Collective protective measures protect everyone or a group of people. They can be put in place once, and control the risk for many. Personal protective measures protect an individual. Each user needs to activate it to protect themselves.
Despite the title of this post, you don't just have to pick one or the other. You can use collective protective measures with personal ones. Or, using of type of control might eliminate the need to use another. In this post we will look at examples of each, and when one type is better than the other.
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees from harm, but deciding on the right control measures is often a question of assessment, judgement, guidance and experience. The law doesn't tell you what control measures to use, but it does require employers (and the self-employed) to reduce the risk as low as is reasonably practicable (ALARP).
So when should you use collective controls? And when might personal protection be better?
Collective measures are called collective because they protect more than one person. They protect a group, or even everyone, doing the task. For example, if you are working at height, then using a scaffold gives everyone on site safe access.
of or shared by every member of a group of people:
Usually, collective protective measures are the best option, and should always be considered first. Not only because they protect many, but also because they don't usually require action by the individuals using them.
For example, if your team is working on a roof, then edge protection around the perimeter will protect everyone from falls. A physical barrier is put in place at the start of the project, and anyone who accesses the roof benefits from its protection, without needing to take further action. An alternative personal protection measure could be a harness and a lanyard. But each user who accessed the roof area needs to remember to wear their harness and clip on to a safe anchor point each time they access the roof area.
Collective control measures should always take priority over personal control measures. Collective measures protect more than one person at any one time, eg scaffolds, airbags, nets etc and they are usually passive (ie they require no action by the user to work effectively).
When should you use collective control measures? Well, as much as possible. Collective protective measures benefits are that they:
So collective controls should be prefered over personal controls. If you can use a collective control measure, to protect everyone, then it makes sense to do that. It will help ensure that you have reduced risk as low as possible, and protected as many people as you can.
Personal protective measures or personal controls are, well, personal. Often referred to as PPE (personal protective equipment). Instead of protecting a collective or group of people, they protect an individual. For example, ear defenders only give the person wearing them hearing protection.
Just because personal protective measures only protect the user, doesn't mean they shouldn't be used, or that you should only use collective measures. Sometimes, only personal protective measures may be practical. Or some risk may remain after using a collective measure.
For example, if you have people working overhead, you may have scaffold up with netting. This may give some protection to the people working below from falling objects. But it doesn't completely eliminate the risk. Hard hats can be worn to give extra protection, and a rule enforced that they must be worn by everyone on site.
Personal control measures rely upon personal protective equipment and only protect the user, eg fall-arrest harnesses. They are usually active (ie they require the user to do something for them to work effectively, such as clipping PPE lanyard onto an anchorage point at all times).
Going back to our hearing protection, there might not be a collective protection measure available for protecting everyone from noise at work. Once machinery noise has been reduced as much as possible, with equipment selection and enclosures, ear defenders might be the only option remaining.
When should you use personal protective measures? Usually, after collective measures have been considered or implemented and there is still some residual risk remaining. Benefits to personal controls are that they are:
Here are 50 reasons you should wear and use PPE.
Often, the best way to control a hazard and reduce risk is through a combination of controls. You don't have to pick one against the other. You can use both types together to give the best level of protection.
Collective protective measures are great because they benefit everyone and usually work without anyone needing to take action. But personal protective measures can also be a great way to reduce risk as low as possible and keep your workforce safe.
PPE, or personal protective measures, is the last line of defence against a hazard. While it shouldn't be your first choice when controlling risks, it can give added protection for any remaining level of risk, or should other controls fail.
When using controls together, always make sure they are compatible with each other and don't introduce other hazards or risks.
If you are wondering which risks you need to control first, use the free risk assessment calculator to find out where risk is highest. And check out our risk assessment templates for help with your paperwork.