Kevin Ian Schmidt

PPE Explained

OSHA standards require the use of PPE to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective in reducing these exposures to acceptable levels. Employers are required to determine if PPE should be used to protect their workers and they must also make sure employees use and maintain PPE in a sanitary and reliable condition.

Employer Responsibilities

In general, employers are responsible for:

  • performing a “hazard assessment” of the workplace to identify and control physical and health hazards;
  • identifying and providing appropriate PPE for employees;
  • training employees in the use and care of the PPE;
  • maintaining and replacing worn or damaged PPE; and
  • periodically reviewing, updating and evaluating the effectiveness of the PPE program

Employee Responsibilities

In general, employees should be:

  • properly wearing PPE,
  • attending training sessions on PPE,
  • caring for, cleaning, and maintaining PPE, and
  • informing a supervisor of the need to repair or replace PPE

Defective or damaged personal protective equipment must not be used. It’s important to inspect PPE regularly, and before each use, to make sure it’s capable of adequately protecting an employee from exposure to hazards. Remember, PPE that is defective is not PPE.

Do employers have to pay for PPE?

With few exceptions, OSHA requires employers to pay for personal protective equipment used to comply with OSHA standards.

Employers cannot require workers to provide their own PPE. Employees who use their own PPE must do so voluntarily. Even if an employee provides his or her own PPE, the employer must still ensure the equipment is adequate to protect the worker from hazards at the workplace.

Employers must pay for the following:

  • metatarsal foot protection
  • rubber boots with steel toes
  • non-prescription eye protection
  • prescription eyewear inserts/lenses for full face respirators
  • goggles and face shields
  • firefighting PPE (helmet, gloves, boots, proximity suits, full gear)
  • hard hats
  • hearing protection
  • welding PPE

Payment Exceptions under the OSHA Rule

Employers are not required to pay for some PPE in certain circumstances:

  • Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or boots) and non-specialty prescription safety eyewear provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the job site. OSHA based this decision on the fact that this type of equipment is very personal, is often used outside the workplace, and that it is taken by workers from jobsite to jobsite and employer to employer.
  • Everyday clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, and normal work boots.
  • Ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Lifting belts because their value in protecting the back is questionable.
  • When the employee has lost or intentionally damaged the PPE and it must be replaced.

How does an employer select PPE?

To help determine the best PPE for the job, conduct a hazard assessment of each employee’s task, the likelihood that the employee would be injured without PPE, and the severity of a potential injury. For example:

The task: A worker uses a plasma cutter to remove the bottom of a 55-gallon drum that contains traces of motor oil. His only PPE is a pair of synthetic gloves. The outcome: The drum explodes and the worker receives severe burns on his face and hands. An effective PPE hazard assessment would produce the following information:

  • Task: Using a plasma cutter.
  • Hazards: The plasma-cutting arc produces hot metal and sparks, especially during the initial piercing of the metal. It also heats the work piece and the cutting torch. Never cut closed or pressurized containers such as tanks or drums, which could explode. Do not cut containers that may have held combustibles or toxic or reactive materials unless they have been cleaned, tested, and declared safe by a qualified person.
  • Likelihood of injury without PPE: High
  • Severity of a potential injury: Life-threatening burns PPE necessary for the task:
    • Body: dry, clean clothing made from tightly woven material such as leather, wool, or heavy denim
    • Eyes and face: safety glasses with side shield or face shield; welding helmet with shaded eye protection for welding tasks
    • Feet: high-top leather shoes or boots
    • Hands: flame-resistant gloves
Check out: PPE Hazard Assessment and Certification


Train Employees on PPE Use

The PPE standard mandates the employer must provide “hands-on-how-to” (practice) training to each employee who is required to use Personal Protective Equipment. To meet the minimum training requirements, each employee receiving PPE training must be trained to know at least the following:

  1. when PPE is necessary;
  2. what PPE is necessary;
  3. how to properly don, doff, adjust, and wear PPE;
  4. the limitations of the PPE; and
  5. the proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the PPE.

So far, we meet minimum OSHA requirements… but one very important element is missing: The PPE standard does not specifically require education on “why” PPE is necessary.

Check Out: The Basics of PPE Training

So, why is this element so important? Because study after study tells us the most common reason employees don’t follow rules in the workplace is because they don’t know why the rules are important.


