contact us to discuss your needs or to ask for advice.