PPE in non-healthcare work during the coronavirus outbreak

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30 June, 2020

The HSE has reminded us that the coronavirus outbreak has not changed an employer's duty to make sure people are not exposed to hazardous substances as part of their work and has issued guidance to employers specifically aimed at the outbreak.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects the user against health or safety risks at work. It includes different types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), such as masks and respirators, as well as other protection such as safety helmets, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses.

In relation to the coronavirus outbreak the HSE say:

  • Face coverings are not PPE as they do not protect people from work-related hazardous substances. They may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.
  • PPE for protection against coronavirus is generally only required for certain healthcare activities. In a non-clinical setting, there is no need to provide different PPE than you would normally have provided before the outbreak started.
  • Government guidance has reinforced the point that respiratory PPE such as facemasks are not required in most work circumstances.

The HSE points out that using PPE should be a last report after assessing and minimising associated risks of particular work, and this includes the risks related to coronavirus. An employer's duty to make the workplace safe should start with a risk assessment and include controls such as providing instructions for safe working, having procedures and training in place as well as adequate supervision to make sure that people are working safely and responsibly.

If an employer decides that PPE is required it must be provided free of charge, and training in how to use it must be given to employees. Consideration needs to be given to ensuing that the PPE is appropriate and safe to use, and that each employee has properly fitting, personal, PPE that is properly stored and maintained and replaced as necessary.

HSE Guidance specifies

You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is exposed and to what?
  • How long are they exposed for?
  • How much are they exposed to?

When selecting and using PPE:

  • Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 - suppliers can advise you
  • Choose equipment that suits the user - consider the size, fit and weight of the PPE. If the users help choose it, they will be more likely to use it
  • If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, eg wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks
  • Instruct and train people how to use it, eg train people to remove gloves without contaminating their skin. Tell them why it is needed, when to use it and what its limitations are

Other advice on PPE:

  • Never allow exemptions from wearing PPE for those jobs that 'only take a few minutes'
  • Check with your supplier on what PPE is appropriate - explain the job to them
  • If in doubt, seek further advice from a specialist adviser

The law governing requirements on PPE is contained in The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 for PPE placed on the market before 21 April 2019 and by the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 and Regulation EU 2016/425 of the European Parliament and of the Council for PPE placed on the market since then. Failure to comply can lead to fines or imprisonment for up to 3 months, or both.

Forbes Comment

Your duties as an employer to provide a safe working environment, including carrying our risk assessments and where necessary, to provide PPE, have not changed due to the coronavirus outbreak. You should make sure that you are following government and HSE guidance in relation to consideration and provision of PPE. The wearing of facemasks does not usually form part of the PPE requirements nor is it Government guidance other than when travelling on public transport.

For more information contact Ridwaan Omar in our Insurance department via email or phone on 01254 222457. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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