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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Personal protective equipment: suitability

Police removal of plants from cannabis factory; personal protective equipment. The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (the PPE Regulations) require employers to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) where it is identified as necessary to protect the health and safety of employees. PPE must be suitable for the hazards against which it is intended to protect. It must be maintained in effective and proper working order, be replaced if lost or found to be defective, and have designated storage accommodation. The application of the regulations has been the subject of a number of significant cases. One of these is Taylor v Chief Constable of Hampshire Police (2013). The facts were that T and other police officers were told to remove cannabis plants from a cannabis factory. A risk assessment stated that the only risk was irritation to the skin from the plants. Latex gloves were therefore supplied. T, who was wearing thin latex gloves, felt nauseous while uprooting the plants. She opened a window which had been sealed. The glass broke and she severely injured her thumb. T claimed compensation for a breach of regulation 4 of the PPE Regulations. This regulation states, in summary, that, except where risks are adequately controlled by other means, employers must provide suitable PPE to employees who are exposed to those risks. At first instance, her claim succeeded on the following grounds. • There was no evidence that T was not to be involved in carrying out other tasks in clearing the factory. • If she had been wearing thick gloves, her injury would have been less severe or prevented. • The employer had the burden of showing that, even if all practicable steps had been taken to reduce the injury, it would still have occurred. The employer appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was dismissed. 1. Once a risk to health and safety was shown to be more than minimal, an employer’s duty under regulation 4 was to provide suitable protective equipment, unless such risk could have been equally or more effectively eliminated or mitigated by other working methods. 2. The judge had properly inferred that T might at any time have been required to do work other than removing the plants, which might have involved the risk of contact with sharp objects. 3. It would have been unrealistic to seek to distinguish between duties placing the claimant at such risk and those which did not. 4. The purpose of the PPE Regulations would be undermined if their application were to depend upon a fine analysis of the particular task which the worker was carrying out at the time when she was injured. On the evidence, the officer was assisting in the general operation without being expressly confined to that specific task. 5. Once an employer was shown to be in breach of its duty, the assumption was that the reasonable employer would use the protective equipment provided unless the employer could prove otherwise. This case was decided on facts which occurred before 25 April 2013, when the Health and Safety at Work, etc, Act 1974 was amended by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. In summary, the new Act states that breach of a statutory duty is not, as a general rule, actionable. The Act does not have retrospective effect and cases where the facts arose before it came into force will not be affected.

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