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PPE: Protecting employees and your brand

In the realm of workplace safety Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stands as a critical shield against potential hazards, safeguarding the well-being of employees across a range of diverse industries. Key legislation created to safeguard against workplace accidents includes the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974, the Management of Heath and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

In cases where employers are deemed culpable for neglecting PPE requirements, companies and their directors can be prosecuted by agencies such as the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) or by local councils who have been granted enforcement powers. The sanctions imposed can include criminal convictions; it is important to note that these convictions can be imposed upon the directors of a company as well as the company itself. In addition to regulatory enforcement, a failure to use PPE or adequate PPE will leave employers vulnerable to claims by employees who can pursue compensation through workplace injury claims.

The heath and safety legislation overall requires employees to implement a safe system of work. It is for employers therefore to identity any risks to their employees and correspondingly to ensure that their employees are provided with effective PPE. The adequacy of any PPE will be determined by the risks posed. In the event that the HSE perceive there to be breaches of health and safety legislation, as part of any investigation enforcement agencies will expect to see evidence that employers were;

    1. Producing regular risk assessments;
    2. Providing training to staff;
    3. Auditing compliance, to ensure any policies and procedures in place were properly embedded (to ensure, for example, that the PPE provided was in fact utilised);
    4. Where appropriate using external contractors to provide advice and assistance (for example, where asbestos is identified in the workplace);
    5. Ensuring that the PPE purchased is of high quality and meets the specific risks posed to employees.
    6. Where necessary ensuring that appropriate facilities are made available to dispose of used PPE (where there is the risk of dangerous contamination).
    7. Reviewing the adequacy of PPE frequently (ideally annually).

In the event of a complaint or worse, a workplace injury, the HSE will routinely interview employees so that they can obtain an ‘on the ground’ picture of the working environment.

"The provision of proper PPE is also necessary to obtain and retain a productive workforce and to foster a culture where employees feel supported and valued."

Although it is crucial that businesses work in compliance with their legal obligations, the provision of proper PPE is also necessary to obtain and retain a productive workforce and to foster a culture where employees feel supported and valued. A failure to provide appropriate PPE to employees is also likely to result in adverse publicity and reputational damage if a failure to provide proper PPE leads to death or injury. In an era of heightened consciousness and ethical consumerism, consumer trust is paramount in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Businesses are increasingly concerned with meeting ESG requirements because better-informed consumers are more likely to support responsible brands, with this in mind progressive businesses who show a genuine commitment to the welfare of their employees will establish a reputation for integrity, reliability and social responsibility.

It is clear that a failure to foster a culture of compliance with health and safety legislation has legal, financial and reputational consequence. Compliance is fundamental to ensure that companies and their directors are protected from prosecution, fines and reputational harm. By prioritising PPE provision employees not only fulfil their legal obligations but cultivate a culture of safety creating a work-place culture which is conducive to productively and well-being. In turn this feeds into the creation of a brand which will resonate with informed ethical consumers.

Co-authored by Murray Uniforms & Kathryn Pitters, a barrister at leading full-service law firm, Irwin Mitchell