The Ultimate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Guide

Submitted by Tech Support on Mon, 01/08/2024 - 12:43

A collection of personal protective equipment.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a critical role in keeping workers safe across all industries. From construction sites to healthcare facilities, proper PPE protects employees from injuries and illnesses in the workplace

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of PPE, including different types, key selection criteria, safety standards, and best practices for effective use.

What is Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment refers to safety gear worn by workers to guard against workplace hazards. PPE creates a barrier between the worker and hazardous agents such as chemicals, biohazards, noise, electricity, falls, and impacts.

When used properly along with other control measures, PPE minimizes employee exposure and prevents occupational injuries and illnesses. Examples of common PPE include:

  • Safety glasses, goggles, face shields
  • Hard hats, bump caps
  • Work gloves
  • Safety shoes and boots
  • Hearing protection - earplugs, earmuffs
  • Respirators and masks


OSHA's PPE standards outline mandatory requirements for equipment type, maintenance, and training when PPE is necessary to make hazards tolerable. Even when not legally mandated, many organizations go beyond OSHA minimums by requiring PPE for additional activities.


There are numerous varieties of PPE available for specialized applications across industries. Major categories include:

Eye and Face Protection

  • Safety glasses - Protect eyes from flying particles
  • Goggles - Completely seal the eye area from hazards
  • Face shields - Guard the face from chemical splashes or projectiles

Head Protection

  • Hard hats - Absorb impacts from falling objects or bumps
  • Bump caps - Less extensive protection from bumps against fixed objects

Hearing Protection

  • Earplugs - Insert in ear canal to block noise
  • Earmuffs - Cupped protectors worn over the ears

Foot Protection

  • Toe guards - Protect the toe area against rolling objects or compression
  • Metatarsal guards - Shield the top of the foot from impact or compression
  • Safety shoes - Protect the foot against falling objects, electricity, and slip hazards
  • Specialty shoes/boots - Additional protections like chainsaw cut resistance

Hand Protection

  • Work gloves - Guard against hazards like cuts, vibration, or cold
  • Chemical-resistant gloves - Protect against caustic liquids, chemicals
  • Cut-resistant gloves - Reinforced to resist lacerations from sharp objects
  • Insulated gloves - Prevent contact with high heat or electricity

Body Protection

  • High-visibility clothing - Enhance worker visibility for motorists
  • Disposable/reusable suits - Guard against hazardous materials and chemicals
  • Welding aprons - Heavy layered fiber protection against welding radiation and sparks
  • Safety harnesses - Prevent falls when working at height

Respiratory Protection

  • Dust masks - Filter out airborne particles
  • Surgical masks - Catch droplets and aerosols
  • Respirators - Remove contaminants from inhaled air

Key Factors in Selecting PPE

Choosing the right PPE for each workplace situation is critical. A mismatch between equipment and hazards can put workers at serious risk. Key factors to consider include:

Hazard Assessment

A hazard assessment evaluates work activities, environments, and potential exposures. This determines the need for PPE, the type required, and performance specifications like impact velocities, chemical resistance, etc.


PPE must fit properly to provide protection. Considerations include size, adjustable straps, and compatibility with other required gear. A fit test ensures a tight seal for respirators.


Workers are more likely to use PPE properly when it fits comfortably over extended periods. Comfort features include shock absorbing, cooling, and moisture wicking.

Materials of Construction

PPE components like lenses, fabric layers, and shielding must be compatible with workplace hazards. Common materials include impact-resistant polymers, steel, Kevlar, rubber, and chemical-resistant composites.

Standards and Certification

PPE should be certified by NIOSH or other standards organizations against the intended hazards. Look for ratings like ANSI Z87+ for eye protection or ASTM F2413 for protective footwear.

Care and Maintenance

Regular inspection, cleaning, storage, and replacement of worn or damaged PPE ensures it provides reliable protection.


Workers must receive training on when and how to properly use and maintain PPE. Refreshers account for changes in procedures, equipment, or hazards.

Key PPE Standards and Regulations

There are a number of standards and regulations around developing, testing, and documenting PPE to ensure effectiveness:

OSHA Standards

OSHA requires PPE in general industry, construction, shipyards, marine terminals, and longshoring when hazards cannot be adequately controlled through other means. Rules outline requirements for hazard assessment, equipment selection, maintenance, training, and more.

ANSI Standards

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) coordinates the development of voluntary national standards for PPE. For example, ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 covers eye and face protection and ANSI/ASSE Z359 specifies fall protection systems. Compliance provides assurance of meeting performance requirements.