Types of PPE

Protective eye and face devices must comply with ANZI Z87.1, “American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection,” and OSHA Standard 1910.133, Eye and Face Protection.

Eye and Face Protection


Protective eyeglasses or spectacles are made with safety frames, tempered glass or plastic lenses, temples and side shields which provide eye protection from moderate impact and particles encountered in job tasks such as carpentry, woodworking, grinding, scaling, etc. Safety glasses are also available in prescription form for those persons who need corrective lenses.


  • Vinyl-framed goggles of soft pliable body design provide adequate eye protection from many hazards. These goggles are available with clear or tinted lenses, perforated, port vented, or non-vented frames.
  • Single-lens goggles provide similar protection to spectacles and may be worn in combination with spectacles or corrective lenses to ensure protection along with proper vision.
  • Welders goggles provide protection from sparking, scaling, or splashing metals and harmful light rays. Lenses are impact resistant and are available in graduated shades of filtration.
  • Chipper/Grinder goggles provide eye protection from flying particles. The dual protective eye cups house impact resistant clear lenses with individual cover plates.

Face Shields

These normally consist of an adjustable headgear and face shield of tinted/transparent acetate or polycarbonate materials, or wire screen. Face shields are available in various sizes, tensile strength, impact/heat resistance and light ray filtering capacity.

Face shields will be used in operations when the entire face needs protection and should be worn to protect eyes and face against flying particles, metal sparks, and chemical/biological splash.

Welding Shields

These shield assemblies consist of:

  • vulcanized fiber or glass fiber body
  • a ratchet/button type adjustable headgear or cap attachment
  • a filter and cover plate holder

These shields will be provided to protect workers’ eyes and face from infrared and ultraviolet light burns to the retina, flying sparks, metal spatter, and slag chips encountered during:

  • welding;
  • brazing;
  • soldering;
  • resistance welding;
  • bare or shielded electric arc welding;
  • oxyacetylene welding; or
  • cutting operations.

Respiratory Protection

Respiratory Protection is important when employees are exposed to potentially hazardous atmospheres. Respirator use must conform to ANSI/ASSE Z88.2, Practices for Respiratory Protection, and OSHA Standard 1910.134, Respiratory Protection.

Respirator Types

To understand how respirators can be used to protect employees, it is important to understand what a respirator is and what it is not. A respirator protects against respiratory hazards by removing specific air contaminants from the ambient (surrounding) air or by supplying breathable air from a safe source.

  • Air-purifying respirators: Respirators that remove contaminants from the ambient air are called air-purifying respirators. Particulate respirators are a type of air-purifying respirator. The part of a respirator that forms a protective barrier between the user’s respiratory tract and air contaminants is called an inlet covering. Most inlet coverings are classified as either tight-fitting or loose-fitting.
  • Tight-fitting respirator: A tight-fitting respirator has an inlet covering, also called a face piece or mask, designed to form a seal with the face of the wearer. It is available in three types: quarter mask, half mask, and full face piece.
  • Loose-fitting respirator: A loose-fitting respirator has an inlet covering that typically covers the user’s head and may extend over the shoulders. It is designed to form a partial seal with the face. These include loose-fitting face pieces, as well as hoods, helmets, or full suits, all of which cover the head completely.
  • Atmosphere-supplying respirators: Respirators that supply air from a safe source other than the ambient air are called atmosphere-supplying respirators. There are two types of atmosphere-supplying respirators: Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs) and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

Head Protection

There are primarily two situations when employees must wear protective helmets.

1. Falling Objects

When there is a potential in the workplace for injury to the head from falling objects, the employer must make sure that each affected employee wears a protective helmet.

Some examples of work that might require helmets to protect from falling objects include:

  • working below other workers who are using tools and materials which could fall;
  • working around or under conveyor belts which are carrying parts or materials; and
  • working below machinery or processes which might cause material or objects to fall.

Some examples of occupations for which head protection should be routinely considered are:

  • carpenters
  • electricians
  • linemen
  • mechanics and repairers
  • plumbers and pipe fitters
  • assemblers
  • packers
  • wrappers
  • sawyers
  • welders
  • laborers
  • freight handlers
  • timber cutting and logging
  • stock handlers

Types of Head Protection:

    • Type I: A helmet of Type I is designed to provide protection only to the top of the head. It is not intended to provide impact from side impacts. (This is by far the most commonly used type of hard hat in use.
    • Type II: A helmet of Type II is designed to provide protection against both top and side impacts.
    • Bump Caps: Bump caps/skull guards should be issued and worn for protection against scalp lacerations from contact with sharp objects. However, it’s very important to understand that they must not be worn as substitutes for safety caps/hats because they do not provide protection from impact forces or penetration by falling objects.

