What are the types of PPE?

24th February 2020 by Eve Johnson

In this article

  • The types of PPE

  • Types of skin protection

  • Types of respiratory protection

  • Eyewear

  • Head protection

  • Ear protection

  • Foot protection

  • Hand and arm protection

  • High visibility clothing

  • Fall protection systems

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to all equipment (e.g. devices, appliances and associated accessories) that is worn by an individual, in order to provide protection against one or more health or safety risks, whilst at work. There are two types of PPE these include simple and complex.

  • Simple personal protective equipment – this refers to equipment that has a basic design model, it protects against lower risk hazards. It is reasonable to assume with this type of PPE that the user – is aware of the hazards, can see the risk gradually increasing and is able to make an assessment and safely identify the need for PPE to be worn.

  • Complex personal protective equipment – this refers to equipment that it more of a technical design and provides protection against fatal or serious risk. With this type of PPE the user cannot identity the hazard in sufficient time and is immediately exposed to hazards that have irreversible effects.

Did you know, according to PPE.org – Around 9,000 personal protective equipment related accidents are reported to the health and safety executive every single year.

The types of PPE

There are many different types of PPE for the body and depending on the job type. Therefore it is important to know what equipment is out there to use and to help keep you safe. The following types of PPE is available:

  • Skin protection (e.g. protective clothing)

  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

  • Eye protection (e.g. goggles)(RPE)

  • Head protection (e.g. safety helmets)

  • Ear protection (e.g. earplugs)

  • Foot protection (e.g. steel toecap boots)

  • Hand and arm protection (e.g. gloves)

  • Body protection (e.g. high-visibility clothing)

  • Fall protection (e.g. safety harnesses).

Types of skin protection

There are three main types of whole-body skin protection

  • Separates – these only cover part of the body (e.g. jackets or trousers).

  • Aprons – these only cover part of the body.

  • Overalls, coveralls, body suits, boiler suits and chemical suits – these cover the whole body, and may be reusable or disposable.

For leg protection (as well as trousers), there is also;

  • Knee pads.

  • Gaiters – these cover the shins.

  • Hard fibre or metal guards, which help to protect against some impact hazards.

For skin protection to be effective;

  • Protective clothing must be suitable for the hazard (e.g. chemical resistance and protection against physical hazards can vary widely).

  • Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed (e.g. do not use chemical resistance for longer than the recommended breakthrough times, and clean as to not damage its effectiveness).

  • Worn or contaminated clothing must be stored separately from clean clothing.

  • Check for surface damage, which could reduce its effectiveness.

  • Do not wear loose clothing near moving machinery, if there is a chance that it could get caught.

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Types of respiratory protection

Respiratory PPE helps to protect the entire internal respiratory system, it prevents anything from entering the mouth. Respiratory protection also helps to protect the outside of the mouth and face, this is because of the way it is designed. There are two main types of respiratory protection these include:

  • Breathing apparatus – These are used for high-risk work activities where breathing in the contaminated air could be fatal, as well as when there is a chance that the air could become deficient of oxygen

  • Respirators – These filter out contaminates from workplace air and there are three types of respirators these include – Simple filtering face piece respirator (disposable mask) Respirator (full face or half face reusable mask) Power-assisted respirators.


These help protect the mucus membranes of the eyes, as well as help to reduce the risk of foreign objects entering the eyes and damaging them. There are three main types of eye protection, these are

  • Safety glasses – These are effective for flying objects heading straight towards the face, but they are not effective for vapours and dust that can enter the eyes.

  • Goggles – They are effective at protecting the eyes from all angles, as the rim is in contact with the face

  • Face shields and visors – These can be worn with prescription glasses underneath, and they help to protect the whole face.

Head protection

Head protection can protect the head from physical hazards, they can also protect other parts of the upper body, such as the neck, hair, nose and ears. There are two main types of head protection that are used in the workplace, these are:

  • Industrial safety helmets – These protect the head from falling objects such as – tree-felling, building and construction and blasting at a quarry.

  • Bump caps – These protect the head from being bumped, they are useful for maintenance personnel working under machinery and plumbers working under pipework. However, the do not offer adequate protection from the risk of a falling object.

Firefighter helmets are similar to industrial safety helmets, however they cover more of the head and give greater protection against impact, heat and flames.

Did you know – Turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from the requirement to wear head protection in any work place.

Ear protection

There are three main types of ear protection, these include:

  • Ear defenders (ear muffs) – The cups are lined with a sound absorbing material, this helps to reduce the level of noise to the ears

  • Ear plugs – These fit into the ear canal and form a seal, they also can have a cord on them, that you can put behind the back of the neck, to help prevent them from becoming lost.

  • Canal caps – These are similar to ear plugs, however they offer less protection they are suitable for operations where earplugs would be frequently taken out and put back in.

Foot protection

There are two common types of foot protection, they both offer a variety of protection, these are:

  • Safety boots and shoes – They come with slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant midsoles, protective toe caps.

  • Wellington boots – These are suitable for people who work in wet conditions, they are normally made from rubber, they also come with slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant midsoles, protective toe caps.

Hand and arm protection