ASTM Standards

ASTM International develops specific standards for materials, testing, and use requirements for nearly all types of PPE. For instance, F2413 sets minimum requirements for protective footwear and F1494 outlines performance criteria for gloves used in arc flash.

CSA Standards

The Canadian Standards Association issues standards for PPE mandated by provincial occupational health and safety regulations. CSA also offers optional certification programs to verify conformance for PPE manufacturers.

CE Marking

The CE marking indicates PPE meets all applicable European Union directives and regulations, including minimum health, safety, and environmental standards.

Additional standards and guidelines around testing methods, warning labels, care instructions, and product specifications provide further assurance of PPE effectiveness.


Work environments and activities drive the need for specialized PPE types and the features required. Some key examples include:


  • Hard hats - Defend against falling objects, beams
  • Safety glasses/goggles - Protect eyes from dust and debris
  • Work gloves - Leather and cut-resistant varieties for handling materials
  • High-visibility vests - Increase visibility around vehicle traffic
  • Respirators - Filter out silica dust generated during cutting and drilling


  • Hearing protection - Reduce exposure to machinery and tool noise
  • Hard hats/bump caps - Protect against bumps into fixtures and conveyors
  • Steel toe boots - Shield feet from falling equipment and compression
  • Cut-resistant gloves - Prevent lacerations from handling sheet metal
  • FR protective clothing - Shield against hot metal splashes and sparks


  • Nitrile gloves - Guard against biohazards like bloodborne pathogens
  • Surgical masks or N95 respirators - Prevent inhalation of aerosolized pathogens
  • Face shields - Provide barrier protection against splashes or spray
  • Gowns/aprons - Protect skin and clothing from contaminants

Lab Work

  • Safety goggles/glasses - Shield eyes from chemical splashes and fumes
  • Chemical-resistant gloves - Prevent absorption through skin
  • Flame-resistant lab coats - Avoid ignition from burners and heat sources
  • Respirators - Filter out hazardous particulate from experiments

Food Service

  • Cut-resistant gloves - Protect hands when using knives and slicers
  • Slip-resistant shoes - Provide traction on slippery floors
  • Heat-resistant mitts - Allow handling hot items from ovens and cookers
  • Hooded jackets - Keep hair and clothing free of contamination

Best Practices for PPE Use

To get the most protection out of PPE, proper selection, care, and usage practices should be followed:

  • Inspect, clean, and repair PPE regularly according to manufacturer specifications
  • Replace any damaged or worn-out PPE that may impair protection
  • Store PPE properly when not in use to prevent damage or contamination
  • Ensure a proper fit and wearing of PPE - adjust straps, tie back hair, use all fasteners
  • Allow no exceptions to PPE requirements for a given task - set expectations
  • Train workers on how to inspect, don, use, clean, and store PPE for each item
  • Employ signs, policies, and reminders about mandatory PPE usage
  • Consider factors like ventilation and length of use when selecting PPE
  • Accommodate prescription eyewear with integrated side shields or goggle fit overs

Maintaining Occupational Health and Safety

From helmets and safety shoes to respirators and protective clothing, personal protective equipment provides a critical last line of defense for workers. Keeping staff informed, trained, and equipped with suitable PPE for their environment is central to maintaining health and safety.

With hazards constantly evolving, regular assessments of risks and required protection ensures needs are met. Technology improvements also enable high-performance PPE that is more comfortable and integrated.

By making PPE a priority and instilling a culture of safety, organizations can help drive down incidents of injuries and illnesses on the job. Workers can complete their shifts securely knowing necessary precautions have been taken to protect their health and safety.

Ensuring Effective PPE Across Your Organization

Implementing an effective PPE program that keeps your workers protected requires expertise and diligent management. At Northwest Safety & Risk Services, we have over 10 years of experience helping organizations like yours identify risks, select proper PPE solutions, and integrate their use into workplace processes.


Our services include:

  • Conducting hazard assessments to determine PPE requirements
  • Researching equipment options to identify optimal PPE
  • Developing written PPE policies and training programs
  • Educating staff on proper use and care of assigned PPE
  • Monitoring compliance and evaluating program effectiveness
  • Providing support with purchasing, maintenance, and upgrades


We take a comprehensive approach, ensuring your PPE program addresses evolving risks and integrates seamlessly into your safety culture. This produces optimal compliance and protection.

Dedicated to making work safe, NW Safety & Risk has become a leading PPE advisor across a variety of industries including construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and more. 

Let us put our expertise to work for you. Contact us today to get started on implementing a high-performance PPE program customized to your needs.



OSHA - Personal Protective Equipment


ASTM - Standards