Safety Services


Personal Protective Equipment

What is PPE?

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment - PPE - is any equipment that will protect you from risks to your health or safety. It includes items such as hard hats, gloves, eye protection, hi-visibility clothing and safety footwear. PPE also includes face masks / respirators (known as Respiratory Protective Equipment, or RPE) and hearing protection. 

The Last Resort
  • PPE is a common risk control measure however it is known as a last resort because:
  • It only protects the wearer, it cannot protect others around you not wearing PPE
  • If used incorrectly, or if the wrong type is chosen, it may not provide the protection you require
  • PPE often 'fails to danger' - if your PPE fails you may be directly exposed to a hazard e.g. if your gloves rip, chemicals could directly contact your skin

PPE is often mandatory, however for the reasons above it should never be the only control measure.

Always consider:
  • Avoiding a hazard or substituting it with something less harmful (less concentrated chemical, different material etc.)
  • Using engineering controls (use of extraction for fumes or acoustic housing to reduce noise)
  • Limiting frequency and duration of exposure to a hazard
  • Using procedural controls (methods, operating procedures, work instructions)

Always read your local risk assessments - they identify the hazards in your work area, the controls you need to follow including what PPE you may need to wear. If you use PPE but it is not mentioned on a risk assessment, make sure the document is updated.

4 steps to selecting PPE

  1. Consider the hazards for which protection is required
  2. Assess the risks by identifying the parts of the body that may be affected and the consequences
  3. Identify the PPE that will provide adequate protection - the level of control must reflect the severity of risk
  4. Consider the size, fit and weight of the PPE you choose; also take account of any pre-existing health conditions. A standard type of PPE may not be suitable for everyone

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the PPE protect the wearer from the risks and take account of the environmental conditions where the task is taking place? For example eye protection designed to protect against chemical splash may not be suitable when cutting steel or stone; Will eye protection for working with lasers absorb light of the correct wavelength?
  • Does using PPE increase the overall level of risk or add new risks? For example, by making communication or visibility more difficult
  • Can the PPE be adjusted to fit the wearer correctly?

Finally, think about....

  • The need to wear more than one piece of PPE at the same time - e.g. wearing a respirator may make it difficult to fit eye protection properly, so a different type of PPE will need to be ordered
  • Conducting a PPE trial with different brands/models if you will be using PPE a lot, or if you order for a large team. A PPE trial will help make sure everyone is happy with what you choose 

What you must do

  • Find out what PPE is required where you work and when you need to use it
  • Understand what PPE is protecting you against and know its limitations e.g. gloves may cover your hands but leave your wrists and arms exposed, chemicals may penetrate your gloves over time
  • Understand how to use PPE - this may mean attending training or reading instructions e.g. if you wear face masks, welding masks, safety harnesses
  • Use PPE at all times when it is required and wear it properly e.g. button up your lab coat so it fully protects you
  • Make sure that visitors to your work area who may be exposed to the same hazards as you wear the same PPE

 If you have reusable PPE, always…

  • keep equipment clean and in good condition
  • store it safely and securely
  • report any loss, damage or faults - stop use and get a replacement
  • make sure suitable replacements are always readily available
  • inspect, maintain and test it as required
  • document cleaning and maintenance in a PPE log

Guidance on types of PPE can be found at the following link:

Types of Personal Protective Equipment

Body Protection

Choice of materials includes flame-retardant, anti-static, chain mail, chemically impermeable, and high-visibility. Don't forget other protection, like safety harnesses or life jackets.

Safety Harnesses
For specialist equpment such as safety harnesses ensure it's inspected and tested regularly and such inspections are recorded. When considering costs allow for the cost of statutory inspections and testing.

Breathing (respiratory protection)

Face Fit Testing
If you use respiratory protection, such as disposable face masks to protect against allergens, you must attend a Face Fit Testing session. The test sessions will train you how to correctly put on your mask(s), validate that the mask(s) seal adequately to your face and help identify if there are masks you should not use. To find out more and to book a test session see: Face Fit Testing

The right type of respirator filter must be used as each type is effective for only a limited range of substances. Where there is a shortage of oxygen or any danger of losing consciousness due to exposure to high levels of harmful fumes, only use breathing apparatus - never use a filtering cartridge! Filters only have a limited life; when replacing them or any other part, check with the manufacturer's guidance and ensure the correct replacement part is used.

Feet & Leg Protection

Footwear can have a variety of sole patterns and materials to help prevent slips in different conditions, including oil or chemical-resistant soles. It can also be anti-static, electrically conductive or thermally insulating. It is important that the appropriate footwear is selected for the risks identified!

Hand & Arm

Wearing gloves for long periods can make the skin hot and sweaty, leading to skin problems. Where possible, change gloves frequently, vary tasks or take breaks. If this is not possible, consider using separate cotton inner gloves.

Specific applications
Avoid using gloves when operating machines such as bench drills where the gloves could get caught.

For tasks, e.g. orthopaedic or dentistry work where additional physical protection may be needed; double gloving, the use of glove liners or of knitted or steel weave outer gloves may be appropriate to provide both chemical/biological and mechanical protection.

How to select gloves
When choosing protective gloves, look for evidence that they conform to European Standards for PPE. One or more of following standards should be referenced on glove packs:

  • EN 420:2003 - General requirements for gloves
  • EN 388:2003 - Protective gloves against mechanical risks
  • EN 374-1:2003 - Protective gloves against chemicals and microorganisms

For gloves protecting against chemical contact, you must consider chemical breakthrough times - some gloves can be quickly penetrated by chemicals.

