Personal Protective Equipment: Standards

Appropriate PPE that is to be used exclusively at a place of employment must be provided at no cost to the employee and must be worn by employees, as outlined below. PPE is mandated under state and federal law. Wearing proper PPE is mandatory, not optional, for all employees in the United States. Note: Employers, supervisors and employees can be cited by OSHA for noncompliance if PPE requirements are not met.

These are minimum standards. Employers may also require PPE to be used whenever they deem necessary, even if their requirements exceed the minimum standards.

  1. Foot protection must be worn as required to protect feet from injury or diseases due to physical or chemical agents. Foot protection not worn exclusively while on the job is usually provided by the employee. At a minimum, most workplaces should require enclosed footwear (shoes or boots) for proper protection. Rarely are flip-flops, sandals and heels acceptable.
  2. Head protection is required to be worn whenever hazards exist from overhead obstructions, flying objects, moving equipment or other potentially hazardous agents. On most construction sites and other industrial sites, hard hats are required to be worn at all times on job sites.
  3. Eye and face protection must be worn when welding, cutting, grinding, chipping, steam cleaning or performing any task where hazards from flying particulates or chemical exposure are present.
  4. Hearing protection must be worn as directed, whenever noise levels exceed regulatory limits or in an area where hearing protection signs are posted. Hearing protection may be required when exposures do not exceed occupational limits but the supervisor deems that protection will enhance the safety performance or productivity of the operation.
  5. Hand protection must be worn whenever hazards are present from extreme temperatures, chemicals, or physical agents that may cause injury or occupational disease. Employees must wear the appropriate glove for the hazard present. No one type of glove will protect against all hazards.
  6. Respiratory protection must be worn as assigned for any task involving hazardous airborne chemicals or other airborne hazardous agents. Refer to your written Respiratory Protection Program for information on specific requirements for use of respiratory protection equipment. Employees wearing respirators of any type must have formal fit testing and medical evaluations before wearing a respirator. Advance planning for this is necessary to be in proper compliance.
  7. OSHA requires PPE, but only as a last resort. Every employer must take measures to eliminate or reduce the hazard prior to providing PPE to protect the employee. OSHA calls this the “Hierarchy of Hazard Controls,” which comprises Elimination, Substitution, Engineering Controls, Administrative Controls, and Personal Protective Equipment. See more below.
  8. If the other control measures on the hierarchy are not sufficient, only then should PPE be used to protect against the hazards that are unavoidable.

PPE Is a Last Resort and Has Real Limitations

PPE is important. But it is your last line of defense, not your first. Instead, design processes first to reduce hazards. The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls explains the steps employers should take to reduce hazards in the workplace, usually depicted by a pyramid like below. The top levels are more effective than the bottom levels, but they can be more expensive. The lower levels may be easier to implement, but they often rely on everyone following rules – and we know that doesn’t always happen. Usually, a combination of the pyramid methods is needed to give adequate protection.



Elimination and Substitution involve getting rid of a hazard completely or finding an alternative that takes the hazard out of the equation.

  • Example: The noise from power tools is causing hearing damage. The solution may be replacing the power tools with quieter models – eliminating the noise hazard.

Engineering Controls include a physical change in the workplace.

  • Example: Workers are experiencing back pain from lifting materials from floor level to above their heads. The workstation is rearranged, so goods need only be lifted between knee and shoulder height, reducing the chance of injury.

Administrative / Work Practice Controls change the activities of people.

  • Example: Workers are experiencing heat exhaustion on hot summer days. When the temperature is above a certain degree, managers schedule rotating rest breaks, so workers can cool off, hydrate and avoid heat stress.

PPE is worn by workers to protect them from the hazard.

  • Example: Debris flying from a power cany get in a worker’s eyes. The operator is required to wear safety glasses to protect their eyes.