Employers are obliged to provide their staff with personal protective equipment (PPE), if needed, as part of health and safety legislation.
PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
The urgent need for PPE came into sharp focus with the arrival of Covid-19 in early 2020. It became apparent very quickly that healthcare workers needed to protect themselves from aerosol or droplet transmission of the virus and the risk of picking it up from contaminated surfaces. The same was true for all businesses where staff had to be present in their workplace, where the premises were shared with other people. This included people working in vehicles such as delivery drivers, taxi and bus drivers and driving instructors, and many more.
In this blog we will explain the regulations that may apply to you and how to ensure you meet them.
- What are the regulations about PPE?
- How do you know if PPE is required?
- What type of PPE do I need to use?
- Can the PPE at work regulations be enforced?
What are the regulations about PPE?
Every employer must take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and health of their workforce, in their place of employment.
It has long been the case that the supply of PPE to employees exposed to risk is a legal duty. The requirement to protect is not limited to health and care workers but all employees across all sectors.
UK law places an obligation on employers to provide and maintain a safe place of work, a safe system of work and safe and adequate equipment for the job. A failure to take reasonable steps to provide and maintain any of these can entitle the employee to sue for damages if injured or made ill by the failure.
There are statutory duties to maintain a safe workplace, provide adequate washing facilities, make proper risk assessments, and report the contraction of disease at work.
It is a criminal offence on the part of the employer to breach these duties.
The rules relating to the provision of PPE come under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
Employers should, therefore, provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and training in its usage to their employees wherever there is a risk to health and safety that cannot be controlled adequately by other means.
Employers must do more than simply have the PPE equipment on the premises to comply with the regulations. It must be readily available and easily accessible.
Imagine the risks to your business if you do not provide PPE to staff where hazards exist. They could be exposed to harmful chemicals, sparks from equipment malfunctions, exposure to potentially deadly viruses such as COVID-19 and so on.
If an employee is injured or even dies due to an incident that harmed them because they had not been provided with the correct PPE, under the law, then the fallout for your business could be fatal. You’d lose the trust of existing staff, find it challenging to recruit new talent, and if the incident gets into the public domain – which it almost certainly would – then the harm to your reputation could make you a pariah in your business and local community. Plus, your business would likely go bust.
How do you know if PPE is required?
The first thing you need to do is carry out a full risk assessment, so you’ll know how to provide a Covid-secure workplace. This audit must be carried out with a fine-tooth comb, so that every potential risk – whether it involves equipment, possible contaminants, deliveries, the movement of people around your premises – is accounted for.
In the wake of the coronavirus, you need to think about how the virus could enter your premises and spread among your employees. The UK may be well advanced in its vaccine programme, but with new mutations continually emerging this disease will likely remain a major concern for years to come.
When assessing the risks around Covid it’s essential to identify the types of work activity or situations that could cause transmission of the virus. You should also think about who could be at risk and decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a detailed guide to help you complete your Covid-19 risk assessment.
What type of PPE do I need to use?
Once you have completed your risk assessment, you will know the hazards and the employees at risk. This will enable you to identify the type of PPE you will need to use.
PPE will consist of items such as gloves and aprons for many staff, and some people may need masks and face/eye protection.
Regarding ensuring your workplace is Covid-secure, you’ll need to think about issuing face masks, encouraging people to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands, and provide a reputable, medical-grade hand sanitiser and/or hand sanitising stations. It may be worth considering a wearable hand sanitiser that is with the employee wherever they go.
The continuation of hand hygiene is vital. Even if people are socially distanced by the recommended two metres, they may come into contact with one another or touch contaminated surfaces – another way the virus can spread.
This is why managers of all types of venue must continue to enforce the message that hand hygiene is essential. They must establish a hand hygiene culture by providing adequate handwashing facilities, and where this is not possible hand sanitiser stations.
So, even with social distancing in place, it is crucial to discourage workers from using colleagues’ phones, desks, work tools, and other equipment. It is also a good idea to implement regular deep cleaning, provide anti-bacterial wipes, personal hand sanitiser devices, and ensure that you invest in high-quality training so that everyone understands what you are looking to achieve and the part they need to play to ensure colleagues and visitors’ safety and health.
All PPE issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be:
- Correctly fitted, taking into account an individual’s health condition, as well as body shape.
- Located within easy access of the employee’s workstation.
- Stored to prevent contamination in a clean/dry area until required for use.
- Disposed of after use into the correct waste bin/stream.
Can the PPE at work rules be enforced?
The short answer is yes. The Health and Safety Executive and Local Authority Environmental Health Officers are responsible for enforcing the legislation. If they find companies to be in breach of the regulations they can issue improvement notices, prohibition notices or prosecutions for the failure to provide PPE.