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How Long Does PPE Last? (Probably Not As Long As You Think)

How long does PPE last? Well, it may not be as long as you think - there is a recommended lifetime for every piece of safety equipment but it is determined under assumption of best practice and ideal conditions.

Ideally, work boots would last 6-12 months on the job; hard hats and ear defenders should last up to 5 years in their original packaging and up to 5 years in the workplace and eye protection should last up to 3 years - but it really all depends on how the equipment is used, stored and cared for.

General Rules of Thumb

It would be impossible to cover every single type of PPE with a general article, but here are some quick rules as to when your equipment should be replaced.

Most of these tips involve common sense, remembering that the important factor is safety, and if any part of your equipment is defective or damaged, it is no longer safe and will need replacing.

With that in mind, always...

  • Replace any equipment that is damaged, defective, or worn out.
  • Replace if equipment is cracked, gouged, excessively scratched, ill-fitting, or broken.
  • Replace equipment if exposed to excess dust, sunlight, humidity, extreme cold/heat, and chemicals.
  • Replace equipment that is heavily soiled or anything damaged from UV rays, chemicals, sunlight, or tearing (for clothing).
  • Replace anything that no longer works to provide safety to the wearer.
  • Replace equipment by its “shelf life” at the maximum.
  • Always throw away disposable PPE (ear plugs, gloves, dust masks & respiratory filters, etc.) after use.
  • To lengthen the shelf life of your PPE, maintain and clean equipment regularly, and store your equipment properly.
  • Inspect PPE equipment on a schedule, and make regular checklists to ensure you are meeting the highest safety standards.

Here are some common types of PPE and what to do with them.

How Long Do Hard Hats Last?

Your hard hat can last a really long time if it is taken care of, but with the hazardous nature of work that requires hard hats, that is not always a reality.

Hard hats can last up to 5 years "on the shelf" (ie: in original undamaged packaging) maximum, and can then last up to 5 years "in work", but it is recommended that you replace your safety helmets every 2-3 years - and immediately if they sustain impact.

If debris collides with your hard hat, it will no longer be effective protection for your head and you will require a new one.

Inspect your suspensions regularly, looking for tears, frays and cuts. Suspensions need replacing every 12 months regardless of wear.

Inspect your hat to ensure there are no cracks or gouges. If your hat is exposed to lots of sunlight, UV rays, extreme temperatures or chemicals, you should look out for signs such as colour fading, peeling or flaking and expect the lifespan to decrease.

If your hard hat shell shows any signs of the above, it is not safe and needs replacing.

To prolong it's life, your hard hat should be washed daily according to the manufacturers instructions and air dried at the end of your shift.

And as tempting as it may be, don't sit on it at tea-break.

How Long Does Hi-Vis Clothing Last?

High visibility clothing is made of a fluorescent (day-glow) material with a light reflective tape. It's ability to function as hi-vis depends entirely on it being kept in good condition.

In good light and twilight, the chromacity or colour intensity of the fabric allows the eye to pick it out of the background easier and at a greater distance.

In low light and dark conditions, other light sources (car headlights, street lamps, etc) are reflected from the tape to create a highly visible area, again, easily picked out by the eye from backgrounds.

If either of these properties is compromised, the hi-vis is no longer functioning correctly and action needs to be taken. Hi-vis clothing needs to be cleaned regularly to ensure dirt does not compromise the chromacity or reflectivity, lowering the size of the effective area.

However, due to the reflective tapes containing glass beads, hi-vis tends to have a maximum number of washes. This maximum wash information would be contained in the data sheet accompanied with the garment at purchase.

Hi-vis clothing needs to be replaced when it is faded, torn, dirty, soiled, worn, defaced, or not visible. The expected life of hi-vis garments is determined by the number of washes - washed once a week, it would last approx 6 months, washed once a month, it would last 2 years.

Look out for the reflective tape becoming patchy. This happens as repeated washing takes the glass beads out - and without the glass beads, the tape does not reflect, making it useless for it's purpose.

If the safety of the hi-vis garment is questionable, replace it. Clothing can wear out more quickly with regular use, exposure to sunlight, heat, and strenuous work that leads to soiling and tears.

How Long Do Goggles and Safety Glasses Last?

Most goggles and safety glasses can technically last up to 3 years, but there is a grey area between when something is usable and when safety has been compromised.

In high-dust environments containing metal grinding sparks, dirt, sawdust, or other airbourne particulates for, safety eyewear can be gradually scratched over time, creating a sort of haze that impairs visibility.

They may not be entirely compromised from their purpose of protecting eyes from flying debris, but reduced visibility can create a different safety concern.

It is important to check for damage regularly - before each shift at minimum. Any pitted, scratched, broken, bent, or ill-fitting glasses should be replaced. If there are damaged parts, replace only with the same manufacturer-issued parts to ensure the same safety rating and compatability.

Most definitely replace safety eyewear after 3 years if they are in circulation, no matter the condition, as the materials they are made from tend to degrade with time.

So The "How Long" Question Can Not Necessarily Be Answered With Time.

Safety is absolutely the most important factor; after all, that is why PPE is around in the first place.

Your PPE will last longer with care, but make sure you check all equipment and items regularly to ensure the highest degree of safety for yourself and those around you.

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