The subject of Personal Protective Equipment (‘PPE’) has rarely been off our TV screens in the past few weeks. The apparent problems with supplying the right amount of suitable PPE to protect NHS staff and others from the Covid-19 virus have been causing much debate, some of which has been ill-informed. This brief article explains the facts about PPE.
Firstly, it’s worth remembering that the use of PPE is seen as a last resort and should only be considered where it is not practical to control risks in other, more effective, ways.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 require employers (such as NHS Trusts) to provide suitable PPE to those who may be exposed to risks to their health or safety while at work (a similar duty applies to the self-employed, who need to ensure they give themselves the right equipment too). Employers must not charge employees for PPE.
‘Suitable PPE’ is that which:
- is appropriate for the risks and conditions in the workplace;
- takes account of ergonomic requirements;
- takes account of the state of health of the user;
- is capable of fitting correctly;
- is effective in controlling risk without increasing the overall risk to the wearer, and
- complies with relevant laws on design and manufacture.
An assessment must therefore be made so that the right equipment is provided.
Provide PPE to deal with expected use and foreseeable risks
If PPE is considered necessary, the employer will have to make sure that there is enough to go around. They will also need to have spares for replacement when PPE is damaged or wears out. However, risk assessments need only consider reasonably foreseeable risks.
As I understand it, the current crisis with Covid-19 was unforeseen; nobody will have stockpiled PPE “just in case”. Besides, PPE has a shelf life so there would be a lot of wastage if items were kept in stock unnecessarily. There was probably enough PPE in stock at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak to cater for normal requirements, which is all that is required. Of course, if an employer failed to have enough PPE for normal use then they will have been committing an offence.
Where several items of PPE need to be worn together, they must be compatible with each other. For example, respiratory protection and eye protection need to be compatible; one item must not conflict with the other in such a way as to make it ineffective. The employer will need to take care to purchase items that work together and don’t conflict.
Employers (and self-employed people) need to make an assessment to check that PPE will be suitable; this must be done before choosing what to provide.
Reference to ‘appropriate PPE’ in a general risk assessment is unlikely to be enough. The employer will need to show that they gave proper consideration to exactly what PPE would be suitable for the risk and the working environment. This means specifying exactly what is to be provided so that there can be no confusion when PPE is purchased.
Maintenance and Replacement
Employers need to make sure that PPE is maintained, replaced and cleaned as appropriate. For non-disposable items, the user can do simple maintenance, such as cleaning. The employer still needs to ensure that this gets done.
Employers need to provide suitable storage for PPE when it’s not in use. This helps to protect PPE from damage and reduces the chances of cross-contamination. ‘Suitable storage’ might be a bag, a box or a locker; it won’t be good enough to simply hang the PPE up where it may be contaminated when not being worn.
Information, Instruction and Training
Employers need to ensure that their employees know:
- the risks that the PPE will protect them against (and those it won’t protect against);
- why the PPE is to be used;
- how to use it; and
- what the employee needs to do to keep their PPE in good condition.
Use of PPE
Use of PPE Employers need to take ‘reasonable steps’ to check that PPE is properly used.
- use their PPE in the way that they have been trained and instructed;
- store it properly when not in use; and
- report loss or defects with PPE to their employer.
So there you have it. The rules on PPE aren’t difficult or complicated. If you do need help completing your risk assessment, or if your staff need some training, why not contact us – we’ll be happy to help.