Union wins protective equipment precedent
A union has won a landmark ruling on the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) at work. The High Court in London upheld a compensation payout to Unite member John Spalding, who was injured when he tripped on bin bags used as a makeshift waterproof mat. Judges ruled the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 should apply even where there is no expert or other evidence to confirm a risk of injury. The court upheld a Norwich County Court compensation award. Mr Spalding, a plumber employed by the University of East Anglia, had been repairing a leaking radiator in the university's library. He had to lie under a desk to get to it. He was not supplied with an anti-slip mat or waterproof protective clothing by his employer. Instead, he obtained a couple of plastic bin bags to avoid lying on the sodden area surrounding the radiator. After completing the repair, as he got to his feet, he slipped on the bin bags and fell, striking his face on the nearby desk. He suffered serious facial injuries and lost three teeth. He and colleagues had requested mats on several occasions, but they never materialised. Unite's lawyers argued the PPE regulations required that Mr Spalding should have been provided with waterproof clothing and a mat in order to work in damp and wet conditions which could have exposed him to injury or illness. The county court agreed and awarded damages. But the university appealed, arguing it had been, in effect, found liable for failing to prevent a plumber getting wet. Mr Justice Spencer dismissed the university's appeal. Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: 'The PPE regulations are intended to provide protection to workers' health and safety. Too many employers fail to carry out proper risk assessments and to provide employees with the necessary equipment to prevent them being injured.' Sukhdev Gill of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Mr Spalding for Unite, said: 'The High Court has provided important clarification in the application of the PPE regulations, bearing in mind that PPE should always be a last resort if the risk to health and safety cannot be removed.'
Issued: 15 April, 2011