Almost every job has at least some risk, but in environments where the potential for injury or accident is high, employers and managers are responsible for issuing PPE that adheres to professional standards, quality controls and workplace legislation.
Occupations with elevated risks, such as positions in construction (see construction site security), highways (see highway security) workers or healthcare settings, need appropriate PPE to reduce the possibility of an incident occurring and mitigate the outcomes if an accident does happen.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that, of the average 70,000 reportable accidents per year, a large volume could be prevented by issuing suitable PPE in compliance with legal responsibilities.
What Counts as PPE?
PPE (personal protective equipment) covers a huge range of devices, clothing and safety gear that can protect the wearer. That could include:
- Hard hats
- Eye goggles
- Aprons and visors
- Ear defenders
- Lone worker alarms
- High-vis clothing
- Cut-resistant gloves
Any equipment or worn item issued to an individual to safeguard their welfare may be considered PPE, which can be used to protect against dangerous materials/activities, or security risks.
General PPE might comprise a high-vis jacket and hard hat. Still, many industries also require specialised clothing or equipment adherent to regulations or standards that offer an advanced level of protection.
Are Employers Legally Obligated to Provide Staff With PPE?
Much depends on the scenario, the workplace, and the risks present, but in most cases, employers are responsible for providing PPE suitable for every staff member.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations clearly states that every employer is responsible for ensuring that they furnish employees with PPE if there is a health and safety risk.
There are no exceptions, although the degree of PPE will depend on risk assessment outcomes and other controls or procedures that adequately address any potential hazards or where alternative measures are more effective.
If the employer cannot remove the health and safety risk without PPE, they are legally obligated to provide workers with appropriate equipment.
Employers cannot charge their staff for PPE if the equipment is only required for work, so employees should never expect to have to cover the costs of protective clothing or hard hats, for example, if they are not for personal use and are necessary to protect their safety while fulfilling their duties.
However, it’s not enough to just provide PPE – the use of it should be enforced. In fact, there are a number of PPE detection and compliance to ensure that staff are compliant with PPE requirements to protect your staff and mitigate risks.
Who Provides PPE for Self-Employed Workers and Contractors?
In some scenarios, contractors or third-party engineers may work on-site, and employers are often unsure about the correct policy in terms of PPE. A similar lack of understanding applies to agency workers.
The regulations cover this area as follows:
- Agency workers are classed as employees from a health and safety perspective and should be provided with the same level of PPE as any permanent staff member.
- Self-employed contractors are normally required to supply their own PPE. They may also need to provide evidence that their PPE meets workplace standards, such as ISO or BS certifications; in the same way, they may be asked to submit proof of sufficient professional indemnity insurance.
Because self-employed workers usually provide services to various clients, they tend to have their own PPE supplies. Still, they can reasonably be asked to use or wear more advanced PPE when working on a higher-risk site and where necessary to meet specific health and safety requirements.
Employer Responsibilities for PPE
One of the typical grey areas is where an employer may presume that the presence of PPE is sufficient. However, PPE is a ‘last resort’ where there is a risk that the manager or owner cannot remove through any other means.
The first priority is control measures such as erecting concrete barriers to prevent cars from crossing median lines and impacting highway workers.
PPE is used to reduce unavoidable risks and should always be supported with a professional risk assessment that sets out where and why PPE is required and to what extent. If a manufacturing site produces dust, for example, and cannot remove this altogether with air quality control measures, they may need to issue staff with masks, respiratory protection, or eye goggles.
Rules for Charging Employees for PPE
Employers bear the duty of sourcing, supplying, and paying for PPE – all equipment should carry a UKCA or CE mark to adhere to the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations.
They are also required to ensure every PPE item fits the wearer correctly and cannot levy any cost to the employee, regardless of whether they need to order a non-standard size or replace PPE that has become worn or defective.
The employer or assigned supervisor must document which workers are exposed to which risks, for how long, and how often, and ensure their PPE is sufficient.
Employee Training in PPE Usage
Workers must receive training on how to use their PPE correctly and effectively and know how to detect and report a suspected fault. Where PPE is a daily part of work life, complacency is common, and policies are important to ensure staff remain protected from potential hazards.
If PPE becomes damaged, is worn incorrectly, or is not used at all, it cannot be effective, so workplace policies should cover the following:
- PPE inspections before every use
- Cleaning, maintenance and storage
- Regular servicing or replacements
- Safety signage and PPE reminders
- Enforcement protocols to check PPE is being used
If a task changes or an employee undertakes new duties, their assigned PPE should also be revised to ensure it remains fit for purpose.
There may be environments where specific PPE items are necessary for work on particular lines or within areas such as zones with corrosive chemicals or high levels of noise. Therefore, employees may have varying PPE depending on where they work and the tasks they carry out.
The new regulations came into force in April 2022 and reinforced employers’ obligations to safeguard their workers.
Failing to meet PPE requirements can be a serious criminal offence, and the HSE has the right to conduct PPE assessments during a routine inspection, so it is essential for employers to be fully aware of their responsibilities.