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4 Tips for Replacing Your Personal Protective Equipment


Although personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense to protect workers from hazards encountered on the job, it is often required depending on the task, organizational policies, and regulatory requirements. However, it can wear out over time and become less effective. It’s important to regularly inspect all PPE and replace it when it’s damaged or expired. From gloves and boots to hard hats and fall protection, here are four tips to help you decide when to replace your PPE.  

1. Look for Signs of Wear

Training workers on inspecting PPE for signs of damage or wear and tear can help ensure equipment is well-maintained. According to OSHA, each time a worker uses PPE, they should inspect it for signs of wear and tear including the following:  

  • Damage: Look for rips, tears, holes, cracks, and indentions or discoloration.
  • Expiration Date: Many types of PPE have a date set by the manufacturer, after which it shouldn't be used. 
  • Fit: Does the equipment still fit properly?
  • Missing Parts: Is it lacking fuel, filters, straps, locks, security devices or other resources?

OSHA has specific PPE requirements for different safety devices like harnesses and helmets, regarding the inspection, handling and acceptable condition. To remain compliant and help keep your team safe, understand the requirements and ensure they are always met. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and storing PPE is also important to help prolong the life of the equipment and ensure that it is always ready to use.

Follow the tips below for guidelines on when to consider replacing specific types of PPE: 

Head Protection

Remove and replace any hard hats with a perforation, cracking or deformed brim or shell or if it shows signs of damage from exposure to heat, chemicals or ultraviolet light and other radiation. Always replace a hard hat if it sustains an impact, even if the damage is not noticeable. While OSHA doesn’t provide a specific date or recommended number of years, OSHA hard hat expiration rules are based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines, which advise users to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding service life. For example, many manufacturers recommend replacing the suspension every 12 months and replacing the hard hat shell 2-5 years after the date of manufacture, depending on the use and work environment.


According to OSHA, safety footwear should be inspected before each use. Shoes and leggings should be checked for cracks or holes, material separation, broken buckles or laces. Soles should also be inspected for pieces of metal or other embedded material that could cause electrical or tripping hazards. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintenance of safety footwear.


Industrial Safety & Hygiene News identifies many signs that safety gloves may need replacing, including frayed materials, worn spots, changing fit, peeling coatings, brittle materials, and stains or discoloration. Keep gloves with stains, rips, holes or worn spots out of rotation.

Hearing Protection

The lifespan differs among types of hearing protection.  According to OSHA, the foam seal on earmuffs, the flanges on rubber earplugs and the body of foam earplugs all lose their elasticity over time. Protection properties can be diminished with increased wear, and the earmuffs headband can also relax over time, so it no longer provides a snug fit. Although foam plugs can be washed in mild soap and water several times, they should be changed daily, especially in dusty or oily environments. Avoid removing ear protection with dirty hands if they are expected to be reused since it can cause ear infections. Plugs that cannot be cleaned must be replaced.

Fall Protection

OSHA requires a fall protection system inspection before each use. Check for mildew and signs of wear, including rips or frays in the webbing or straps. Corrosion, cracking or rusting of metal parts, discoloration and frayed or broken stitching are also important to look for. Harnesses and other types of fall protection should be replaced if labels are missing or illegible, or if the impact indicator is ripped or stretched. Any equipment that has experienced a fall incident should be removed from service and immediately replaced. 


OSHA requires employers to provide a respirator cartridge change schedule that states how often cartridges should be replaced and what information is used to make this judgment. A cartridge’s service life depends upon many factors, including environmental conditions, breathing rate, filtering capacity and the number of contaminants in the air.

Protective Eyewear

Damaged safety glasses can increase your risk of injury. Choosing the right protective eyewear is a thorough process that considers the task, environment and user's features. Frames and elastic bands should be replaced when they become worn or broken. Additionally, if your safety glasses become scratched or outdated (older than five years), they could lack protective features or functionality that can improve your visibility or on-the-job safety and should be replaced. 

2. Create and Inspection Protocols and Standards 

It’s important to regularly inspect and maintain PPE since identifying the replacement period isn’t always straightforward. Some gear may not show visible damage, even when it’s due for a replacement. Establishing procedures for disposing of faulty gear so it doesn’t accidentally end up back in use can help ensure PPE is kept in safe working condition.

Create an inspection checklist including the following:

  • A brief description of each item
  • Serial and model numbers
  • Name of the inspector
  • Manufacture date
  • Inspection date

All this information should be accompanied by the signature or initials of the safety inspector who conducted the examination. 

3. Establish a PPE Grading System

Next, create a grading system that sets a threshold for how equipment should be inspected, graded and when it should be replaced. Setting an audit period for when equipment will be inspected, either before a shift or before equipment is handed out, is an important part of ensuring your PPE continues to offer the proper protection. For example, if a safety helmet is inspected and given a “Grade A,” it is still in acceptable working condition. However, if given a “Grade D,” the helmet is worn out and needs to be replaced and disposed of immediately. Assigning certain grades and conditions to specific job sites, tasks or environments can help ensure your workers receive the proper protection against on-the-job hazards.

4. Consider Company Issued vs. Personally Supplied PPE

OSHA requires employers to provide employees with PPE appropriate for the hazards they face in the workplace and at the employer’s expense in almost all cases. However, in some instances, like using N95 respirators or protective eyewear, it’s important to note whether the safety equipment is selected and supplied by the employee or is issued from company inventory. Company-issued safety gear may be kept on-site or in storage and distributed before work starts. Safety gear may also go back and forth with the workers, posing another potential storage and maintenance issue. These scenarios are important to consider when determining your PPE inspection and maintenance schedule. For example, according to OSHA, if an employee brings a respirator to use voluntarily, the employer is responsible for ensuring the employee-supplied respirator is permissible. The employer must also ensure the employee is trained to properly clean, store and maintain the respirator so it doesn’t create additional health hazards for the user. 

For more help in managing your PPE program, contact Grainger's Environmental, Health & Safety Services team.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How often should safety equipment be replaced?

A: The frequency with which safety equipment should be replaced depends on the type of equipment and the hazards it is designed to protect against. For example, safety gloves may need to be replaced every few months, while hard hats may only need to be replaced every few years.

Q: Does PPE expire?

A: Yes, some types of PPE do expire. It is important to check the expiration date on all PPE before using it. However, not all PPE has an expiration date. For example, neither OSHA nor ANSI sets a mandated expiration date on fall protection harnesses. While some manufacturers provide guidelines for inspection and replacement, the best way to determine if PPE is expired or beyond its usable lifespan is through regular inspections.

Q: How do you properly dispose of damaged PPE?

A: Avoid throwing damaged PPE away since it could pose a hazard to others. Instead, contact your employer or the equipment manufacturer to find out how to dispose of it properly. The proper disposal method will depend on the type of PPE and the local regulations, but it could include recycling or hazardous waste disposal.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.