Personal Protective Equipment

  • Health & Safety
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll look at what personal protective equipment is, what the law covers, and how it's used to tackle hazards in your working environment.

Every business has specific hazards linked to their work practices. To minimise the risk of employees being harmed, you can safeguard them with 'personal protective equipment' (PPE).

PPE comes with all kinds of legal health and safety requirements. Failing to comply with any of these could lead to serious consequences. Like, injuring employees, paying compensation awards, and even facing business closure.

In this guide, we'll look at what personal protective equipment is, what the law covers, and how it's used to tackle hazards in your working environment.

What is personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are safety clothing or provisions used to reduce exposure to workplace hazards.

PPE can protect employees from biological, chemical, and physical risks. These will vary depending on what the job is, where it takes place, and how tasks are carried out.

Most basic PPE can be worn over regular clothing, like disposable gloves or surgical masks. Other forms count as compulsory protective clothing, like bodysuits or respiratory apparatus.

Why is personal protective equipment important?

All employers have a legal duty to protect staff found in their working environment. This applies to all businesses - regardless of where you work, how many employees you hire, or what hours you function in.

PPE allows you to adequately control any risk found during work tasks and conditions. Lack of suitable PPE can cause short-term injuries, like cuts and burns. It can also cause long-term harm, like permanent limb damage.

Certain serious accidents can lead to gross negligence claims and even criminal charges - whether it happened with or without intent. Employers who are found guilty may face hefty compensation penalties, business closure, and even imprisonment in some cases.

What is the law on personal protective equipment?

The main laws that employers must follow are the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). Let's take a look at each of them:

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022

PPE regulations cover, 'all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects him against one or more risks to his health or safety'.

In simple terms, employers must provide proper PPE when a job or work task requires it. With adequately-controlled measures, you'll be able to manage potential hazards present on your work premises.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)

This act states employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all people found in your workplace. This is done through providing proper provision, training, and maintenance. Without PPE, the risk of work-related accidents increases tremendously.

There are serious consequences for breaching health and safety laws. Injured parties could decide to raise their claims to courts. If their claim is successful, you could face punishments like compensation awards, business closure, and even imprisonment.

Who is entitled to personal protective equipment?

As of April 2022, employers are required to provide PPE to all workers - regardless of whether they're limb (a) or limb (b). They all have the same statutory protection rights when it comes to PPE.

In general terms, limb (a) workers usually have more entitlements compared to limb (B) workers. Limb (a) normally class as an employee; whereas limb (b) class as a contracted worker (like zero-hours or agency workers).

What kind of jobs use personal protective equipment?

Many industries require PPE suitable for their own work regulations, conditions, and needs. For example:

  • Healthcare workers may require disposable gloves, gowns, and clothing.
  • Factory workers may need face guards, anti-vibration gloves, and safety footwear.
  • Firefighters must wear flame-resistant clothing, breathing apparatus, and safety helmets.
  • Construction workers must be given hi-vis clothing, hard hats, and safety boots.

What are examples of personal protective equipment?

From leisure to professional use - there are many forms of PPE you can introduce into your workplace. Choosing which ones will depend on your individual work tasks, location, and production.

Let's take a look at examples of different types of PPE:

Face and eye protection equipment

This type of protective equipment shields employees from flying objects, chemical splashes, and radiation sources. Eye protection reduces the risk of visual impairment; and face protection helps minimise cuts and burns.

Examples of face and eye protection include:

  • Safety glasses and goggles.
  • Masks and face shields.
  • Heat-resistance balaclavas.

Respiratory protective equipment

This type of protective equipment minimises exposure to harmful dust, infectious bacteria, and dangerous diseases. Some workplaces have a higher level of respiratory risk compared to others, like the construction or manufacturing industries.

Examples of respiratory protection include:

  • Gas masks.
  • Breathing equipment.
  • Full-face breathing apparatus.

Hearing protection equipment

This type of protective equipment defends employees from noise hazards. These include both semi and permanent injuries, like tinnitus and hearing loss.

Examples of hearing protection include:

  • Single use and moulded earplugs.
  • Earmuffs and ear defenders.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones.

Body protection equipment

This type of protective equipment minimises risks to both internal and external parts of the body. Examples of body protection include:

  • Skin protection: Like, high-visibility clothing, barrier creams, and bodysuits.
  • Head protection: Like, safety helmets, bump caps, and hard hats.
  • Hand protection: Like, protective gloves, finger guards, and arm coverings.
  • Foot protection: Like, safety boots, knee guards, and slip-safety footwear.

What doesn't count as personal protective equipment?

