PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT: THE BASIC LEGAL PRINCIPLES AND IMPORTANT GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE

The term “PPE” has become one of general comment and concern. Here our newest recruit at Kings Jasmine Chan explains the Regulations, the duties owed and the government guidance in relation to PPE and coronavirus.

Health Workers Wearing Face Mask

 

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)  is equipment that protects its wearer against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as face masks.

The Law on PPE

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (link: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/contents)  places a general duty of care on employers for ensuring the safety of their employees. Furthermore, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (link: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/contents/made) require employers to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for all work activities for the purpose of deciding what measures are necessary for safety.

The specific rules on PPE are set out in the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 (link: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/2966/contents/made):

THE KEY DUTIES

The key duty on employers is set out in Regulation 4(1):

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.”

Appropriate equipment

Regulation 4(3) further provides that such equipment must be appropriate for the risk(s) involved and the conditions where exposure may occur and must be effective, as far as is practicable, to prevent or adequately control the risk involved.

Regulation 6(1) details the duty to carry out an assessment:

Before choosing any personal protective equipment… an employer… shall ensure that an assessment is made to determine whether the personal protective equipment he intends will be provided is suitable.”

Impact on workers during Covid-19

Where a risk assessment shows a need for PPE, the equipment provided will depend on the nature of work done and the place of work. For many staff in frontline services, this will consist of items such as gloves and aprons. Those more at risk of exposure may require masks and face/eye protection.

PPE will largely be concentrated on those caring for patients with symptoms or cleaning premises which may be contaminated by the virus.

Detailed guidance on PPE and Coronavirus

The Government has given detailed guidance (link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control/covid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe) on the use of PPE by health and social care workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

For other employees, such as those not working in health and social care, unless a risk assessment shows otherwise, measures such as working from home, workplace adjustments and following government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation are said to be the most effective preventive measures.

 

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