Hand Protection

Make sure safety gloves are the correct type for the specific substance.

It’s important that employers select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when exposed to any of the hazards listed below:

  • hazardous chemicals that can cause burns, rashes, and internal injury;
  • cuts or lacerations;
  • abrasions;
  • punctures;
  • thermal burns; and
  • harmful temperature extremes.

Glove Guidelines

  • Disposable Gloves: Disposable gloves, usually made of light-weight plastic, can help guard against mild irritants.
  • Fabric Gloves: These gloves are made of cotton or fabric blends. They’re generally used to improve grip when handling slippery objects. They also help insulate hands from mild heat or cold.
  • Leather Gloves: These gloves are used to guard against injuries from sparks or scraping against rough surfaces. They are also used in combination with an insulated liner when working with electricity.
  • Metal Mesh Gloves: These gloves are used to protect hands from accidental cuts and scratches. They are used most commonly by persons working with cutting tools or other sharp instruments.
  • Aluminized Gloves: These gloves made of aluminized fabric are designed to insulate hands from intense heat. These gloves are most commonly used by persons working with molten materials.
  • Chemical Resistance Gloves: These gloves may be made of rubber, neoprene, polyvinyl alcohol or vinyl, etc. The gloves protect hands from corrosives, oils, and solvents. When selecting chemical resistance gloves, be sure to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations, especially if the gloved hand will be immersed in the chemical.
CHEMICAL Protection Glove Selection Chart.
Type Advantages Disadvantages Use Against
Natural rubber Low cost, good physical properties, dexterity Poor vs. oils, greases, organics. Frequently imported; may be poor quality Bases, alcohols, dilute water solutions; fair vs. aldehydes, ketones.
Natural rubber blends Low cost, dexterity, better chemical resistance than natural rubber vs. some chemicals Physical properties frequently inferior to natural rubber Same as natural rubber
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Low cost, very good physical properties, medium cost, medium chemical resistance Plasticizers can be stripped; frequently imported; may be poor quality Strong acids and bases, salts, other water solutions, alcohols
Neoprene Medium cost, medium chemical resistance, medium physical properties N/A Oxidizing acids, anilines, phenol, glycol ethers
Nitrile Low cost, excellent physical properties, dexterity Poor vs. benzene, methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, many ketones Oils, greases, aliphatic chemicals, xylene, perchloroethylene, trichloroethane; fair vs. toluene
Butyl Specialty glove, polar organics Expensive, poor vs. hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents Glycol ethers, ketones, esters
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) Specialty glove, resists a very broad range of organics, good physical properties Very expensive, water sensitive, poor vs. light alcohols Aliphatics, aromatics, chlorinated solvents, ketones (except acetone), esters, ethers
Fluoro- elastomer (Viton) Specialty glove, organic solvents Extremely expensive, poor physical properties, poor vs. some ketones, esters, amines Aromatics, chlorinated solvents, also aliphatics and alcohols
Norfoil (Silver Shield) Excellent chemical resistance Poor fit, easily punctures, poor grip, stiff Use for Hazmat work

Electrical Protective Gloves

Protector gloves must be worn over insulating gloves. An exception is when using Class 0 gloves, under limited-use conditions, where small equipment and parts manipulation necessitate unusually high finger dexterity. But, it’s important to note that extra care must be taken while visually examining the glove. Also, make sure to avoid handling sharp objects.

Any other class of glove may be used for similar work without protector gloves if the employer can demonstrate that the possibility of physical damage to the gloves is small and if the class of glove is one class higher than that required for the voltage involved. Insulating gloves that have been used without protector gloves may not be used at a higher voltage until they have been tested.

Cut Resistant Gloves

If employees are subject to sharp objects in the workplace, such as metal banding, sheet metal, or even razor blades, it is advised to wear a cut protection glove.

There are many different rating for cut protection gloves, I explain the ratings below:

ANSI cut levels


EN 388 Cut levels

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