There are many items that don't count as PPE. Ordinary clothing or uniform that isn't specifically designed for protection. For example, disposable aprons used for food hygiene purposes.

Also, any provision that's used for self-defence or risk detection. For example, badges to detect gas or radiation. It also includes equipment used in competitive sports; as well as travelling on public roads (like bicycle helmets).

How to manage personal protective equipment in the workplace

Work-related risks can class as major or minor; and yet, employers still have a legal duty to control them all in the right manner.

When it's done correctly, you'll be able to protect your employees - and business - from detrimental harm. Let's look at ways to manage personal protective equipment in the workplace:

Choose suitable PPE for your work environment

The first step employers should take is choosing PPE that's suitable for your specific work environment.

Make a list of tasks and areas that may require PPE. You can do this by carrying out a risk assessment that helps identify what PPE is the most suitable. For example, social care workers should be given provisions that protect them from contagious viruses.

A PPE risk assessment can keep your business compliant with safety regulations. They can also help protect all people found on your work premises. This includes non-employees; like customers, contractors, and the general public.

Provide training on PPE usage

Employers need to make sure their staff are aware of the correct use of PPE. This is best done by providing adequate training on using PPE properly.

Training sessions should include how to wear PPE correctly, the importance of proper use, and ways to maintain administrative controls during work.

It's often thought that only line-managers and senior employees should be given PPE training. But it's better to provide protection training to all relevant staff. That way, they'll directly receive the best training for PPE usage.

Keep on top of PPE maintenance

Keeping on top of PPE doesn't just mean buying enough provision for your staff. It also includes cleaning, storing, and maintenance, too.

Employers need to ensure PPE is kept clean and in good repair. It should have a designated storage area that's accessible to relevant employees. When PPE is properly maintained, it helps to minimise the risk of damage or deterioration over time.

It's also best to include PPE maintenance within your risk assessments. Depending on the type of PPE, you may need to comply with manufacturer's guidance on maintaining them.

Aim to reduce health and safety risks

All workplaces will have their own kinds of health and safety risks. So, it's best to know what yours are and aim to reduce them.

Start by complying with the legal guidance on how to control safety risks at work. Remember, this duty goes beyond providing PPE. It's all about ensuring the health, safety and welfare of all people found on your premises.

When you actively reduce health and safety risks, you'll soon see the number of workplace injuries decrease. In the end, you'll be able to protect your staff as well as your business.

Pay for PPE provisions

Employees should not be asked to pay for PPE provisions - regardless of whether it's returnable or not. Supplying PPE is a legal obligation that falls on employers and their business.

If a job or work environment requires PPE, it must be provided within reason. Based on the law, it must be given to all staff. This can include certain workers if they're legally regarded as employees (like agency workers).

Employers aren't legally required to provide PPE to self-employed people. But this is completely up to your discretion.

Does personal protective equipment (PPE) have to be CE marked?

No, not all personal protective equipment needs to be CE marked (or Conformité Européenne). This is used to show products (like PPE) have met the European Union standards for safety, health, and environmental protection.

Under European Union directives, PPE comes under three categories:

  • Category i: These are simple protective provisions. For example, gloves, goggles, and footwear.
  • Category ii: These protective provisions aren't suitable for category i and ii. For example, life jackets, dry/wetsuits, and motorbike clothing.
  • Category iii: These protective provisions have specific-designed requirements. For example, respiratory apparatus, safety harnesses, and flame-resistant clothing.

Whilst the UK has its separate laws, some PPE must meet standards of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). OSHA is the European Union equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Are there downsides to personal protective equipment?

Yes, there are certain downsides when it comes to PPE. It ranks lowest under the 'Hierarchy of Control' standards. Because of its position, it's often seen or used as a last resort. Businesses and employees neglect using PPE because it:

  • Only protects the individual person using it, rather than everyone in the workplace.
  • Only works if it's correctly fitted, properly maintained, and appropriately used.
  • Can limit or restrict a person's visibility and mobility (especially if safety equipment is heavy or protective clothing doesn't fit properly).

Despite these downsides, PPE is a legally-required control measure, nonetheless. It doesn't mean employers should ignore its usage completely. In the end, proper PPE will help prevent and reduce all kinds of work-related risks.

Get expert advice on personal protective equipment (PPE) with Peninsula

Every employer has a legal obligation to provide PPE to all employees found on their work premises. Failing this could lead to serious consequences; like, injuring employees, paying compensation, and business closure.

Peninsula offers expert advice on personal protective equipment (PPE). Our teams offer 24/7 health and safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4377 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.

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