The first German Ordinance  on the Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PSA-BV) was passed in Germany over 25 years ago. It defines requirements for PPE and provides rules for employees and employers alike on PPE use, training and periodic inspections. But as simple as the theory sounds, in practice, those responsible for PPE have to be aware of many pitfalls. We list the 7 most common mistakes made when procuring and using PPE.

First things first: always beware of these two dangers

Using PPE is no guarantee of safety. Ultimately, when it comes to PPE, two sources of danger play a role in all industries and jobs.

  1. Buying the wrong thing: The PPE is unsuitable for the hazard in question.
  2. Using it incorrectly: The PPE is suitable, but employees don’t use it correctly.

Most of the errors outlined below are related to both of these situations. According to the German Occupational Health and Safety Act (§ 3, ArbSchG), those responsible for PPE must therefore provide their teams with PPE appropriate for their needs while also ensuring that the PPE is used correctly. In order to succeed, you should keep the following points in mind.

Mistake 1: Comfort over safety

Obviously, in an ideal scenario, PPE offers employees both maximum protection and maximum levels of wearer comfort. However, as the person responsible for PPE, you should set clear priorities. The primary objective of PPE is and will always be protection against risk to health and safety. That’s why only PPE products that meet the safety standards of the new EU PPE Regulation 2016/425 may be sold in countries of the European Union. This regulation has been in force since April 2018.

Nevertheless, safety experts agree that in most cases, high levels of wearer comfort lead to an increased willingness to wear PPE. Furthermore, many PPE products on the market now offer added value in addition to their primary protective function. Examples include safety helmets with radio reception or earmuffs with a telephony function.

Did you know? As early as the end of the 1990s, according to a strategic industry study by the international management consultancy Frost & Sullivan, two PPE trends that can still be seen today were already emerging in Europe. The main trend at that time was the greater ease with which individual PPE items could be combined, while a second trend was greater wearer comfort and more fashionable protective clothing.

Mistake 2: Inadequate care or cleaning of the PPE

The respective manufacturer specifications are critical to the care and maintenance of the PPE. The PSA-BV stipulates obligations for employers and employees in this regard. For example, § 2(4) obliges employers “to ensure the

  • maintenance, repair and replacement as well as
  • proper storage

of the PPE, so that it functions properly and remains in a hygienic condition throughout its period of use”.

In general, PPE should not be taken home for cleaning. Standard domestic washing machines are not designed to cope with industrial, construction site or laboratory dirt. In the case of work clothing or PPE contaminated with microbes, cleaning it at home is in fact expressly prohibited. In the worst-case scenario, pathogenic biochemicals could be introduced into your personal environment.

At the same time, the wrong choice of washing programme, washing temperature, detergent or fabric softener can be detrimental to the protective effect of PPE. For example, antistatic PPE may lose its dissipative capacity, flame-retardant impregnations may be removed, or reflective stripes may become detached.

Mistake 3: Neglecting to check and maintain the PPE

Most PPE products should be inspected at least once a year by a competent professional. Inspection intervals for PPE vary and may even be significantly shorter than expected, depending on the intensity of use and the manufacturer’s specifications.

The key factor is usually the category specified in accordance with the PSA-BV with which individual components of the PPE are classified. The PSA-BV also indicates a product’s hazard classification. The categories range from I to III. Especially for PPE in the highest category, which is intended to protect against a lethal hazard, a particularly thorough inspection with regular maintenance intervals is essential. This category mainly includes protective equipment for fall, respiratory or chemical protection.

But it’s not only employers or PPE officers who have obligations in this regard. The PSA-BV also requires employees to carry out a visual and functional check before each use of the PPE and to immediately report any defects found to those responsible in the company. In general, PPE should be carefully checked after a cleaning procedure at the latest. For many PPE components, manufacturers provide reliable information on service life and proper storage.

Mistake 4: Failure to individually adapt the PPE 

While with casual clothing, wearing something that’s one size bigger or smaller often doesn’t make a difference, PPE must be precisely adapted to the employee in accordance with § 2 PSA-BV. The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) defines this in more detail in Rule 112-189 “Use of protective clothing”:

“Protective clothing is personal protective equipment designed to protect the torso, arms and legs from harmful conditions at work.”

Protective clothing that is too short or not coordinated with other PPE components is not permitted. In addition, the PPE must be adapted to “the ergonomic and health-related requirements of the user(s)”. For shoes, it is important to take into account a person’s orthopaedic foot correctors, for example. Potential employee allergies should also be considered when selecting PPE.

Did you know? A 2020 survey of 400 German male and female workers aged 20–60 by market research firm net-request found that 68 per cent of respondents across all sectors compromised on workplace safety. 44 per cent also regularly dispense with some of their protective equipment.

Mistake 5: One item of PPE, multiple wearers

Legally at least, the situation is clear. According to § 2 Paragraph 2 of the PSA-BV, PPE is intended for use by one person. If special circumstances mean that PPE must be used by different employees, the employer must ensure that there are no issues with hygiene or health hazards or that these can be ruled out.

But beware: it’s essential that certain items of PPE, such as safety harnesses, are tailored to the individual in terms of size and fit or can be individually adjusted.

Mistake 6: No or incomplete PPE training 

There is no substitute for well-organised and legally compliant safety training on the subject of PPE for employers or those responsible for PPE on a legal basis (see § 12 ArbSchG; § 4 DGUV Regulation 1; § 3 PSA-BV). Training is usually based on information provided by the manufacturer.

To ensure that all key aspects and content are covered, a written schedule is helpful. In it, you should define the following key points:

  1. Responsible persons (participants and occupational health & safety professionals)
  2. Training session dates (planning and ongoing adaptation to internal changes in working conditions)
  3. Training session content (operating instructions as a guide)
  4. Documentation (training session dates, materials, lists of participants)

Mistake 7: Employee obligations not met

As already indicated in “Mistake 3”, despite ongoing PPE checks and comprehensive training, employees must still always visually inspect and function-test their PPE before each use. This is the only way that damage and faults can be identified immediately and reported to superiors without delay.

Whether cracks in safety helmets or safety goggles or defective pads on earmuffs – a proactive dialogue between PPE managers and wearers reduces sources of danger to a minimum. Short reporting channels are essential when it comes to PPE problems.

If you would like more detailed information, why not attend one of our occupational safety seminars at the uvex academy? The uvex academy offers regular training courses on PPE and occupational safety.

All training at a glanceView seminar calendar

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