This is an excerpt from the TUC book "Hazards at Work: Organising for safe and healthy workplaces", the best-selling guide to health and safety at work.
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Basic facts about personal protective equipment
PPE should be a last resort
In many other chapters of this book, there are descriptions about the ways that employers should identify hazards, evaluate and assess risks with a view to reducing them. Compliance with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires there to be a hierarchy of prevention and control measures where personal protective equipment should be used only as a last resort. Engineering controls and safe systems of work should be used wherever possible instead.
Unfortunately, some employers encourage employees to use PPE without ever considering the introduction of prevention and control measures that could eliminate the use of PPE. This leads to a number of problems:
Hazards affecting workers
Yet even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, it is possible that some hazards might remain. These hazards may lead to injuries to the:
Sometimes, PPE is needed in these cases to reduce the risk.
In the 2014 TUC safety representatives' survey, many of these hazards were identified by safety representatives in their top five workplace hazards, broadly similar to 2012. For example:
A considerable number of laws and regulations of general application apply to PPE. Duties can be found in the other chapters of Hazards at Work:
Also, Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – Section 9, no charge can be made to the worker for provision of PPE which is used only at work. Section 9 states:
"No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions."
Definition of PPE (Regulation 2)
Personal protective equipment means 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 them against one or more risks to their health and safety, and any addition or accessory designed to meet that objective.
In practice, however, these regulations will not apply to ear protectors, most respiratory protective equipment and some other types of PPE used at work. These types of PPE are specifically excluded from the PPE at Work Regulations because they are covered by existing Regulations such as the Noise at Work Regulations. However, even if the PPE at Work Regulations do not apply, the Regulations and Guidance may still be applicable, as the general principles of selecting and maintaining suitable PPE and training people in its use are common in all Regulations which refer to PPE.
Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (Regulation 4)
When health and safety risks cannot be adequately controlled by other means, employers must provide employees with suitable PPE. Self-employed persons have a similar duty to themselves. Suitable PPE means:
Employers should ensure that PPE is provided for personal use to ensure hygiene and health.
Compatibility of PPE (Regulation 5)
Where there is more than one risk, employers must ensure that different items of PPE that have to be worn together by employees are both compatible and effective.
Assessment of PPE (Regulation 6)
Before choosing any PPE, the employer must make an assessment to determine whether the PPE they intend to provide is suitable. The assessment required should include:
The assessment must be reviewed if:
Maintenance and replacement of PPE (Regulation 7)
Every employer must ensure that any PPE provided is:
Accommodation for PPE (Regulation 8)
Appropriate accommodation must be provided for PPE when it is not in use.
Information, instruction and training (Regulation 9)
Employers must provide employees with information, instruction and training that is adequate, appropriate and that they understand. This will ensure that employees know:
Information must be kept available, and at suitable intervals demonstrations in the wearing of PPE should be organised.
Use of PPE by employees (Regulation 10)
Employers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees properly use the equipment provided.
Reporting loss or defect (Regulation 11)
Employees must report to their employers any loss of or obvious defect in the PPE provided for them.
The self-employed also have a duty to obtain and use the appropriate PPE wherever there is a risk to their health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled by alternative measures.
Safety representatives should check that their employer is observing their responsibilities under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
Safety representatives can identify if there is a problem by:
Safety representatives should report their concerns and those of their members to management in writing. Use Chapter 6 of Hazards at Work for ideas on how you can make sure that management gets things done.
Safety representatives should ask for copies of the risk assessments that the employer has done to ensure that they are preventing and controlling hazards without resorting to PPE as a first option. Where PPE is necessary, before choosing any PPE, the employer must make an assessment to determine whether the PPE they intend to provide is suitable for the hazard and for the workers using it. And the employer should consult them fully about this.
Safety representatives can also monitor the employer's safety policy regarding PPE, and check that:
(in alphabetical order)
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