Personal Protective Equipment at Work

Many jobs require employees to wear certain kinds of equipment in order to carry on their tasks without endangering their personal health and safety.

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 provide various obligations on both employees and employers to ensure that this happens.

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992

Protective Equipment

What is meant by Protective Equipment?

The term protective equipment is defined the Personal Protective Regulations 1992 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 the use of it is necessary to protect employees against adverse climatic or weather conditions that otherwise may affect their health and safety.

Legal Duties

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations ensure that there is a legal duty for personal protective equipment to be appropriately selected by the employer and used by the employee where the risks cannot be controlled by other means.

When should Personal Protective Equipment be used?

Last Resort

Personal protective equipment should only be used as a last resort and where there are no other possibilities available. In the case of the use 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 following are the key reasons why personal protective equipment should be considered as a last resort:

  • 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 then the entire workforce will be protected.
  • When personal protection equipment is used the actual level of protection is very difficult to assess and therefore maximum levels of protection difficult to achieve. Effective protection using personal protective equipment requires each and 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. If this is the case extra health and safety hazards may be caused.

Risk Assessment

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 impose a duty on all employers to undertake risk assessments in relation to Health and Safety. There are various other Health and Safety Regulations to be taken into consideration here also.

For example if the employment is concerned with hazardous substances then the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations will come into play or if the employment was in the construction industry then the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations would come into play, both which require full risk assessments.

If in carrying out risk assessments in relation to construction it was found that a hard hat was needed or in relation to control of substances that gloves were needed when handling the substance then the Personal Protective Equipment regulations would then come into play.

The use of personal protective equipment therefore becomes apparent through a risk assessment required from other Health and Safety Legislation.

Factors taken into account in Risk Assessments

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

The following are examples of how to assess the suitability of equipment:

  • Is the equipment appropriate for the risk involved – full face protection may be more suitable than goggles for a particular task
  • Does the equipment prevent or adequately control the risks associated with the task. In some cases protective gloves may impair the proper controlling of equipment and therefore create an increased hazard
  • Needs or job and demands on the wearer – in this case the existing health of the employee should be taken into account
  • If more than one piece of equipment is being worn are they compatible – for example if a worker wears both a respirator and eye wear care should be taken to ensure that the respirator does not impede sight
  • Can the equipment be adjusted to fit each individual wearer – if equipment does not fit an individual correctly then 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 employee is required to ensure that 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 following:

  • The risk or 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 that the equipment remains in an efficient state, in efficient order and in good repair – how to recognise defects, how to fix them etc

It is the duty of every employer to ensure that this is adhered to.


Effective maintenance of the equipment must be ensured to keep the equipment in good working order and in good repair.

It is the duty of every employer to ensure that this is adhered to.

Further Duties of Employer

The employer has to ensure the following other duties as described by the Regulations are adhered to:

  • Provision and Replacement
  • Appropriate storage for equipment
  • Appropriate testing for equipment
  • Duties of Employees

What duty do the Regulations impose on employees?

All employees must take reasonable steps to ensure that all personal protective equipment is used appropriately. Specifically they must adhere to the following:

  • The personal protective equipment must be used in line with all the instructions provided to them
  • Employees must return 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
  • Employees must ensure that they undertake a full examination of equipment before use
  • If equipment is lost or if they detect a defect in the equipment then this must be reported to their supervisor
  • All employees must exercise reasonable care when using any personal protective equipment provided to them and must ensure that they do not carry out any maintenance on faulty equipment unless they have full training and are authorised to do so.

I am self employed – do the Personal Protective Regulations apply to me?

If you are self employed then you still have a duty under the Regulations to obtain and use appropriate personal protective equipment where there is a risk to your Health and Safety which cannot be adequately controlled by alternative measures.

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002

The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 encompass the existing legislation under the 1992 Regulations but also introduce a legislative framework in relation to manufacturers of Personal Protective Equipment.

For example no person (including company) will be able to place a product on the market unless they have ensured that the appropriate health and safety requirements for that product are met and certain standards are adhered to.