If you work in a manual handling job, the chances are you know about the different equipment you may have to wear to protect yourself when doing certain aspects of your job. This equipment is called personal protective equipment (PPE), and is there to protect you against health and safety risks at work.
Your employer has a duty to provide you with correct PPE while at work, to ensure that risks when using potentially hazardous equipment are minimised. However, the Health and Safety Executive points out that PPE should only be used as a last resort, with employers taking all possible steps to mitigate risk before the introduction of PPE into the workplace.
Your employer has a responsibility to look at ways of controlling risks without resorting to PPE. This means that an employer should run a risk assessment in the workplace to identify hazards, and to consider first whether this hazard could be mitigated without the use of PPE.
For example, if you are working with a substance that requires you to cover your skin, could that substance be replaced with a non-hazardous one? Or if you are required to use PPE because of a danger a machine poses, can this machine have any safety features added which would mean you do not have to use PPE?
Employers can carry out a risk assessment using the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)’s online tool. If they complete this assessment and find that there are some hazards in the workplace that cannot be mitigated, then following this PPE can be used.
The type of PPE used will depend on the type of work you are doing and the equipment you are using. For example, if you are to be exposed to an unavoidable high level of sound during your work, earplugs or earmuffs may be provided. If you are regularly at risk from bumping your head or having objects fall, industrial safety helmets and bump caps may be provided. You can find a list of the types of PPE for different scenarios on the HSE website.
If you are an employer and you would like more information on PPE, risk assessments and workplace safety you can visit the Fit for Work advice hub or phone the advice line on 0800 032 6235 (0800 019 2211 for those in Scotland and 0800 032 6233 for those speaking Welsh). If you have an employee who has been off work for four weeks or more, you can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. (Manufacturers based in the West Midlands can access manufacturing-specific resources on the Fit for Work website.)