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PPE: An employer’s responsibilities

Two construction workers at the gate of the work site in hard hats and high visibility jackets.

Some job roles require employees to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to minimise their health and safety risks at work. PPE includes items such as hard hats, protective gloves, eye goggles, ear defenders, safety footwear and harnesses. While the construction industry is most recognised for their need to use PPE, there are a number of other industries where PPE is often required. The health and social care sector being one example where staff may require an apron, gloves, mask and eye protection when providing direct treatment to a patient. Mechanics, delivery drivers and event stewards may all require various items of PPE to protect themselves from the risks associated with their roles too, such as respiratory protective equipment (RPE) or high-visibility clothing. The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 set out an employer’s duty surrounding the provision and use of PPE at work. The correct use of PPE can help keep your staff safe and also ensure legal obligations are met. Employers who take the time to properly understand these regulations are much more likely to see fewer PPE-related injuries, avoid costly court cases & fines and have a more positive health and safety culture.

Every year there are thousands of PPE-related injury & accidents in the workplace. Around half of these happen either because: No PPE is provided when it should be, or because the PPE which IS provided is: Not used, Not used properly, or There's a problem with it.

Taken from iHASCO’s online PPE training course

Employer’s responsibilities

Here are some key aspects of PPE usage that employers need to be aware of:

Complete risk assessments and only use PPE as a last resort: This means that other control measures should first be looked into to remove or control the risk. When undertaking a risk assessment, if a hazard cannot be completely removed then PPE may be appropriate. For example, workers may be exposed to dust and contaminated air which poses a risk to their lungs, falling materials could harm someone’s head or feet, flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquid could result in eye damage and contact with corrosive materials could harm a person’s skin. Therefore in these cases PPE would be required to reduce the risk of injury and even fatalities. 

Provide the right PPE to employees free of charge: It’s the duty of an employer to provide appropriate PPE that is CE or UKCA marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. Also PPE is only effective if it provides the correct protection, so providing items of the right size and fit is important. In order to select appropriate PPE employers should consider who is exposed and to what, as well as the length and amount of exposure to determine what is required. Items such as uniforms, and helmets used for travel to and from work are not considered to be PPE.

Ensure employees are trained to use PPE properly and know how to detect and report any faults: Employees must not become complacent when wearing PPE and presume the hazard is no longer there. Equally workers need to ensure they wear their PPE when required and be aware how it could affect their mobility or visibility for example. Part of supporting your workers with this is to provide training so they know when and how to put on and remove specific items, as well as understand any limitations. Where some tasks require more than one item of PPE to be worn, ensure they can be worn together without causing damage, for example safety goggles could damage the seal of a respirator.

Ensure the ongoing maintenance of PPE as well as review it’s usage: PPE that isn’t maintained correctly could be damaged and therefore not fit for purpose. Therefore it is vital that it’s inspected before each use. To keep it in good condition it should be stored properly when not being used, and cleaned as required. Employers need to consider who is responsible for maintenance and ensuring replacement PPE or parts are available. It is a good idea to regularly check that employees are using their PPE correctly and display safety signs to remind workers to wear their PPE. If there are any changes to how a task is carried out, an employer will need to review if the PPE is still effective and update risk assessments accordingly. 

Be aware of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 2022: From the 6th April 2022 the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 2022 will come into effect. This will extend an employer’s duties surrounding PPE to a wider group of workers so it’s important employers understand their responsibilities and adhere to the regulations. The HSE do include PPE assessments as part of their routine inspections. Failure to adhere to legislation can result in enforcement notices through to prosecution.

Online PPE training

iHASCO’s online, IOSH approved PPE training can help you ensure your employees understand the importance of properly wearing, maintaining and storing PPE. It can be used in conjunction with face-to-face training to help instil a safety culture where employees follow what they have learnt as well as adhere to instructions to help prevent PPE-related injuries.

Personal Protective Equipment training course