A Guide to COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

14th July 2020
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100+ Years Experience Over 100 years' experience
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Nationwide (UK Wide Coverage) UK Wide Coverage

Since the start of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the most talked about and reported issues has been Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Now, walking around with a face mask on and hand sanitiser in our pockets is the new norm!

In this article, we are going to discuss what PPE is, employer’s and employee’s obligations and how to ensure you have an effective PPE program in your workplace, to ensure workers are protected if a dangerous situation occurs.

What is PPE?

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) refers to any safety equipment which helps to protect users against health and safety risks. PPE can refer to safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, coveralls, types of footwear and respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Example of PPE being worn

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992

PPE should be a last line of defence and should only be used when the risk presented by a work activity cannot be adequately controlled by other health and safety measures and controls.

PPE only protects the person wearing it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source protects everyone in the workplace. In some cases, PPE can be issued as a secondary line of protection even though risks are controlled by other means.

If PPE is required then, by law, every employer must provide PPE to protect employees from hazards at work, free of charge.

The regulations also require employers to:

  • follow due diligence in selecting the correct equipment
  • ensure the PPE is fit for purpose
  • maintain the equipment in good repair, including appropriate replacement
  • ensure workers are trained to inspect and use PPE and what to do if a defect is found
  • understand what the PPE provided will protect them from

Workplace areas where PPE is required to be worn, must have suitable signage displayed in the vicinity of the work.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992 sign

Risk assessment guidance

As already mentioned, providing PPE should be a last resort. The hazard that the worker is being protected against should, if possible, be eliminated or, if not possible, be controlled to minimise the risk.  This requires a risk assessment be undertaken.  Only when it has been shown that the hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled to a satisfactory level should PPE be considered.

Control measures should follow the hierarchy below, listed in decreasing effectiveness:

  1. Eliminate - Physically remove the hazard
  2. Substitute - Replace the hazard with something less dangerous
  3. Engineering Controls - Isolate from the hazard
  4. Administrative Controls - Change the way people work
  5. PPE - Protect the worker with PPE

PPE must only be used to supplement measures higher up the hierarchy of controls and where it is not reasonably practicable to modify the activity, the process, or the method of work to prevent health and/or safety risk.

What PPE to choose?

Understanding what work is to be conducted and what PPE is required is fundamental to ensuring the effectiveness of the PPE that is being considered for the task. For example, when working at height, head protection will be required. But workers not only require a helmet to protect their head from the risk of falling objects, but also need one suitable for protecting them should they fall from height, so having a retention system to avoid the helmet falling off is important.

PPE purchased and used must be designed and constructed specifically for safety. Employers should ensure the PPE they issue is fit for purpose and complies with the relevant British or European standard. Where appropriate, only CE marked PPE (and replacement components of PPE) should be purchased from a competent and recognised supplier who has the technical knowledge of the product and is able to provide advice and support. PPE should also be selected which does not interfere with other items of equipment (i.e. is compatible with other work wear). The aim should be to choose PPE that gives maximum protection whilst minimising discomfort to the wearer.

Inappropriate PPE has been featured in many news articles recently where inadequate facemasks were being shipped from China and not fit for purpose. Identifying the correct standard of PPE required ensures issues like this are avoided.

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) should, like all PPE, be a last resort. Issuing PPE to a worker may provide them with protection from serious injury and illness, but in most cases, this will provide protection against minor cuts and bruises etc.  RPE on the other hand will almost certainly be required to provide protection against the risk of very serious injury and illness, which may not become apparent in the short term;  RPE provides protection to “our breathing mechanism” which is essential for life.

RPE can be divided into two main categories:

  • Respirators (filtering devices) - make use of filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed (either powered or unpowered).
  • Breathing Apparatus - makes use of an independent supply of air suitable for breathing.

RPE will be required in the following circumstances:

  • When a risk of exposure to respiratory hazards remain in the workplace following the introduction of control measures.
  • Whilst the employer is implementing effective control measures.
  • In emergency circumstances.
  • For short term or very infrequent periods (maintenance work where controls would not be reasonably practical to implement).

When deciding on what RPE to choose it is good practice to involve the wearers in the selection of RPE process. What is comfortable and effective for one wearer may not be as comfortable and effective for another.

