Personal Protective Equipment at Work

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 (as amended) place obligations on employees and employers to ensure workers wear the rights kind of equipment to carry out their tasks without endangering their personal health and safety.

Protective equipment

The regulations define protective equipment as all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work which protects them against one or more risks to their health and safety.

Examples of such equipment will be hard hats, high visibility jackets, protective footwear, goggles, life jackets, safety harnesses etc.

Clothing affording protection against the weather such as waterproofs or insulated clothing is only deemed to be protective equipment if its use is necessary to protect employees against adverse climatic or weather conditions that otherwise may affect their health and safety.

Legal duties

The regulations impose a legal duty on employers to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and on an employee to use it where the risks cannot be controlled by other means.

When should personal protective equipment be used?

Personal protective equipment should only be used as a last resort and where there are no other possibilities available. For example, in the case of working machinery, all other effective safeguards such as glass screens should be evaluated before the worker is simply provided with goggles as protective eyewear.

The key reasons why personal protective equipment should be considered as a last resort are:

  • The personal protective equipment provided will only protect the individual person who is wearing it. If other measures are in place to control risks associated with certain machinery, for example, the entire workforce will be protected.
  • When personal protection equipment is used, the actual level of protection is difficult to assess and therefore maximum levels of protection hard to achieve. Effective protection using personal protective equipment requires every aspect of that equipment to be used, fitted and maintained correctly which places a certain pressure on the individual employee.
  • In some cases the personal protection equipment may restrict the wearers’ visibility or mobility. This may cause extra health and safety hazards.

Risk assessment

The need for personal protective equipment becomes apparent through a risk assessment required of employers by other health and safety legislation, such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

In choosing the correct kind of personal protective equipment all the hazards involved in the performance of the task must be considered and the most suitable equipment chosen. Employers should consider whether:

  • the equipment is appropriate for the risk involved – full face protection may be more suitable than goggles for a task;
  • the equipment prevents or adequately controls the risks associated with the task. In some cases protective gloves may impair the proper controlling of equipment and therefore create an increased hazard;
  • the needs of the job or the health of the wearer dictate that protective personal equipment is required;
  • if more than one piece of equipment is being worn, they compatible – for example, if a worker wears both a respirator and eye wear, care should be taken to ensure the respirator does not impede sight;
  • the equipment can be adjusted to fit each individual wearer – if equipment does not fit an individual correctly this will not be adequate protective equipment under the regulations.

Specific equipment

Certain equipment such as hard hats have certain standards which must be worn in relation to specific dangers. Both employers and employees should maintain that the appropriate standard of equipment is worn.

Information, instruction and training

Where an employer is required to ensure an employee has the requisite personal protective equipment supplied to him, the employer is also under a duty to ensure that appropriate information, instruction and training is provided to enable the employee to know:

  • the risks that the personal protective equipment will avoid or limit;
  • the purpose for which and the manner in which the personal protective equipment is to be used – including testing, use, storage;
  • any action which needs to be taken by the employee to ensure the equipment remains in an efficient state, in good repair – how to recognise and fix defects, etc.

Further duties of employer

The employer has a duty to:

  • effectively maintain the equipment and ensure it is kept in good working order and in good repair;
  • provide replacements where necessary;
  • ensure it is properly tested;
  • make sure it is properly stored; and
  • ensure the employee knows how to use the equipment and that they carry out the duties imposed on them by the regulations.

What duty do the Regulations impose on employees?

Employees must take reasonable steps to ensure that all personal protective equipment is used appropriately. This includes:

  • using the personal protective equipment in line with all the instructions provided to them;
  • returning all personal protective equipment back to the accommodation provided for it once they have finished with it, or at least take reasonable steps to do this;
  • ensuring they undertake a full examination of equipment before use;
  • reporting lost or detective equipment o their supervisor;
  • exercising reasonable care when using personal protective equipment provided to them and ensuring they do not carry out any maintenance on faulty equipment unless they are trained and authorised to do so.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

Lucy on LinkedIn

Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.