With procurement managers constantly tasked with decreasing spend and finding enhanced value for money, PPE typically poses a challenge as health & safety can never be compromised. Mike Tittle, technical specialist (PPE) at Buck & Hickman, looks at best practice surrounding the selection and use of PPE, and explains how it is possible to achieve cost savings while maintaining correct protection for employees

RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) statistics reveal that while in 2012/13 manufacturing accounted for around 10% of the British workforce, factory workers suffered around one-in-five of reported fatalities and injuries. 

In a typical manufacturing environment, workers will require a variety of PPE to guard against occupational hazards. An individual may require respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to prevent the inhalation of gases or particles, eye protection against splashes or airborne debris, or protection for the head and limbs. Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at work regulations 1999, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide PPE and to ensure its workers are properly trained in its use. This can add up to a considerable, but unavoidable, expense. There are, however, a number of ways in which costs can be safely reduced. 

The first stage in rationalising the use of PPE, with a view to identifying cost saving opportunities, is in specification of the correct equipment. PPE is frequently over-specified, with the maximum level of protection often selected regardless of the hazard. In reality, different areas of workflow will be exposed to various levels of risk, and what is appropriate in one section of a manufacturing facility may be excessive or even unnecessary in a lower-risk area. 

Prior to shortlisting PPE for a trial, it is important to assess each individual’s needs in terms of what type of hazard they are exposed to, in what quantities or at what levels, and for how long. This will help to determine the required performance levels of PPE. 

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) advises that any PPE purchased should be CE marked in accordance with the PPE Regulations 2002 – the bearing of a CE mark is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product meets the requirements of the relevant British or European standards. 

Once the correct items and ratings have been identified, sample trials should be conducted in a real working environment. This is not just about ascertaining the suitability of the product for the task or checking the correct rating has been specified, but is also about the individual user – PPE which is comfortable and does not become an obstacle is more likely to be worn, as are products that the user has helped to select themselves. 

Thorough audits and testing can help reduce the incorrect use of PPE where it is not truly necessary, as well as ensuring that the correct level of protection is specified for each user. A specialist supplier should be able to manage such a service for you.

It is important to note that a higher cost is not always indicative of a greater level of protection. Q-Safe, a range of PPE exclusive to Buck & Hickman, for example, has achieved CE marking for all its products – 99% of which undergo further testing to more specific standards and therefore exceed the minimum standards for PPE – while maintaining a competitive price point.