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Protective equipment: The do's and don'ts


Whilst there is an increased use of automated systems being introduced into the retail workplace, we are not yet at the stage where human involvement is no longer required. A significant number of retail claims are pursued by employees having suffered an injury at work caused by work equipment (whether it be misuse or defective) and failure to provide appropriate/suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). Aside from the risk of civil personal injury claims there is also the possibility that the HSE will investigate an organisation which could lead to a hefty fine and potential criminal legal action.

Kendrah Graham provides an overview on work equipment and what you need to consider in respect of the supply and use of PPE to tackle allegations of common law negligence and claims pursued under the Defective Equipment Act 1969.

What is considered work equipment?

In general, any equipment which is used by an employee at work is covered, for example hammers, knives, ladders, drilling machines, power pressers or lifting equipment. Similarly, if you allow employees to provide their own work equipment it must be approved and appropriate.  

Reducing the risk of injury

(a) You must ensure that work equipment in use is:

  • Suitable for purpose and the conditions in which it is to be used
  • Maintained in a safe condition for use so people’s health & safety is not at risk
  • Inspected to ensure it is and continues to be safe for use. Any inspections should be carried out by a competent person (this could be an employee if they have the necessary skill, knowledge and experience to perform the task) and a record kept until the next inspection

(b) You should also ensure that risks created by using the equipment are eliminated where possible or controlled as far as reasonably practicable by:

  • Taking appropriate hardware measures e.g. providing suitable guard, protective devices, markings and warning devices, system controlled advices (such as emergency stop buttons) and PPE
  • Taking appropriate software measures such as following safe systems of work (ensuring maintenance is performed only when equipment is shut down etc.) providing adequate information, instruction and training about the specific equipment

A combination of these measures may be necessary depending on the requirement of the work, your assessment of the risks involved and the practicability of such measures. 

Why is maintenance of plant and equipment important?  

Additional hazards can occur when plant and equipment becomes unreliable and develops faults. Maintenance allows these faults to be recognised early to manage any risks.

An effective maintenance programme will make the plant and equipment more reliable. Fewer breakdowns will help reduce incidents as well as having the cost benefits of better productivity and efficiency.

Establishing a planned maintenance programme may be a useful step towards reducing risk as well as having a reporting procedure for workers who may notice problems whilst working on machinery.

What is PPE?

PPE can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, hi-visibility clothing, safety footwear, safety harnesses, ear plugs/defenders and respiratory protective equipment. In appropriate situations disposable PPE may be provided e.g. single use coveralls. Employers have duties concerning the provision and use of personal protective equipment at work.

Why is PPE important?

PPE is critically important as it is generally only used where other measures are insufficient and as such it plays a crucial role in preventing and reducing many occupational injuries.  

PPE Regulations 2018

European health & safety legislation on PPE changed in 2018. Despite the looming changes of Brexit, the new regulation, which replaces the 25 year old directive, is in force and reflects modern ways of bringing PPE to the market as well as changes in technology and production techniques. 

The Regulation became law on 21 April 2018 applying directly to all member states who adopted the regulations.

Duties: Employers

Employers should provide PPE to their employees only where there is a health & safety risk that cannot be adequately controlled by other means. 

There are also considerable differences in physical dimensions of different workers depending on their gender, ethnicity and lifestyle. Different sizes and contours should be available to fit wearers, whilst it should be adjustable and, if appropriate, advice sought to take into account any medical conditions.  

It is also recommended employers maintain a record of the items issued and to whom, the date of issue and the date of any replacement or maintenance.  

Training, instructions and information will also need to be provided to the wearers of PPE.  The following details should be included - the risks the equipment will avoid or limit, the purpose and manner in which it is to be used, and action to be taken by the employee to ensure good working order as well as hygienic conditions. It is also helpful to have training records and release forms signed with disciplinary action taken against employees who fail to wear the suitable PPE supplied.   

Where risks cannot be controlled by other means the PPE must be provided and:

  • Be appropriate for the risks and the working environment
  • Take account of the user’s health, ergonomics, fit factors and be compatible with other items of required PPE
  • Be adequately controlled without increasing the overall risk experienced by the worker
  • Be supplied free of charge if supplied for work related health & safety reasons
  • Be properly maintained and suitably stored
  • Comply with relevant legislation implementing European directives concerning design and manufacture

Duties: Employees

Employees are required to correctly use any item provided as directed and in accordance with any training, instruction or information received.

Aside from proper use, employees are also required to return PPE to its storage place after use unless otherwise agreed by the employer. Employees must take care of equipment and report defects or loss of equipment as soon as they become aware of the issue.


Overall, it is really important that you have strong systems in place regarding maintenance of equipment and PPE as, not only could it prevent incidents occurring in the first place, it will also improve the defensibility of claims presented.

For further information, contact Kendrah Graham

Kendrah Graham

Kendrah Graham
Legal Director


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