PPE in the workplace: what’s the law?

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Whether you’re a frontline NHS worker, an office cleaner or a chef, being protected against injury and/or infection is essential. So whose responsibility is it to provide workers with PPE?

What is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)?

Personal Protective Equipment is equipment that protects the wearer against health or safety risks in the workplace. It can include items such as gloves, face masks, eye goggles, helmets, safety footwear, high-visibility clothing and even harnesses.

PPE protects a person from external elements. For example, builders wear helmets on building sites and cleaners wear gloves to protect themselves against germs and hazardous products. PPE doesn’t just protect the wearer; it helps stop the spread of bacteria from them to those around them. It’s particularly important for those working in food production and in hospitals.

Does my employer have to provide PPE?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that an employer should do everything that is “reasonably practicable” to safeguard their employees and those affected by their operations.

It’s an employer’s responsibility to assess the risks that are present in their workplace and act accordingly. In the news recently, you will have seen that employers are having to make provision for employees against the risk of infection from coronavirus. This isn’t necessarily something employers had to consider previously and so we’re seeing reports of a lack of PPE available.

Employers must take appropriate measures to lessen this risk of infection or spread of infection. This should also take vulnerabilities such as pregnancy into account.

What is the law regarding PPE?

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 state that where is unavoidable occupational risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways, the regulations require PPE to be supplied.

In terms of healthcare workers, which is particularly topical at the moment, Public Health England have requirements which apply to different NHS personnel:

  • Those who work within one metre of a patient with possible or confirmed Covid-19 should be provided with a surgical facemask, apron, gloves and eye protection.
  • Staff delivering or assisting with an aerosol generating procedure in Intensive Care Units emergency departments should be provided with an FFP3 respirator, a long-sleeved disposable gown, gloves and eye protection.

What about the quality and storage of protective equipment?

The regulations also require that PPE is properly assessed before use to make sure it’s fit for purpose.

Incorrect use of PPE can put workers risk; for example, a face mask that is too big will not protect the user’s face as its use intends.

Another important factor is the storage, life cycle and disposal of PPE. Items must be stored correctly to prevent contamination. They should also be in date (where relevant) and not damaged (i.e. holes in gloves).

Further information

There is plenty of focus on PPE and its availability, particularly for NHS workers, in the news at the moment. However, this is an ongoing point of concern for employers and employees alike.

If you’re an employer seeking advice on how best to protect your employees, our employment law team can help. We work with businesses and employers all over the UK from our six offices across Bristol and the surrounding area.

As an employee, if you feel your employer has failed to adequately protect you and/or you’ve been injured as a result of a lack of correct PPE, you may be able to claim for PPE compensation. Our specialist personal injury lawyers offer a no obligation, ‘no win, no fee’ consultation to talk about your options and how best to help you move forwards.

Call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form, and a member of our team will be in touch.


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