Protective clothing or personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, is specialized protective clothing, masks, eye protection, or any other protective gear or equipment designed to safeguard the body of the person from infection or injury. Such hazards addressed by protective clothing include heat, chemical, physical, or biohazards. The term protective clothing covers a wide range of protective products for the different types of hazards and emergencies. This equipment varies in degree of strength and capability to provide effective protection.
There are many reasons why employers require the use of protective clothing in the workplace. First, workers must have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to respond appropriately to hazardous conditions in the workplace. Employers may choose from a variety of PPE products depending on the nature and degree of the workplace hazard that requires protection. For example, there are protective clothing for chemicals on the job; high-pressure equipment for oil and gas platforms and related work; electrical hazards such as electrical shock and electrocution; and physical hazards such as burns, cuts, and slips. Therefore, it is not enough for an employer to consider the hazards of each type of worker in the workplace; he or she must also assess and determine what type of PPE would be most beneficial in each specific situation.
Employers should also consider the cost of buying and maintaining protective clothing for every individual who will wear them. The cost of buying and maintaining protective clothing vary according to the hazard faced in the workplace. Protective clothing is worn by employees to work to increase workers' vulnerability to risks of injuries. Protective clothing items are designed to give the employee a higher level of self-protection than those items worn on the skin. However, it is possible that these protective clothing may do more harm than good because they are often not properly maintained. For instance, an employee may wear a PPE that is ill-fitting and thus expose himself or herself to unnecessary risks; or an employee may wear protective clothing that is of poor quality but that does not help protect him or her from hazardous behaviors or conditions in the workplace.
Employees should always remember that although protective clothing help reduces workplace injuries, they cannot prevent or treat all workplace hazards. Protective clothing only helps employees to minimize the risks of particular hazards. For instance, protective clothing that guards against falls is futile if an employee is unable to identify and defend himself against a fall. Similarly, an employee who is wearing a PPE that secures him from crushing his leg against something when he steps on a slippery floor may be at a higher risk of slipping and falling than an employee without the PPE. The employer, therefore, has to balance the benefits against the risks in deciding whether to require employees to wear protective clothing.
In addition, employees may need to consider the relative costs of using protective clothing against the costs of avoiding workplace hazards. Protective clothing is more expensive than other alternatives, such as avoiding risky behaviors and environments; and taking basic safety precautions, such as wearing the appropriate clothing and ensuring he or she is well-trained in how to use protective clothing. This may not necessarily mean that employees will necessarily have lower health care costs after they are mandated to wear protective clothing in the workplace. However, employers may need to weigh the costs of protective clothing against the costs of avoiding hazardous behaviors, accidents, and exposure to workplace hazards to determine whether the benefits of protective clothing outweigh the costs of providing workers with protective clothing.