Personal Protective Equipment - The Legal Framework Explained

Published: 24th November 2011
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Are you required to use or wear personal protective equipment at work? Whether you're employed, contracted or work as a self employed individual who has been contracted to work for someone else, it is essential that you understand the current legal requirements for the provision of and the use of PPE equipment.

The first requirement which should be thoroughly understood by everyone is that in any of the above situations it is entirely the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate personal protective equipment. All too often there are cases where the employer tries to wriggle out of providing the equipment, or at least paying for it, but to do otherwise is a severe breach of current health and safety at work legislation.

Some employers try to get round the current legal requirements in cases where the person is self employed or is working only as a contractor. Often people are unclear in such cases, but the law states quite unequivocally that even in these cases it is still the requirement of the employer to ensure that the correct safety equipment is provided.

However, it should be noted that in such cases where specialist PPE equipment or clothing is required as part of the contract, it is perfectly legal and acceptable for the employer to require the contractor to choose and purchase the appropriate equipment, with the financial reimbursement either offered separately or included in the overall cost of the contract. However, there are no acceptable circumstances where anyone should be forced to purchase their own safety equipment or clothing when working for someone else, whatever the nature or type of the contract.

There have been many cases reported where new employees were supplied with safety clothing or equipment which was either made to measure or purchased especially for their use, with the cost of this being taken from their first wages. This is not acceptable, and if you have ever been placed in a position where you are required to pay for safety clothing or safety equipment, no matter whether this cost is immediate, delayed, or taken into account when calculating wages, this is completely in conflict with current legislative requirements.

Employers are always responsible for the purchasing and financing of personal protective equipment, but it's also important to appreciate the fact that their obligations don't end there. Employers are also required to ensure that the correct equipment or clothing has been chosen, and that employees are fully trained in the correct use of the PPE equipment. This may involve training and assessment, in addition to which employers will be required to put into place clear guidelines as far as auditing the equipment or clothing is concerned.

It is quite clear that in many situations PPE equipment or clothing will become worn, damaged or dirty, and may no longer provide the level of safety or protection required. Employees need to be fully aware of how to carry out a suitable assessment of the clothing or equipment before using it, and familiar with what to do in cases where the equipment or clothing does not pass the assessment. Failure on the part of an employer to implement procedures, training and auditing will make them liable for any compensation claimed as a result of an accident or injury, and this is likely to be a very great deal more expensive and damaging than spending a little extra time and money getting it right the first time.

If you're an employer and are not certain just how far your obligations lie then it is vital to seek professional support and guidance immediately. If you are an employee and are concerned about the cost to you of purchasing personal protective equipment, or you feel that the equipment supplied is not suitable, or that insufficient training is given this should be raised immediately as a concern, possibly with your union.

For further information about personal protective equipment visit Intersafety, one of the UK's leading independent suppliers of PPE equipment, including a wide selection of spill kits.

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