Personal protective equipment at work
If an employee's work involves a hazard that cannot be eliminated by technical means or work arrangements, the employee must use personal protective equipment (PPE). The term ‘personal protective equipment’ refers to any and all equipment, accessories and clothing that protect an employee against accidents or health risks at work, including but not limited to safety goggles, safety footwear, protective gloves, helmets, hearing protectors and respirator masks, harnesses and protective overalls.
The employer is required to assess whether PPE is needed. If it is, the employer must procure such equipment and enforce its use. An employee, for his/her part, is required to use any PPE provided by the employer.
PPE protects against adverse health impacts in job duties exposing the employee to a health risk (e.g. radiation, noise levels that may cause hearing loss, or infectious diseases). Common types of accident against which PPE is used to prevent are falls, eye injuries caused by flying debris, crushing of the foot and blunt trauma to the head.
PPE used at work must comply with current requirements. Also, any PPE item must be of the right size for the employee using it and appropriate for the work at hand.
There are separate and more specific provisions for PPE in certain sectors, such as shipping and construction work. Specifications regarding PPE may also be agreed upon in collective agreements.
Selecting personal protective equipment
The selection of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the workplace must be made according to a work assessment. The purpose of the assessment is to chart the factors that cause a hazard to the safety and health of employees. These may be divided into the following main categories:
- physical (e.g. high or low temperature, electricity, radiation, vibration or noise),
- chemical (e.g. aerosols, gases, fumes and liquids),
- biological (e.g. bacteria, viruses and fungi), and
- accidents (e.g. slicing, stabbing, cutting, bruising or falls).
It is principally the employer’s responsibility to eliminate hazards at work. If that is not possible, the employer must obtain PPE for the use of employees such that it provides sufficient protection for employees against accidents.
The employer is liable for the costs of the PPE if it is selected on the basis of a risk assessment performed by the employer or if the use of such equipment is required in the legislation concerning the sector in question.
Requirements for personal protective equipment used at work
The PPE given to the employees for their use must have a CE marking, which is the manufacturer’s guarantee that the item complies with the requirements prescribed for it in legislation.
PPE with a low level of protection (e.g. cleaning gloves and rainwear) may have only a CE marking, while other PPE items must also bear a marking indicating the hazards against which the item protects and the level of protection.
PPE protecting against non-negligible hazards (e.g. hard hats, hearing protectors and eye protectors) must be type-examined; information on the type examination may be found in the operating instructions.
PPE protecting against loss of life and health (e.g. respirator masks, thermal protective clothing and chemical protection) must be quality-monitored. The ID number of the notified body that has carried out the monitoring is given with the CE marking (e.g. CE0121).
You are required to use any PPE provided by the employer. Remember that the purpose of using PPE is to avoid known hazards at work. Such an item may save your health or even your life.
The employer is liable to pay for the PPE that is necessary for doing the work. PPE and its acquisition costs may have been agreed upon in the collective agreement applying to your employment relationship.
The employer decides whether using a particular PPE item is necessary. If using any such item is mandatory due to legislative provisions, or if a risk assessment shows that using any such item is necessary, the employer must acquire such an item.
There are different kinds of PPE items. If an item feels uncomfortable when you are wearing it, find out whether it is the right size for you. Also, materials such as natural rubber and chromium traces in leather may cause symptoms in persons with allergies. Employees who wear glasses must be given PPE items that either have lenses ground so that they are optically equivalent with the employees’ glasses or allow them to wear glasses under the protection.
Your employer is required to give you PPE that suits you. Such items must also be appropriate to the work you are doing, and they must protect sufficiently against known hazards.
Use your personal protective equipment properly
You must use, store and service your personal protective equipment (PPE) according to the instructions given by your employer and the manufacturer. Keep the operating instructions, because they contain information on maintenance and spare parts and advise when the item must be withdrawn from use.
Please also note that wearing PPE may itself cause a hazard under some circumstances. For instance, hearing protectors may prevent you from hearing a warning sound, and eye protectors may limit your field of vision.
If you do not know how to use a PPE item, consult your supervisor or the occupational safety and health delegate. Your employer must ensure that you receive the guidance you need. The operating instructions for PPE must be available in both Finnish and Swedish.
If you have a PPE item that is damaged, it is your responsibility to report this to your employer. Monitor the condition of your PPE item and replace it as necessary.
The employer assesses the hazards involved in the work. The hazard assessment must cover all workstations, and it must be revised every time when the working conditions or methods change. The employer may call on experts for assistance in the assessment, for instance from the occupational health care service.
If it is not possible to reduce risks to an acceptable level through technical means, the employer must obtain the PPE items required in legislation and guidelines for the use of employees and enforce their use at work. The employer must also explicitly state in which situations the PPE must be used.
The Government Decision on the selection and use of Personal Protective Equipment contains a list of PPE items. It also contains a list of the job duties in which using PPE is generally required. There is a form appended to the published Decision that can be used for assessing the need for PPE:
Selecting the appropriate personal protective equipment
When selecting personal protective equipment (PPE), the following points should be taken into account:
- What is the hazard that the PPE item is intended to prevent?
- What protective properties does the PPE item need to have in order to prevent that hazard?
- What are the hazards arising from the use of the PPE item?
- What are the personal characteristics of the employees and their needs for PPE?
PPE items acquired for the workplace must comply with the structural requirements imposed on them in legislation. A PPE item compliant with requirements will have its markings explained in the operating instructions. The operating instructions will contain instructions on the use and maintenance of the item and information on the availability of spare parts.
The employer is required to:
- acquire for employees the PPE that they need in their work,
- inform employees about the hazards against which the PPE protects,
- post signs that PPE is required in those workspaces where PPE must be worn,
- provide employees training and guidance in the correct use of the PPE,
- provide storage and maintenance for the PPE,
- supervise that employees use the PPE as instructed, and
- issue a new PPE item to an employee to replace a damaged or outdated item.
The employer is also required to ensure that using the PPE is in itself safe. This calls for an investigation of the personal characteristics of each employee that have a bearing on the use of PPE (e.g. the shape of the face, the use of glasses, the size of the foot, and health factors such as allergy to rubber or nickel, or hypertension).
Some respiratory masks are heavy and make breathing arduous and also cause mental strain, and in using such items special provisions may be required, such as using auxiliary equipment or taking more frequent breaks from the work. It may also be necessary to take frequent rest breaks when wearing dense protective clothing such as chemical-resistant or heat-resistant suits.
The occupational health care service explores the PPE needed at work in the workplace survey and helps the employer to assess the health impact of PPE use.
- Section 8 Employers’ general duty to exercise care
- Section 10 Analysis and assessment of the risks at work
- Section 15 Providing personal protective equipment, auxiliary equipment and other devices for use
- Section 20 Use of personal protective equipment and suitable work clothing
- Section 10 Safety planning of the construction work
- Section 14 Safety of machinery, equipment and other tools
- Section 28 Protection against falls
- Section 71 Need for personal protective equipment in construction work