An employer’s guide to PPE

When operating any kind of business in the UK it should conform to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, a set of regulations that were created under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Regulation 4 states:

Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.

When thinking of exporting, it is always good practise to follow this guidance, to ensure the health and safety of your staff the world over is protected.

However, when it comes to PPE, it can sometimes be tricky to understand what exactly is needed for your business. It may be tempting to try to come up with a list of equipment you think your employees may need. For example, one of the most well-known items of PPE is a pair of safety shoes or boots, the staple in any worker’s wardrobe. Head and face protection also spring to mind when thinking of PPE but ad hoc pieces of equipment such as these are not enough to provide comprehensive protection for your employees.

Instead it is necessary to undertake a detailed risk assessment to gain a full and clear picture of all the elements of PPE you need to provide for your workforce. This risk assessment may need to be tailored to the specific type of environments your employees will be working in. For instance, if you export chemicals you will need to undertake a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) risk assessment, which will focus on the specific hazards your employees are likely to face. From you risk assessment you will be better able to determine exactly what protective equipment is needed.

The suitability and condition of PPE must also be continually assessed. Hazards in the work environment should be routinely screened to make sure the PPE matches the needs of the individual employee. After all, if your forklift truck driver is now stacking materials at a higher level than previously needed, has your risk assessment changed to accommodate the additional height requirements?

Sometimes it might be common sense to advise all employees to wear hard hats, but supplying them with a product that is not relevant to the additional grade required would fall short of your legal responsibility as an employer.

For a lot of PPE attire it comes down to common sense, but you can’t rely on everyone to follow this so make sure your policies and procedures are in easy reach of staff and guests that you may be working with.

According to Healthy Working Lives there are several factors that should be considered when it comes to the suitability of PPE:

      • is the PPE appropriate for the risk involved and conditions at the place where exposure may occur? e.g. goggles are not suitable when full-face protection is required
      • does the PPE prevent or adequately control the risks involved without increasing the overall risk? e.g. gloves should not be worn when using a pillar drill, due to the increased risk of entanglement
      • can the PPE be adjusted to fit the wearer correctly? e.g. if a person wears glasses, ear defenders may not provide a proper seal to protect against noise hazards
      • has the state of health of those using it been taken into account?
      • what are the needs of the job and the demands it places on the wearer? How long will the PPE need to be worn? What are the requirements for visibility and communication?
      • if more than one item of PPE is being worn, are they compatible? For example, does a particular type of respirator make it difficult for eye protection to fit properly?


This is a great selection of criteria to work in to your policies and procedures and can be easily understood and applied anywhere in the world, regardless of who you trade with.

Although it can be frustrating for employers who provide PPE when staff won’t comply, a good training directive and manual that explains the need for such measures can help you to educate your staff on the importance of PPE.

If you still find yourself faced with employees who are not using the PPE provided it may be worth revisiting an assessment of the wearability and comfort of the safety wear. After all, if employees are expected to wear PPE for any length of time, and to work efficiently in it, it is vital that it is comfortable and does not impede the wearer’s maneuverability. This is one of the most common reasons for non-compliance of employees.


Image courtesy of Elliot Brown

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