Occupational Health & Safety
Avoidance of hazards arising from combinations of Personal Protective Equipment
Basically, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should only be used when all collective (technical and organizational) safety measures for the avoidance of hazards have been exhausted and residual hazards still exist (principles of hazard prevention, STOP or TOP principle).
Many workplaces require different types of PPE to be used simultaneously, since protection required at the same time against exposure to multiple hazards and / or for several parts of the body.
The items of PPE must therefore be mutually compatible and must not impair each other in their protective function.
In some cases, the deterioration in the protection resulting from mutual influence between items of PPE is clearly evident. An example is the combination of googles and a respiratory mask or goggles and ear muffs.
Accordingly, the employer will assess the compatibility of PPE and the potential hazard presented by the simultaneous use of more than one item of PPE. This compilation of the observations made on the subject to date may be useful during risk assessment.
As Example – The Austrian legal framework for applying or using PPE is formed by …
- … Workers Protection Act (ASchG), § 69 and §70 and
- … Directive on Personal Protective Equipment (PSA-V)
- ASchG § 70. (1) Employers may only provide Personal Protective Equipment that …
- in terms of their design and construction, comply with the safety and health requirements applicable to the placing on the market;
- provide protection against the hazards to be prevented without entailing a greater hazard;
- are suitable for the conditions prevailing at the workplace;
- take into account the ergonomic requirements and the health needs of the employee and
- fits properly, at least after adjustment.
- ASchG § 70 (4) If different hazards require a simultaneous use of Personal Protective Equipment, the items of equipment must be combined with each other and must not impair their protective effect against the respective hazard.
- Obligation to provide instruction before employees use the PPE!
For information and instruction, the manufacturer’s specifications must be observed. The information and instruction of employees must be carried out before the first use and then at regular intervals. Training and exercises are required for certain forms of PPE (e. g. PPE for fall protection or respiratory protection, etc.).
- PPE may only be used for the purposes and under the conditions for which it is intended according to the manufacturer’ specifications or distributor’s specifications (observe the regulations for exceptions).
- Combination of PPE and non-PPE. Especially the currently prescribed mouth and nose protection due to COVID-19 may cause protective goggles to steam up and (dangerously) restrict visibility!
The table here shows combinations of PPE the level of protection of which may be reduced as a result of mutual influence. It provides a rough overview of the most common combinations of PPE. The table is by no means complete; it is intended to motivate people to pay more attention to the topic of combining PPE. The information given in the table should be reflected in the workplace evaluation and the associated instructions in order to ensure the corresponding legal certainty.
The table is created on basis of the IFA – Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung and adapted to the symbols commonly used in Austria.
Conclusion on the use of combinations of PPE items
The mutual influence between items of PPE can be very complex and must be taken into account accordingly for risk assessments and instructions.
For such PPE combinations, it has proven useful to discuss or investigate a variety of realistic possibilities or scenarios together with practitioners / users.
In the area of simultaneous use of several items of PPE, this means that users cannot always rely on the information provided by manufacturers of PPE combinations, as sometimes incompatible combinations of PPE items are offered on the market.
Some safety data sheets also list PPE combinations in the PPE specifications, which must be critically examined in terms of the risk posed by the PPE combination.
If the risk assessment reveals the possibility of a complex mutual influence, users are well advised to use PPE combination items from trustworthy manufacturers or to contact the labor inspectorate (consulting mandate) in addition to the in-house expertise (safety representative, occupational physician, safety expert …).