Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be “the last resort” when it comes to preventing workers from coming to harm at work, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has said.
The warning has come as amended PPE at Work regulations take effect in the UK next week, with IOSH recommending that businesses should consider a series of other measures first.
Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety at IOSH, said: “PPE can be absolutely crucial in preventing serious harm from coming to workers. Over the years, it has prevented many a serious injury, or ill health, and worse.
“But businesses should continue to risk assess and follow the hierarchy of control to ensure the most appropriate risk controls are in place to eliminate or reduce harm and protect people. Do they need to undertake the activity in question in the first place? If they do, is there a safer way of doing it? These are the sort of questions they need to consider first, and considering engineering and safe systems of work,” she added.
The update to the PPE at Work Regulations is due to come into force next Wednesday (6 April). Broadly, the duties on employers as outlined within them are unchanged, but they do extend the duties to providing protective equipment to workers who are defined as ‘limb (b) workers’ as well as permanent staff with contracts of employment.
‘Limb (b) workers’ are those with any other contract, such as those carrying out casual or irregular work.
Health and safety
PPE in this context includes anything that is worn or held by a worker to protect against one or more risks to their health or safety.
IOSH has advised that employers should familiarise themselves with the amended regulations in advance of them coming into force and take action to comply with those changes to limb (b) workers as well as the existing duties
Other measures that should be considered are completely removing the hazard (elimination), replacing the hazard with something else (substitution) and developing a way of keeping people away from the hazard while performing a task (through engineering controls) and changing the way people work (administrative controls).
“Only if other measures aren’t sufficient in removing the risk should employers resort to PPE,” Wilkinson added.
“Once it has been decided that PPE is needed as part of the risk assessment process, employers should also take care to ensure suitable PPE is provided, that it is appropriate and fits well and ensure that it is compatible, properly maintained and stored so it continues to provide effective protection.
“This must be provided to all people within the worker definition, ensuring training and instruction is provided to those workers as per the regulations, and used correctly,” she said.