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Personal Protective Equipment 

Employers have a duty to their employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that:

  1.  Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment ‘PPE’ is provided;
  2.  PPE provided is properly used; and 
  3.  PPE supplied is suitable for each individual employee.

If an incident at work occurred after 1st October 2013, although there is no statutory entitlement to pursue a claim in relation to a breach of health and safety regulations, a breach of these regulations is evidence of negligence.

 Furthermore, employers have a common law duty to, so far as reasonably practical, take care of their employee’s health and safety. Reasonable care includes providing a safe system of work and adequate plant and equipment. Although what is deemed to be “reasonably practical” will be dependent on individual circumstances, if a profession involves any element of manual work, then clearly a higher level of protection will be required.

Foreseeable risk of injury

In the recent case of East Anglia University v Spalding [2011] EWHC 1886 (QB), the employers were found to be negligent and in breach of their statutory duty. The Claimant was a plumber who whilst working on a job that involved a leak, was required to lie on the floor.   He used a bin liner to cover a wet floor so that his clothes were protected whilst on the floor. Upon finishing the job, the Claimant stood up and slipped on the bin liner sustaining injury. 

The judge held that the risk was not “de minimis” (minimal) and the harm was not so trivial that it could be ignored. Furthermore, it was a foreseeable risk that a person in wet clothing might suffer some level of injury. The failure to adequately provide a risk assessment and a failure to provide sufficient PPE (waterproof clothing and/or a non-slip mat in this case) had resulted in injury.

Failure to ensure that PPE is correct for individual employees

Every employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that PPE is not only supplied to their employees, but that is suitable for individuals. 

For example, in the case of Kern v Bridgend CBC [2008] 10 WLUK 454, the Claimant worked in a school kitchen and had been provided with uniform that intended to protect employees from the risk of scalding. However, the Claimant’s sleeves were noticeably too long for her arms. This resulted in her being forced to roll the sleeves up in order to prevent her sleeves from contaminating the food. As a result, her skin was often left exposed and at risk of scalding. 

The Claimant attempted to remove a container from a steamer machine. As she did this, hot liquid spilled out of the container resulting in scalding to the Claimant’s left forearm. 

The judge in this case held that employees should not be expected to carry out makeshift adjustments in order to use equipment for its intended purpose. Nor should they be expected to take home protective equipment to effect adjustments of the sleeve length. 

As a result of the Defendant’s failure to provide the Claimant with a properly fitting jacket, the Defendant had failed to take steps to reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable. As a result, the Defendant had breached its duty to the Claimant.  The breaches were a direct cause of the scald injury to her arm.

Causal link and succeeding in a claim

As strict liability has now been removed for employer’s liability claims. In order to succeed in bringing a claim against employers, it must be shown that not only did the failures amount to a breach of duty, but this breach directly resulted in injury. In cases involving PPE, this can be established by demonstrating that a failure to provide PPE and/or adequate training on PPE resulted in injury.  Additionally, if it can be shown that an employer has not done what is reasonably practical in the circumstances to alleviate risk to their employees and this has caused harm, then this is likely sufficient to establish a claim.