3 ways Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can increase chemical hazards

Jun 3, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

As a chemical control measure, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should only be introduced to a workplace after a full risk assessment has been carried out on the hazardous chemicals. A risk assessment will attempt to eliminate a chemical hazard if at all possible, and then only consider PPE controls to support other measures. This blog looks at three key ways that PPE can actually increase (or even create new) chemical hazards if not introduced properly.

1. PPE interferes with the work process

Items of PPE are usually recommended by Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), Australian Standards, and Codes of Practice. But until each piece of equipment is actually put into use, it can be difficult to predict how effective it will be when used in conjunction with other equipment. If items of PPE interfere with work process this can actually cause dangerous incidents through:

  • Heat - wearing additional coveralls, aprons, long boots, elbow-length gloves, and face-shields over normal work clothes can generate a lot of extra heat. Getting too hot will tire a worker more quickly and could cause them to loose concentration and dexterity. If a worker is hot and uncomfortable they may start removing protective clothing before a job task is completed.
  • Bulk - PPE creates additional bulk which can restrict natural movement. Example: gloves can reduce a worker’s ability to grip a tool or container; while goggles can reduce vision. When PPE makes a job task harder to perform, workers are more likely to make mistakes, ignore safety procedures, and take shortcuts.
  • Incompatibility - a single piece of PPE on its own may be perfect for the task, but in combination with another item can interfere with the usability and effectiveness of other safety equipment. Eg, chemical goggles and hearing protection.

2. PPE is unsuitable

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) doesn’t minimise a chemical hazard, it merely places a barrier between a worker and a substance. Workers can become complacent if they believe that wearing PPE is the only thing they need to do to stay safe. The hazard can actually increase if the PPE issued to them is unsuitable or ineffective. Ineffective PPE is often due to:

  • Selection - the PPE was never fit for the task and fails while being used. It could be incompatible with the hazard class or concentration levels of the chemical, or just not suited to the climate and working conditions at the job site.
  • Fit -the PPE is too loose, tight, long, or short. Loose PPE can allow liquid chemicals to contact the skin and eyes, while loose masks don’t provide sufficient protection from hazardous dusts, mists, and vapours.
  • Maintenance - PPE must be regularly cleaned and maintained. Gloves, boots, and face shields deteriorate rapidly when in constant use — items should be inspected and replaced regularly.

3. Workers don’t use it


PPE only protects workers if they actually wear it. Failing to wear their safety equipment not only  places themselves at risk, but often the entire workplace. Worker often don’t wear or use their PPE because of:

  • Comfort - workers will quickly stop wearing their PPE if it doesn’t fit properly or is uncomfortable to wear. PPE should be fitted to each individual and not shared among colleagues. Workers are unlikely to continue wearing dirty or soiled PPE that has been previously worn by another worker and not cleaned.
  • Inaccessible - PPE should always be easily accessible — workers might not suit-up properly if they have to walk a long distance before (and after their) shifts to access safety equipment. Keep items in a dedicated PPE cabinet close to work areas.
  • Attitude - sometimes failure to wear or use PPE can come down to the attitude of one individual, or at other times it’s the overall work culture. This can happen during times of heavy production and high rates of staff turnover.
  • Training - all workers (including contractors) must receive proper induction and training so they understand the nature of the hazardous chemicals they use, plus know how to handle them safely. This includes the correct use, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of their PPE.
  • Supervision - keeping workers properly supervised is a requirement of Section 379 of the WHS Regulations. Once workers have received proper induction and training in the use of PPE, management and supervisors must enforce safe work procedures as well as consistent housekeeping practices.

Next steps

As we mentioned in the introduction, a full risk assessment should always be carried out before purchasing and issuing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hazardous chemicals. We strongly recommend you download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace for a full understanding of the risk assessment process. You’ll also learn how PPE controls fit into a compliant risk management methodology. Download and read it today for the next step in chemical safety management.How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping businesses reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

Like what you’re reading?

Subscribe to stay up tp date with the latest from STOREMASTA®


Recommended Resources

Dangerous Goods Segregation Guide
A PRACTICAL EBOOK

How to segregate incompatible classes of dangerous goods

Segregate the 9 different classes of dangerous goods in a way which will reduce risk to people, property, and the environment.

Learn more

Promoting better chemical management on World Environment Day 2019
From the blog

Promoting better chemical management on World Environment Day 2019

Today is World Environment Day 2019. It’s an internationally recognised day for raising awareness about environmental ...

Learn more

3 key isolation controls for managing hazardous chemicals
From the blog

3 key isolation controls for managing hazardous chemicals

Isolating your hazardous chemicals from workers and incompatible substances is an important risk control measure and ...

Learn more

3 ways Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can increase chemical hazards
From the blog

3 ways Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can increase chemical hazards

As a chemical control measure, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should only be introduced to a workplace after a ...

Learn more

Carrying out a Risk Assessment on a Chemical with Multiple Hazards
From the blog

Carrying out a Risk Assessment on a Chemical with Multiple Hazards

An effective HAZCHEM risk assessment is only possible when all chemical hazards have been properly identified. ...

Learn more