PPE at work– what is it and who must provide it?
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been at the forefront of our minds throughout the pandemic – just thinking about the doctors, nurses, cleaners, care home staff, and others who have worn full PPE at work every day for the past 23 months is enough to ensure our eternal gratitude to them.
But PPE doesn’t simply relate to protecting health workers during a pandemic. Protective equipment such as eye and ear protectors, gloves, steel-capped boots, safety helmets, respiratory protection masks, and full cover garments for workers removing asbestos and spraying chemicals all fall under the PPE label.
As you can imagine, PPE does not come cheap and failure to provide workers with adequate or faulty equipment and/or clothing can lead to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authorities and Employment Tribunal claims for constructive/unfair dismissal, discrimination, and breach of contract.
To help employers understand their responsibilities around PPE and the new regulatory changes coming into force in April 2022, our health and safety advisors have set out everything you need to know below.
Why is PPE important?
PPE is critical to managing health and safety in your workplace because even though you’ve carried out a risk assessment, identified risk and introduced safe systems of work, some hazards still remain – more so in certain sectors, for example the construction or manufacturing industry.
Ensuring a workplace is safe encompasses:
- Undertaking regular risk assessments and identifying risks,
- Providing adequate equipment (including PPE) to mitigate workers’ and the public’s exposure to the identified risks,
- Training workers in how to use such equipment and the importance of health and safety compliance,
- Having supervision in place to ensure all workers abide by your organisation’s health and safety rules, and
- Putting a system in place so defects in safety equipment are swiftly identified and fixed.
PPE should be used as a last resort after other controls are implemented. The HSE hierarchy of risk controls regarding safety measures are as follows:
- Elimination – physically remove the hazard
- Substitution – replace the hazard
- Engineering controls – isolate people from the hazard
- Administrative controls – change the way people work
- PPE – protect the worker with personal protective equipment
Who provides and pays for PPE?
The PPE regulations state:
“Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.”
If PPE is required in addition to other risk elimination or mitigation methods, you will need to provide it for employees and workers (more on this below).
How do employers ensure the PPE they purchase meets compliance standards?
When investing in PPE you need to be sure that it not only provides the protection users need but that it also meets regulatory standards. Make sure you purchase products marked with CE or UKCA as these comply with the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018.
It is also imperative that you train employees on how to put on and remove PPE correctly. For example, there is an art to taking off gloves without contaminating your skin in the process.
Storage of PPE is also an important consideration.
Have spare equipment available in case of damage and for visitors to the workplace to use when required. It is best practice to make one person responsible for checking all PPE is stored correctly after use and no defects are apparent. If an item of PPE is damaged, ensure the responsible person has the knowledge and contact details of a competent repair company.
What are the changes to PPE regulations coming into force in April 2022?
On 6 April 2022 the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (PPER 2022) come into force.
The main change you need to be aware of as an employer is that The PPER 2022 legislation extends the duty to provide PPE to workers (currently only employees). You need to carefully consider whether the change to UK law applies to you and your workforce and make the necessary preparations to comply.
What are limb (b) workers?
Fortunately, the people who draft legislation have provided a clear definition for the two categories of workers:
- Limb (a) describes those with a contract of employment. This group are employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and are already in scope of PPER 1992.
- Limb (b) describes people who are casual or irregular workers and work under a contract for service – they do not currently come under the scope of PPER 1992
Self-employed workers do not fall under the definition of limb (b) and must therefore provide their own PPE. The difficulty is, however, distinguishing between a self-employed person and a limb (b) worker as the distinction is often exceedingly narrow.
The changes to the PPE regulations will undoubtedly result in the need for the Employment Tribunal to provide clarity as to whether a person is a self-employed contractor or a limb (b) worker.
Speak to an expert
Primed Premium gives you unlimited access to health and safety advisors who can help you establish your PPE responsibilities, by completing risk assessments and helping you put the right PPE measures in place.
We also have a range of health and safety risk assessment templates and guidance available in Primed, our online system, including sector-specific risk assessments covering construction, engineering, agriculture, veterinary, and transport.
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