It is also very important that wearers of tight-fitting facepieces should have undertaken and passed a “face-fit test” specific to the RPE device to be used. The test should be repeated periodically and always following changes in circumstances such as an illness, a facial injury, or weight gain or weight loss.

A person wearing Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Storage, cleaning, and maintenance

PPE must be well looked after, cleaned prior to storage, and kept in good repair. It should be stored somewhere clean and dry and easily accessed by those that require it. RPE should be stored away from direct sunlight to prevent deterioration of the rubber components. 

It is also important there is a proper maintenance record for PPE and a record kept of maintenance required. Each manufacturer will provide a recommended maintenance schedule including for example, frequency of cleaning and when items should be replaced. This may be a monthly testing and inspection for items like RPE to ensure the effectiveness in providing continuous protection to the wearer. An annual maintenance inspection for some items such as ear defenders, or replacement at ‘end of life’ for items like helmets and fire-retardant PPE.

Employers should conduct regular inspections to ensure the PPE remains fit for purpose. Good practice and legal responsibility dictate the following should be adhered to when maintaining PPE and RPE:

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions
  • Use the manufacturer parts
  • Only competent persons should carry out the work
  • Keep records

Storage of PPE (helmets) on a wall


Everyone who is involved in selecting, storing, using, and maintaining PPE and RPE requires training prior to doing so, including any refresher requirements. This may be through formal training or the provision of information (e.g. Toolbox Talks, Manufacturer’s instructions, etc.)

They must understand the purpose of the PPE, the risks it protects against, the correct method of use and how to clean and maintain it.

They must also understand how to check for defects and how to report damaged or faulty items that are no longer serviceable to their employer.

RPE training, as a minimum, should specifically include the following:

  • The limitations of the RPE.
  • The hazards, risks, and exposure effect that the RPE is protecting against.
  • The type(s) and category of RPE available.
  • How the RPE provides protection.
  • Why (if) “fit testing” is required.
  • How to carry out pre-use checks on the RPE.
  • How to use the RPE operationally.
  • The maintenance required by the RPE and at what intervals.
  • After use cleaning, maintenance, and testing.
  • Storage.
  • Action to be taken if RPE is found to be faulty (reporting)
  • Employer/Employee responsibilities.
  • Examples of good and bad practice of use of RPE

PPE at MRS Training & Rescue – and the new additional COVID-19 measures

Most of our training courses include both classroom based training and practical training. Delegates who attend our practical training are required to provide their own PPE such as safety helmets, full length coveralls, hand protection and eye protection. It is important PPE is clean and safe to use.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic we have updated our PPE policy with regards to that which we supply to delegates, or they use, whilst on our training courses. The coronavirus disease is known to transmit from person to person through moist particles from breathing, coughing, and sneezing. The routes into the body can be from direct inhalation from an infected person or indirectly through transfer from contaminated surfaces including clothing, parts of the body and other surfaces.

So, for practical training that requires the use of RPE, each delegate will be issued with their own personal RPE set which will have been fully sanitised before use. And to minimise human contact, we ask each delegate to place the RPE in its bag at the end of each day which is then placed into a further disposable bag and tied off. It is then deep cleaned before re-use.

For classroom training, PPE such as safety helmets are not required. However, to protect against the spread of COVID-19 we ask that all those who attend our classroom training wear a medical grade face mask which we can provide. Where social distancing cannot be met i.e. practical training under supervision. Alternatively, delegates can wear a facemask issued to them by their employer. We also provide disposable gloves and encourage candidates to change them regularly or as required. These are only necessary for specific parts of the training only and can be discarded into lined bins when required. This is supplemented by strategically placed hand sanitisation stations.

Additional COVID-19 measures for PPE in an MRS classroom

At MRS we also hold stock of the following essential items including PPE items which are replenished weekly as necessary:

  • Alcohol based hand sanitising gel (minimum alcohol 70%)
  • Liquid soap (tablets should not be used)
  • Tissues
  • Toilet rolls
  • Bin bags
  • Cleaning products
  • Equipment cleaning fluid
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Disposable Nitrile Gloves
  • Disposable Respirators
  • Disposable Medical Face Masks
  • Disposable Coveralls


If you have any other specific questions about the way we are using PPE at our training centres and courses, do give us a call.

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For media enquiries or any other further information about MRS Training and Rescue, please email headoffice@mrsl.co.uk or call us on 01623 423 777

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