This Toolkit advises on your duties as an employer when using, selecting, issuing and maintaining personal protective equipment for your employees.

What is personal protective equipment?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes any equipment or clothing intended to be held or worn by people at work to offer protection against identified risks. It should only be used, however, as a “last resort” control measure, where risks cannot be controlled by other means.

Protective clothing includes aprons, gloves, safety footwear, safety helmets, adverse-weather clothing, high-visibility clothing and clothing designed to protect against temperature extremes. Protective equipment includes eye protectors, safety harnesses, respirators and life jackets.

The law on PPE

Wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 require PPE to be supplied.

However, where the following regulations require PPE to be provided, they take precedence (see Where the PPE Regulations 1992 do not apply):

By law, employers cannot charge employees for PPE.

Turban-wearing Sikhs are exempted from any legal requirement to wear head protection in any workplace including on construction sites.

There is no requirement under any of these regulations to provide PPE for non-employees, although it may need to be considered in order to fulfil the duty to non-employees under s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA).

PPE must accord with certain EU requirements and standards which confirm it meets specified safety and various test criteria. Generally PPE which carries the CE mark will meet these criteria. The relevant legislation here is the EU’s Personal Protective Equipment Regulation, Regulation (EU) 2016/425.

Employees duties

  • Employees are required to use PPE in accordance with the employer’s instructions, based on the manufacturer’s instructions for use.

  • Employees must also report any defects or loss of PPE.

What do you need to do as an employer?

1. Undertake a risk assessment

  • A risk assessment must be carried out to identify the need for PPE. The PPE Assessment Form may help.

  • Employers must initially consider engineering controls and safe systems of work to reduce the risks. See Using the most effective means of controlling risks.

  • Where these are deemed not reasonably practicable in reducing the risk sufficiently, employers must then consider the use of personal protective equipment to provide additional protection from the residual risk.

  • A PPE Risk Survey Table may assist in identifying parts of the body that may require some form of personal protective equipment.

2. Determine the suitability of the PPE being considered

Questions to ask include the following.

  • Does the PPE mitigate the remaining hazards and associated risks?

  • Does the PPE adequately control the risks without creating any additional risks, eg compromising mobility or vision?

  • Is the PPE suitable for the type of work activities undertaken, the level of physical effort, the length of time the PPE may have to be worn, requirements for visibility and communication, etc?

  • Is the PPE suitable for all environmental conditions such as temperature, noise, ventilation, etc?

  • Can the PPE be adjusted to fit wearers correctly and be comfortable?

  • Is the PPE compatible with other PPE required to be used at the same time?

  • Does the PPE selected suit the ergonomic requirements and the state of the health of the people who have to wear it?

See Assessing whether PPE will be suitable.

3. Select the PPE

Before purchasing the PPE:

  • consult with employees on the suitability and fit of the PPE being considered

  • try various types of PPE that meet the suitability criteria

  • ensure products are CE marked.

4. Establish storage and maintenance procedures for the PPE

Employers have duties to ensure that PPE is kept clean and in good repair, taking account of the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Records of maintenance can be kept using the PPE Maintenance Record.

Adequate and appropriate storage is required for PPE to:

  • prevent damage from chemicals, sunlight, high humidity, heat and accidental knocks

  • prevent contamination from dirt and harmful substances

  • reduce the possibility of losing the PPE

  • enable the sufficient drying of PPE.

5. Provide instruction and training on PPE issued

PPE should be used only after adequate training and instructions have been given to users.

This should cover:

  • why the PPE is being issued: the hazards and risks it is protecting them from

  • where and when employees need to wear it, and if there are any exemptions

  • how the PPE should be worn or used correctly (perhaps warn them that supervisors will be instigating spot checks)

  • how the PPE should be checked before use and kept in good condition

  • their legal responsibilities in terms of PPE

  • the penalties for not wearing the PPE when and as instructed

  • the arrangements in place for cleaning, maintenance and replacement of PPE.

A record can be kept of the training provided using the PPE Training Employee Record.

It is advisable to keep a record of what PPE has been issued to which employee using the PPE Issue Record.

6. Create your PPE policy

It is worth noting all your arrangements and the responsibilities of the employer, supervisors and employees regarding PPE in a personal protective equipment policy. Use our template to get started.

Your policy should also set a schedule for reviewing the use, maintenance and choice of PPE.

Useful Q&As

PPE for agency workers Should the employment agency be providing the PPE for temporary workers or should we?

PPE on construction sites Should our managing director be wearing PPE when visiting our construction site?

Encouraging correct use of PPE How can I change employees’ behaviour to ensure they wear PPE?

PPE and the bellows effect My manager asked me to source some new gloves, but specifically told me to be aware of the bellows effect; what is this?

High visibility clothing Do I need to wear a high-visibility vest for all construction work?

Useful features

PPE: one size does not fit all. The problems employees, particularly women, have with ill-fitting personal protective equipment at work, ranging from discomfort to risk of injury.

Personal protection: the evolution of PPE. Protective clothing has been slowly evolving as the hazards faced by workers on construction sites have themselves expanded.

Pay attention to the “p”s in PPE. Employers and others issuing PPE must understand the legal requirements and also how PPE works in practice.

Health and safety information, instruction and training. Employers and/or duty holders must, to ensure the health and safety of employees and others, provide adequate information, instruction and training to relevant stakeholders.

Last reviewed 21 October 2019