The Ansell Chemical Resistance Guide provides useful information, however always check resistance data from the supplier of the gloves you will be purchasing.

Allergy awareness
Some people may be allergic to materials used in gloves, e.g. latex. This must also be considered when selecting gloves. Refer to the UCL Latex Policy


Safety helmets can be fitted with specially-designed eye or hearing protection. Don't forget neck protection, e.g. scarves for use during welding.

Poster - Correct removal of gloves (single use)

Poster - Correct removal of gloves (reusable)

Matrix - Approximate chemical breakthrough times for common glove types

Video - Method for removing gloves

Video - Importance of hearing protection

Video - Importance of following signs; hard hats

Video - Importance of following signs; safety glasses

1. Handling 'dry ice' / decanting liquid nitrogen

When handling 'dry ice', decanting liquid nitrogen or using other cryogenic substances - there is the potential for splash and severe freeze-burns to most parts of the body. For this reason, a combination of PPE is recommended including safety shoes, lab coat, cuffed cryogenic gloves and a face visor.

Always remember to follow manufacturer's instructions and understand the limitations of your PPE, for example do not immerse your hands in liquid nitrogen, even when wearing gloves.

With reusable PPE, always maintain items in good condition; clean them after use and store them safely and securely. Before use, check they are suitable, with no tears, holes or other defects.

2. Blood and bodily fluids

If you work with cadavers, patients, human tissue or fluids - there is often a requirement to wear face visors to protect the eyes and face from splash or sprays.

A face visor is a good control measure, however you should also consider wearing safety glasses and a surgical mask beneath the face visor to ensure your eyes, nose and mouth are fully protected. This will further reduce the potential for inhalation or ingestion of material.

For information on what to do if you are exposed to blood and bodily fluids, please refer to UCL Occupational Health Policy

3. Lasers

Control measures:
Wherever possible, a hierarchy of risk control must be followed when using lasers, to prevent the need for PPE. This includes enclosure, interlocks and procedural controls.

Systems capable of causing injury should be enclosed and interlocked to prevent harm; however there are times, such as during the installation or modification of systems or where 'tuning' and adjustments are required where it is necessary to operate a laser without an enclosure. If at all possible under these circumstances the power density of the beam should be reduced to a safe level, by reducing the power or by inserting neutral density filters or attenuators. If this is not practicable only people who are competent and who need to be present in the area should be present - in these cases, anyone within the nominal ocular hazard zone must wear protective equipment, including clothing and eye protection.

Eye Protection:
Unprotected laser exposure may result in eye injuries including retinal burns, cataracts, and permanent blindness. For this reason, wearing correctly rated safety glasses is crucial. Standard safety glasses, goggles or visors used in laboratories will not provide protection from lasers.

To choose the type of eye wear that will offer you adequate protection, you need to know the maximum power density, or intensity of the laser you use, the type of beam and wavelength.

Laser eye protection must provide adequate attenuation at the appropriate wavelength and comply with the requirements of British Standard EN 207. Under the standard, protective eyewear is given an 'LB number' which has three parts.

1. The letters in front of the LB number refer to the temporal mode of the laser beam:

  • D = Continuous wave (CW) lasers
  • I = Pulsed laser, with pulse lengths between 1ms and 0.25s
  • R = Q switch pulsed lasers, with pulse lengths between 1ns and 1ms
  • M = Mode-coupled pulse lasers, with pulse lengths less than 1ns

NB: Protective eyewear for repetitively pulsed lasers must satisfy the D rating as well as the I, R or M rating appropriate to its pulse length.

2. The second part of an LB number defines the wavelength, or range of wavelengths, at which the rating is valid

3. The final part is the LB rating itself. This integer value represents the maximum power that the eyewear filters protect against.

For example, an LB number of "D 532 LB3" - means the eyewear will provide LB3 protection for a D type beam (continuous wave) at 532nm.

As well as an LB number, the eyewear will be marked with an OD and wavelength that it is rated for. Note that many types of eyewear are marked with several ODs at specific wavelengths.

The value of the LB numbers increase in attenuation magnitude by factors of 10, i.e. LB2 eyewear has ten times the attenuation of LB1 spectacles - able to withstand 10 times the power density or energy density. The minimum Optical Density of the eyewear is equal to the LB number specified, e.g. a rating of LB2 means that the OD is > 2.

The minimum LB number is LB1. If the power or energy density of the laser is less than 0.1 times the LB limit, the low attenuation required means you might not need eye protection. LB10 is the largest LB rating. If the power or energy density of the laser is greater than the LB10 limit, suitable protective eyewear will probably not be commercially available. Instead, you must adapt your engineering controls to ensure that exposure to these conditions is not possible.

Comfort and working environment:
It is essential that protective eyewear for lasers allows sufficient visible light transmission for the user to see. If the density or intensity of a laser means that the required safety glasses would be too dark to work comfortably, other means of control must be used to prevent exposure, such as enclosure. Further, consideration of the colour / tint of eyewear should be made as it could result in the wearer being incapable of seeing particular warning lights or switches.

Skin protection:
When working with Class 4 lasers (and some Class 3B devices emitting in the UV) skin protection may also be required in addition to protective eyewear. Class 4 lasers can cause deep burns, including damage to underlying tissues (nerves or blood vessels) and leave permanent scars.

Sources of information:
For more information, please refer to the British Standard document: BS EN 207