Provision of personal protective equipment

23 April 2020 | Shabir Karatella

The Law

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 require employers to provide all personal protective equipment (PPE) deemed to be necessary to their staff, in order to ensure their safety whilst carrying out their duties.

Employers must carry out a risk assessment to identify potential hazards and risks of the environment they are working in, the equipment they are using and the job activities themselves. Once this assessment has been carried out and risks identified, the employer must put in place control measures to remove, reduce or control the risks to an acceptable level. The last option under the hierarchy of controls is to provide PPE.   

Where the risk assessment has identified risks, and other control measures do not necessarily remove or reduce the risks, then employers are required to supply appropriate and suitable protective equipment. Most commonly, these will include ear defenders (to guard against loss of hearing from working in a noisy area), eye goggles (where activities involve flying debris or chemical splashes), protective gloves (to protect against handling dangerous/corrosive materials), hard hats (to protect against falling objects) and protective boots (where there is a risk of slippery floors, sharp objects on the floor, objects falling on feet or where there is vehicular traffic causing a risk of running over their feet).

Employees duties

Employees are under an express duty (imposed by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974), as well as an implied duty to safeguard their own safety as well as that of their colleagues. This means that employees must follow all safety guidelines/advice at work and use the protective equipment when working and in the correct manner. Failure to do that can be viewed as misconduct matter, leading to formal disciplinary proceedings.

Comments

It is worth noting that it is the employers’ duty to purchase and pay for all protective equipment that is deemed to be necessary. Having purchased and supplied these to the employees, further duties are imposed on employers. The employer must then provide adequate training and instruction in the safe and correct use of the equipment. The equipment will be rendered futile if employees do not know how to use it correctly. It is recommended that employers ask their staff to confirm that they have been instructed in the correct use of the equipment, and records to be retained as part of the employees training records.

This equipment must then be serviced and maintained correctly in accordance with the manufacturers’ guidelines, with records maintained.

Employers should be mindful that the introduction of such equipment may be met with initial hostility especially from those of longstanding service, and it is important that employees are consulted and instructed to use the equipment, and the safety advantages emphasised. Individuals will react differently, and it would be useful for the employer to source a variety of equipment for trial by the employees.

In light of the Covid-19 virus outbreak, an employer may ask an employee to use gloves or a mask to cover the mouth and nose, even if the job activity itself does not require it. Where employees return to work from a period of isolation, the employer would be acting responsibly by asking employees to wear a mask in order to minimise the impact on other staff and to reassure them. Although the use of masks is not mandatory under current government and medical advice, and the effectiveness of masks to protect against the virus remain unproved, it may be prudent, and they may serve a useful purpose. Maintenance of personal hygiene and hand washing routines may also be useful.  Unless the employee has a legitimate medical condition or has a beard which rendered a mask less than effective, employees would be required to follow a reasonable instruction.

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